PATERSON, NJ - On the event of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, one of the most seminal moments in the history of the gay rights movement, local leaders, community members, and others came together to show that in Paterson “love is love is love.”
The Friday ceremony which saw the hoisting of the rainbow colors synonymous with the fight for equality for members of the LGBTQ community for the first time locally, was led by Mayor Andre Sayegh who previously told TAPinto Paterson that “being one Paterson means celebrating our diversity in whatever form it takes.”
“You have an ally in city hall,” Sayegh assured those gathered, a message that was reiterated both in words and by the presence of other elected officials such as 4th Ward Councilwoman Ruby Cotton, 6th Ward Councilman Al Abdelaziz, and Board of Education Commissioner Joel Ramirez.
Giving an emotional address City Council President Martiza Davila shared that she was speaking on behalf of her brother who couldn’t be at the event, but offered his appreciation to her, and others for “accepting and loving” him.
Fighting back tears Davilla recalled the efforts she and her sisters put in to helping their mother accept their brother, a member of the LGBTQ community. Prior to her mother’s passing, Davilla said, she affirmed her acceptance of his sexuality, telling him, “You are my son and I love you,” an understanding that she drew from her Christian faith that taught her that “our god is a god of love.”
After bringing the crowd together, literally, by asking everyone gathered to turn and offer a hug to someone, Curtis Farrow, president of the Eastside Neighborhood Association, suggested that “we all just need a little bit more love.”
“We need to move forward with love in our hearts,” he added. “The hug you just gave was free. Keep spreading it.”
Longtime resident Denise Womack, who said recently that “raising the pride flag won’t fix all of our issues,” expanded on that message by lamenting that across the nation it is still too common for members of the LGBTQ commnity to face bullying, violence, and death for who they choose to love.
“Those acting from love must continues to work to change that,” Womack said. Her hope was that through the ceremonial flag raising those still afraid of “living authentically” would know that “we see you, you are not alone.”
The event, she concluded, must not just be a weekend of awareness but rather the beginning of a “new agenda of inclusion.”
Showing herself again to be a proud friend of and fierce advocate for the LGBTQ community, local poet Lizzie Valverde closed out the moving ceremony by reciting renowned Paterson poet Alan Ginsburg’s Song, one of the most memorable lines of which, “The Weight of the World is Love” is now emblazoned across a wall at the Paterson Great Falls thanks to the work of several students led by a local mural artist.
With the flag flying proudly over Market Street Pam Brantley, a 28-year resident of Paterson, confirmed Sayegh’s earlier declaration that when he was asked to consider raising the Pride flag he never wavered.
“Paterson is the most diverse city in New Jersey, we have more ethnic backgrounds, we are a melting pot, yet we all get along,” Brantley said.
Similar to Womack, Brantley shared her desire to see others feel comfortable stepping forward and “not having to live in the closet.”
“It’s about love,” she concluded.