[Out IN Jersey Magazine] ~ The first Jersey City PRIDE festival was in late August 2001, the same year that Jersey City Lesbian & Gay Outreach was founded by Paul Mendoza and Miguel Cardenas. This year to mark the festival’s tenth anniversary, JCLGO arranged a march from the steps of City Hall down to its usual festival grounds on the waterfront.
Catherine “Cat” Hecht, one of the first members of the fledging JCLGO, recalls that first Pride event. “I remember looking up Montgomery Street around 8am. It was still empty; no vendors were there yet and suddenly having a moment of nerves, thinking, ‘Will anyone come?’” She went on to conclude, “There's an image in my mind of later in the day: the plaza was completely filled with people talking, laughing and dancing while Mike Cruz was playing. The sun was starting to go down, everything had a yellow, gold and orange glow and I remember being filled with so much pride it was euphoric.”
Many soul-stirring events have occurred during the first decade of this 21st century; from the scenic backdrop of every Jersey City PRIDE—the view of the NYC skyline which makes it so distinctive from any other Pride in the world—being tragically and forever altered shortly after the euphoria of that first Pride to the historic election of Barack Obama.
A cursory glance at the cheerful pink, white and gray 2010 JC Pride Guide put together by the production and graphics team of Rob Dickar and Jaden Rogers might illicit an “Ooh, that’s pretty.” While inside we do find a poignant reminder of its humble beginnings (a copy of that original flyer ), upon further inspection of the guide’s cover a testament to the momentous decade for Jersey City’s LGBT community emerges. From the usage of the Roman Numeral “X” against a backdrop of faint past themes—Keeping the Vision Alive!, Power in Pride, Change=Possibility—below which it’s new theme shines boldly, “Standing Strong: Equality For All”, to the lower border displaying a pink silhouetted crowd with hands outstretched in jubilation. A few hands, however, are clenched. Since the days of social and racial unrest in 1960’s America, there has never been a clearer sign of determination or of standing strong against adversity and terror (foreign or domestic) than a fist clenched for battle.
Actor and 2009 Out Music Award Winner Athena Reich said that even though Canada has had full marriage equality (with adoption rights and everything) for years now, she remembers growing in a very “queer positive” Toronto where she was involved in a church youth group that had cross-dressing dinners every few months. The “Love is Love” songstress says gayness is “integrated” into Toronto culture whereas as in NYC it’s still a subculture, though she believes it will happen here, she adds “it will take more time because of the Christian right.” Athena performed for the cheering crowd and will also soon be appearing in the soap-opera/comedy TV show that she co-wrote with Stephen Shulman called 16th & 8th.
Rapper Shorty Roc also performed and a rather iconic image of his dancers immerged—fists in the air matching the pink one on the stage’s backdrop. The image seemed to say that Pink Power is alive and well in Jersey City, and, for all intents and purposes, America.
While the marching band (The Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps) played a rousing rendition of Hey, Big Spender during the festival’s opening march, a member of the Christian right (see video below) followed alongside expressing concern. “Repent!” the order boomed with the aid of a megaphone, “Turn from your wicked ways of being a pervert and turn to Jesus!” While calling marchers “intolerant”—because one doused the man with a cup of glitter while another cheerfully saluted (Bronx style)—the protestor continued, further unmolested, with his religious duty to remind the procession that its true destination was not the waterfront festival, but in fact, the flames of Hell.
Darryl Hill, co-chair of JCLGO said that the message they want to send to the world by putting on the march this year and the festival every year is a simple one: “We are no different than you are. We are just people who want to live their lives with their families and have the same equal rights as any other American.”
As the yellow, gold and orange glow of last light fell over the festival revelers and as gay youth danced and Vogued to the booming sounds of legendary DJ Fred Pierce, the message and determination to fight for that most American of all ideals was clearer than ever: Standing Strong! Equality for all!
Yes. That is Pride. And despite the Right’s amnesia about religious tyranny, that is also America. ~
[ by Guest Columnist, Nathan James ]
Whenever I broach the subject of same-sex marriage these days, I get glaring looks from those who think I’m going to tell them why I think it’s OK for people to marry their horses. Because homophobia still runs rampant in our society, many believe that marriage is sacrosanct, available only to “straight, normal, well adjusted” people of opposite genders. Certainly among the religious right, this is the prevailing attitude. The needs of same-gender-loving (SGL) couples to enjoy the protections and human rights afforded by the institution of marriage notwithstanding, there are loud cries among the populace to deny them entry into the Gordian Knot Club.
It’s been suggested ad nauseaum that a compromise measure would be “civil unions”, a shadowy legal construction which is neither marriage nor cohabitation. Civil unions would (and in states where they are operative, do) grant same-sex couples limited legal recognition of their status as life partners. But, as the California Supreme Court recently made clear, civil unions are a far cry from marriage. I believe the whole question of civil unions was made moot when Massachusetts, (and later California) made same-sex marriage legal in their states. The Constitution is clear on this: Article 1, Section 4 states that every state shall give “full faith and credit” to the laws of every other state. That’s why extradition works: You commit murder in State A, but you can’t hide in State B, because even if murder is legal in State B, it isn’t in State A. The state in which you are hiding, if it captures you, will turn you over to State A in honor of that state’s laws.
Ergo, if a gay couple is married in Massachusetts, their marriage should be recognized as legal and binding in all 50 states, unless some states have voluntarily decided to opt out of our Constitution, and therefore secede from the United States. Yet, astonishingly, this is exactly the state (!) of affairs we find ourselves in today. Even though marriage has, for centuries, been jus gentium—the legal concept of marriage is recognized everywhere, so that married couples from the U.S. are still spouses, even when they travel abroad—this still does not apply to gay couples. (Just try moving to Canada as a gay couple, marrying there, and then returning to the U.S. as spouses—see how far that gets you with ICE and Homeland Security.) This is where the Barack Obama candidacy enters into the picture....
People of Color, gays, lesbians, and their historical connections
© 2007 by Nathan James (guest commentator)
I awoke this morning to a televised report describing the opposition, by some prominent Black clergymen, to a proposed federal hate-crimes bill. The Rev. Dr. LaSimba Gray was quoted as saying he and members of his ministers’ group were against the bill, and its protections for gays and lesbians. “In all my 40 years of civil-rights work, I’ve never seen a gay water fountain and I’ve never seen a gay entrance to a building.” In a post on political blogger Taylor Siluwe’s website, further commentary indicates that Gray’s members were “offended” by the idea that the “black and gay communities are somehow connected”.
Now, I have written in the past that the LGBT and black communities were not only connected with one another, but that both owe each other all the benefits they enjoy today. For this, of course, I have been flogged unmercifully, as if it were set in stone somewhere that blacks and gays were mutually exclusive, and never the twain shall meet. At the risk of more public flogging, I stand by my position, and I enlist the historical record to aid in my defense. I think that the record speaks very well for itself.
It’s 1954. Rosa Parks has defied Jim Crow and refused to give her seat on a Montgomery bus to a white person, as the law required in those days. In response to her arrest, the local black community turned to a 26-year-old minister of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, Martin Luther King, Jr. Meetings are held to devise a plan of action. Seeking guidance and direction on how to find the most effective means of protest, Rev. King looks to one Bayard Rustin, a black, gay advocate and strategist whose writings on nonviolence have impressed the young preacher. The fact that Rustin is gay, does not discourage King one iota. King knows that Rustin is the go-to man in matters of protest and petition.
Rustin travels to meet with King that year, and the counsel King receives from a gay man of color is crucial to the birth of the modern civil-rights movement, and establishes nonviolence as the means of protest. Rustin thus changes the course of history, and all people of color who live today, free of Jim Crow’s awful depredations, may add Rustin’s name to those to be thanked for their efforts.
Two years later, American literary icon James Baldwin writes and publishes the homoerotic novel Giovanni’s Room, establishing himself as a gifted writer of early gay lit. The book is banned from publication in the United States, but becomes a wild bestseller in Europe. Baldwin becomes known as both a gifted author of color and a gay man. These facts, however, do not deter Rev. King from seeking out and including Baldwin prominently in the civil-rights struggle during the 1960s. The FBI, in an attempt to separate King from men like Baldwin and Rustin, quietly warns King that both men are gay. King replies “I will not refuse the help of such wise and gifted men. As much as anyone, they have given our cause meaning and direction.” When his words are picked up by the Associated Press, the nominating committee for the Nobel Prize begins to understand that here is a man worthy of their accolades.
These are matters of undeniable fact, available for research by anyone with an Internet connection and an interest in the historical record. In spite of this, people continue to have the attitude that I speak heresy, whenever I cite the record. It is a mystery to me why so many people of color are “offended” by the idea that blacks and gays might ever share commonalities in their history. Gay men and women of color have contributed so much to the advancement of all people of color, that they are inextricably linked to the shared history of both. Conversely, people of color, through their tenacious and diligent struggles for equality, have opened the doors of tolerance for the LGBT community which would have remained locked, perhaps indefinitely.
In my studies of the art and literature of the civil-rights era, I find so many contributions to black history by gays and lesbians of color, it’s amazing. The great examination of the black experience of those days comes alive in the works of Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, and numerous others. Their cries for social justice, together with the activities of Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael, Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young, Rosa Parks, and the whole roll call of the era, all suggest a great need for acceptance of diversity. The sexual orientation of any or all of these great people was not an issue. Achieving the equality promised by our Constitution was the issue.
So, how dare I suggest a common history between people of color and the gays and lesbians among them? What issue do I address that is so uncomfortable to some? Perhaps there has never been a “gay water fountain”, or a “gay building entrance”. Yet there were barriers to equality for gays every bit as formidable as the legal and structural barriers faced by blacks under Jim Crow. There was a time when sodomy laws forbade homosexual activity in all but two states. There was a time when homosexuality was considered a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association. There were no visible, structural barriers for gays because gays were considered to be deviant, criminal, and antisocial by their very existence, regardless of their color.
As people of color suffered under Jim Crow’s reign of subjugation and terror, gays of color suffered those hardships, plus the added stigma of being black and gay. To this day, debate rages over the need for, and type of, legal protection gays and lesbians should receive. This brings me back to the beginning of this essay. Hate-crimes legislation needs to afford the Constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law. For people of color to wish denial of these protections to a subset of their own community, is appalling. Some people are quick to deny the struggle, perseverance and triumph of those who came before them, and whose history they all share. In so doing, they diminish the value of the whole enterprise. How dare I suggest that!