A multi-colored symbol of inclusiveness flapped in the breeze above city hall Thursday night, when several dozen people turned out for the raising of the rainbow flag in celebration of the city’s seventh-annual Gay Pride Week.
“I pray we begin this week in celebration knowing that each of us is special and knowing that God loves each one of us,” the Rev. Janyce Jackson, a member of Newark’s LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning) Advisory Commission, said during a ceremony in the city hall rotunda.
Thursday’s ceremony was just one small element of a much broader commitment to making Brick City a beacon for progressive attitudes towards people of all sexual orientations, speakers said. The LGBTQ commission, which was established three years ago by Mayor Cory Booker and by a unanimous 9-0 vote of the Newark Municipal Council, is the only one of its kind in the state and one of the few anywhere in the country.
Perris Straughter, the commission’s chair, said the 11-member advisory body has accomplished much since its founding in October 2009, conducting outreach with Newark’s LGBTQ community on health and safety issues, holding public forums throughout the city, and working with the Newark Police Department to establish a liaison to the community. Later this year, the commission and Rutgers University will conduct a groundbreaking survey of individual police officers to gauge their attitudes towards non-heterosexuals.
West Ward Councilman Ron Rice, whom Straughter described as taking a “leadership” role on LGBTQ issues, said he hopes Newark will come to be seen as a haven for all, regardless of orientation or gender status.
“It’s just overwhelming that this gets bigger, this gets better, this gets more inclusive,” Rice said of the Pride Week celebrations. “It puts the city on the map as a place where you are welcome, you are welcome, you are welcome.”
Pride in who you are should be always be felt and expressed, and not just during a designated celebration, Rice added.
“Take a day and make it into a week, take a week and make it into a month, take a month and turn it into a year, until we have true equality,” Rice said.
Julien Neals, the city’s business administrator, described the pride he felt in the city when Neals, who previously served as municipal court judge, officiated at Newark’s first civil union. Surprisingly, he also spoke out against the word “tolerance,” since the term, although a byword in the gay rights movement, suggests that straights should merely put up with those whose orientations openly differ from their own.
“If you can’t recognize people for what they are, then we have no hope,” Neals said. “This shows we have hope.”
Pride events are being held through the weekend, including a film festival tonight, Friday, and a picnic with a DJ, dance contest and other offerings Saturday in Weequahic Park. For more information click here.
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