LAKEWOOD — Whether you were leaving from a game at the Lakewood BlueClaws or just passing through, you might have caught a glimpse of the rainbow of humans lining the corner of New Hampshire and Cedar Bridge Ave on Thursday night.
Over one hundred supporters of the LGBTQ community came out in full force opposing a protest coordinated against local Pride Month celebrations, spearheaded by Lakewood’s Rabbi Yesuda Levin.
Cars honked in solidarity and cheered through open windows at the high-spirited crowd as they rounded the corner. Supporters decked out in rainbow colors and creative headgear held up signs with messages of pride, facing off against Levin and his supporters on the opposing corner. The Pride side dwarfed Levin’s Pride month protest by a landslide.
The celebration/protest was accentuated by the flashing of red and blue lights as Lakewood Police Officers directed traffic and kept order at the intersection.
The leader of the anti-pride sentiment in the protest was Rabbi Levin, a staunchly conservative rabbi who has been preaching anti-gay and anti-abortion beliefs for many years, even during his candidacy for New York City mayor in 1985.
In the days leading up to the protest, videos of Levin condemning Pride celebrations, calling them an “abomination” and a “homosexualization” of the community, were shared repeatedly over social media.
In a first video, which was shared on the First Amendment Activist Facebook page, Levin targets the Ocean County Library’s various Pride-themed events. Various branches of the Ocean County Library take part in Pride by highlighting books, speakers, movies, and more that focus on LGBTQ themes, promoting tolerance and understanding.
In the video, Levin preaches “keep your hands off the minds of our children,” calling those at the Lakewood BlueClaws stadium “lowlife scum” for hosting a gay pride event.
A second video followed in which Levin proceeded to denounce the BlueClaws celebration and urged people to come out to the protest. Levin stated that these Pride celebrations were contributed to the “homosexualization” of a community “whose community standards and values are traditional and biblical.”
The BlueClaws’ Pride celebration includes a BlueClaws Pride Night Hat Giveaway for the first 1,500 fans and fireworks following the game, according to their website.
Levin goes on to cite “Pride” celebrations as a “threat to Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike.”
LGBTQ supporters who came out to the protest made it clear that Levin’s sentiments were not universal. Some toted signs with Pride-themed messages such as “I support my LGBTQ friends” and “What’s so bad about a little pride?” Others made signs with more pointed messages for Levin like “Religion is no cause for hate,” “Homophobia is not tolerated in Ocean County,” and “Free hugs for non-bigoted bastards.”
All the while, the crowd carried on chants of “Pride Doesn’t Die,” “U.S. of Gay,” and “Love Not Hate.”
Many of these supporters made the decision to come out to the protest after seeing Levin’s flyer, which quickly made the rounds on social media prompting members of the community to join the fight against Pride, at the BlueClaws Stadium on June 6. The flyer states:
“This abomination must stop!!!…This abomination celebration will victimize young innocent children. No other FAMILY FRIENDLY towns in Ocean County have such outrages events which are antithetical to our religious sensitivities. Our children are already bombarded in schools/media/entertainment with terrible anti-family brainwashing. Gay Pride events at family venues like sporting events, bowling alleys, malls, shopping centers or even Ocean County College. Do not sexualize kids at public events!!”
A former Lakewood resident of 30 years, Janet came out to the protest in support of her LGBTQ son.
“It’s my turn to start getting out there…It was his [Levin’s] viral things that literally made me sick,” she said. “He was spouting evil.”
Janet made a sign specifically for Levin that read: “You are acting like Hitler, with hate in your heart towards others. May God forgive you in your ignorance!”
Sporting homemade t-shirts with the slogans “Exceptional Bisexual” and “Born This Gay” on them, Kristyn Holleran and Nicole Spano of Toms River were happy to see such a sizeable turnout in favor of Pride.
“I saw the flyer on Facebook…and I didn’t love it,” said Holleran. “It’s a blue state but it’s kind of a red county so I didn’t expect to see this much support.”
Holleran joked that last year was known by many in the LGBTQ community as 20-“gay-teen” (2018), making this year 20-“Bi-teen” (2019).
On the opposing corner sat Levin and his supporters, a crowd only a fraction of the size of the Pride side. Members of the Jewish faith, with megaphone in hand, stated: “There is no pride in sin. America teaches you that you can do what you want and get away with it, but guess what? There is a God in this world.”
These protesters toted signs preaching “self-control” and “holiness” as America’s principles.
Despite the videos and flyers, BlueClaws Pride will go on as planned. Those who wish to join in the celebration can do so on June 8 for the BlueClaws vs. Greensboro game at 7:05 p.m.
“The BlueClaws consider themselves an open and inclusive organization and member of the community,” said BlueClaws Team President Joe Ricciutti. “We want to show the LGBT community that they are welcome at BlueClaws games, and always will be welcome at BlueClaws games.”
Even Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer condemned the protest, citing his new “Love Thy Neighbor” campaign, claiming there is “no place for hate in Ocean County.”