TOMS RIVER – There was no rain but there were plenty of rainbows seen in the township’s downtown area during the historic first Pride Festival.
Seen throughout the day was the rainbow Pride flag which has six colors. Red represents life, orange is for healing, yellow is sunshine, green means nature, blue represents harmony, and purple is spirit. The flag hung at the township municipal building flagpole will remain until the end of the month to honor Pride Month.
The June 22 event was organized and coordinated by Exit 82 Theatre on Robbins Street, and featured a variety of activities and events to observe the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) community fought back against oppression and discrimination during the June 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Greenwich Village.
Billy Cardone and Keely Davenport are LGBTQ rights advocates who also founded the Exit 82 Theater Company. In anticipation of the event, they received a proclamation during a recent Township Council meeting from the governing body. The proclamation proclaimed June 22 Toms River Pride Day.
“Exit 82 Theatre is committed to not only being our hometown theater, but to creating a positive social and economic impact on our community. We are so thankful for the support of the Township of Toms River and of the Ocean County Freeholders,” Davenport said.
Davenport added that “in a historically Republican town, the fact that everyone came to a bi-partisan agreement regarding PRIDE has been a tremendous example of how politicians can work together to help their community.”
Toms River has a mayoral race this fall which includes openly gay Democratic candidate Jonathan Petro. Petro, who is the chairman of the Greater Toms River Chamber of Commerc. He will face Republican nominee Councilman Maurice “Mo” Hill in November. Both Hill and Petro welcomed attendees during the day’s opening ceremony.
“This is our first major advocacy initiative for the LGBTQ and community. We have a very small committee of three with additional help of approximately 18 volunteers today,” Davenport said.
“We as a collective community have stayed silent for far too long and it has come at a high cost. From the town hall to the dinner table we must look within ourselves to find the courage not only to embrace others but to live our lives authentically,” Cardone said.
Event volunteers Kelly and Adam Servodio assisted with the day’s first activity which was a festival held on Robbins Street and included games, a scavenger hunt, vendors and several food trucks.
“We were both born and raised in Toms River and it is great to see this vision come together. It will be interesting to see how it will go forward,” Kelly Servodio said.
Beachwood resident Steve Von Steenburg, event coordinator for PFLAG Jersey Shore, a nonprofit organization that provides support, education and advocacy for families, allies, and people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender, was among those manning an outreach table at the festival.
“We are part of a nation-wide organization and I think this is great and it is about time. It shows that times are changing at a time when we need it most,” Von Steenburg said.
PFLAG Jersey Shore President William Placek brought members of his family to the event. “It is great to see LGBTQ residents know that they are accepted and that their voices are heard and that their voices matter,” Placek said.
Juliana LaMonica, Justine Applegate, Petra LaMonica and Doreen Applegate came to the event wearing matching shirts made by Extraordinary Fitness in Toms River that featured the word Love in rainbow colors.
“It is about time that we see something like this here. When you are close to someone who has come out and what they face, you get a different perspective,” Justine Applegate, Toms River said.
“It is a great event to show equality and that everybody should be treated with respect,” Doreen Applegate, Manchester added.
Ashley Chiappano, Safe School and Community Education Manager at Garden State Equality in Asbury Park said “It is the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riot which is the beginning of the modern LGBTQ civil rights movement. As in Stonewall there were people right here in Toms River that took a stand against hate and discrimination in their school, their job and in their community. We know that the LGBTQ community across our country still face violence and hate in their day to day lives.”