Toms River Shows Its Pride

Confetti bursts over the crowd at the end of the Opening Ceremony. (Photo by Sydney Kennedy)

  TOMS RIVER – An arch of large balloons, each a different color of the rainbow, swayed over Washington Street in downtown Toms River in honor of the third annual Toms River Pride event, hosted by Exit 82 Theatre Company.

  Over 60 vendors lined the street, prepared for a full day of celebration. Some passing by attendees wore flags that flitted behind them as they strolled down the street. Others brought their pets, adorned in pride bandanas and other attire.

  Corinne Amoroso, a board member at Exit 82 Theatre Company, expressed excitement “to see Toms River be part of the pride movement” and “make Exit 82 a theatre for everyone.”

  The day opened with speeches, including one from Congressman Andy Kim (D-3rd), and the Pride Advocate Award ceremony to honor local activists. Later that day, performances were given by The Golden Gays, Izzy Uncut and more. The event closed at 5 p.m. after a drag show.

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An archway of balloons greeted Toms River Pride attendees. (Photo by Sydney Kennedy)

  “It’s been a tough year,” Kim, who noted his involvement in the passing of the Equality Act of 2019, said onstage. “Everyone has equality. No ifs, ands or buts.”

  “Pride is needed in Ocean County,” Keely Davenport, a 31-year-old Toms River resident, said.

  Davenport is the co-founder of Exit 82 Theatre Company. According to Davenport, the inspiration to hold an annual pride event stemmed from a desire to bring pride to the community. Davenport also expressed the theatre’s desire to “celebrate how far” the members of the theater who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community have come and to give them a voice.

  Exit 82 hosted their first pride event, which was the first Ocean County pride event, in 2019. Davenport recalls it took approximately one month to organize. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, last year’s event was a drive-through event, which attracted “a lot of families.” This year’s Pride took months to plan.

Zach Gerstein, 28, rode a longboard down Washington Street. (Photo by Sydney Kennedy)

  This year’s event, according to 29-year-old Toms River resident Lexi Davenport, Board Member at Exit 82 Theatre Company, was the largest Toms River Pride event yet. While she hoped to see 30 vendors attend the event, over 60 vendors signed up. Through vendors, attendees could purchase items from small businesses, connect with organizations and their resources, enjoy food trucks and participate in activities like axe throwing.

  “We didn’t anticipate the number of people that wanted to be involved,” Keely Davenport said. “We’re hoping that the community can continue to make progress.”

Hamlette the pig in a rainbow love hat stole the show. (Photo by Sydney Kennedy)

  Exit 82 coordinated the event with local officials, like those from Ocean County, the Township of Toms River, and the Toms River Police Department. Toms River Police officers provided security for the event.

  A small group of protestors were also present at the event.

  “We face opposition, but we stand proud anyway,” Keely Davenport said.

  To stay informed or learn more about Toms River Pride, follow @TomsRiverPride on Facebook

  To learn more about the Exit 82 Theater Company, a 501(c)(3) organization, go to their website: exit82theatre.com

Keely Davenport embraces Jameson Green, 9, with an award in hand. (Photo by Sydney Kennedy)