Stafford Pride Day Organizers See Rainbow As Sign of Hope

Little Charlotte was present along with her mom during the first Stafford in the Park event held at Manahawkin Lake Park. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

STAFFORD – Threats of stormy weather forced Stafford Pride Day organizers to cancel events on two separate occasions last month but the event’s third date seemed to work out like a charm – a lucky one at that.

  As the LGBTQ+ community and allies eagerly awaited the celebration of love and acceptance, a seemingly fortuitous rainbow appeared in the sky on July 25. The appearance left many to wonder if it held a predictive message that Pride Day would go off the following day without interference.

  Local resident Billy Wyrsch organized the first Pride in the Park sponsored by Stafford NJ Pride in 2021. Held at Manahawkin Lake Park, this year’s three-hour event included live music provided by Girl Band, a Southern Regional graduate, and Kelly Zuzic, a local music teacher.

Ocean County members of the national organization, Free Mom Hugs gather at their group table during the recently held first Stafford Pride in the Park. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  Love and unity filled the air, enveloping the crowd in a heartwarming atmosphere. Among the various tables, one organization was dedicated to sharing a unique, heartwarming form of affection.

  “We are Free Mom Hugs, a national organization and from the Ocean County chapter,” a representative said. “We support and help anyone who needs it. If somebody needs a mom at a wedding or prom, we will step up and support them.”

  Notably, one dad was also available to offer hugs to all who needed them.

  Representatives from Saint. Francis Counseling Community Center on Long Beach Island were also at the Pride Day event to provide information about their services. When asked, one of the therapists indicated they are not affiliated with the church itself.

  The LBI-based counseling center has a contract with Ocean County to help victims of sexual assault. They attend events like the pride one to advocate for those who don’t have voices.

  “We’re more concerned about the people than their sexuality,” Rachael Manzo shared.

Counseling services offered by the group are not just limited to sexual assault. Professional psychotherapy sessions can be set up for a wide range of issues. They are available to residents of Southern Ocean County from Lacey to Tuckerton on a sliding scale basis.

Various members of the community came together to show some pride during the very first Stafford Pride in the Park event sponsored by Stafford NJ Pride. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  A group of students from Southern Regional High School’s Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) was also on hand and shared why they set up a table.

  Sixteen-year-old Finch Benitez said she and the other students thought it was important that everybody should be able to accept their identity no matter how old or young they might appear.

Representatives from St. Francis Counseling Community Center on Long Beach Island took part in the Stafford Pride Day event to provide information about their services. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  The weather wasn’t the only thing that threatened the success of the initial date of the pride event. When word circulated that a “drag show” was part of the entertainment, someone proposed bringing a group of protesters in on loud motorcycles “in support of protecting children.”

  “There are no people in lingerie,” Wyrsch said prior to the event. “There is no large-scale show. It is one performance by an incredible young man and local Southern grad with a confetti cannon and songs from The Greatest Showman.”

  Unfortunately, “Stiletta,” the performer, encountered scheduling conflicts that prevented him from attending. Whether the protestors were aware of this or lost interest, the celebration remained undisturbed.

Members of the community enjoy the first Stafford Pride in the Park event which took place recently in Manahawkin Lake Park. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  “It is simply a night for local people to feel like they belong. For young people, like me, to feel welcome and know they have support,” Wyrsch added.