Editor's Note: The SOMA Pride Festival takes place on Saturday, June 9, 2012, beginning at 12:00 pm in Memorial Park, 124 Dunnell Rd, Maplewood, NJ. It is free and the public is most enthusiastically welcome! For more info, check out the Facebook page here.
Like all great inventions, South Orange Maplewood LGBT Pride began with one part inspiration, two parts serendipity, and a couple of frosty pints.
It was just over a year ago, I sat at the bar at St. James Gate with one of my straight-mom friends, Mary Alice Carr, on a rare outing without our kids. We were talking about Maplewood’s diversity and about how her daughter, Alice, and my daughter, Maya—BFFs since before they could crawl—had both grown up not knowing there was anything unusual about a two-mom or two-dad family. In fact, Alice, who has a mom and a dad, figured out relatively early that if she married Maya, she’d only have to have one (or even none) of the babies.
My memory since childbirth is not what it once was, but I know at some point, one of us said to the other:
“Hey—how come there’s no PrideFest in Maplewood?”
“Good question. There really should be Pride in Maplewood.”
“Yes, let’s do that.”
“Okay. After we finish this beer.”
Enthusiastically, we toasted that plan. Then we went home to load our respective dishwashers.
But it got me thinking. Why not pride in Maplewood-South Orange, the two towns that seem to have the highest gays-per-capita of any place outside of Frisco? When I posed the question to a gay friend later on, his answer was, “Because every day is pride in Gayplewood.”
That’s fair enough. From the time my partner, Micheale, and I arrived in this beautiful, sleepy suburb, eight months’ pregnant and just off the boat from the big city, we’ve felt incredibly at home. We’ve never experienced homophobia, nary a sideways glance—unless it came with a smile that seemed to say, “Love those gays!” That’s something that, sadly, we can’t say about the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where we lived for many years. Yes, even in New York City, which hosts the largest Pride Parade in the country, there were still stares when we held hands on the street and the occasional hostile remark.
Not so in SOMA. Here, it’s not so much that we feel our differences are tolerated—it’s that we don’t feel very different at all. In fact, so rarely have I had to think about my otherness that I actually stumbled over how to explain the purpose of an LGBT pride festival to our six-year-old, Maya.
“Why are we having a festival?” she asked.
“Because it’s gay pride month!” I beamed at her.
She stared back blankly. “What’s gay pride?”
“Uh, it’s, like, a time to celebrate families that are two moms or two dads!”
Her brow furrowed. “But…what about my friends who have one mom and one dad? Can they come too?”
That her response was to be worried about discriminating against straight families delighted me on many levels. Of course, I reassured her that we will celebrate all families, and that all are welcome.
But it made me realize once again how lucky we are that our daughters don’t know the bigotry that exists in countless towns and cities around the country. We know they’ll be exposed to it eventually in some form or another, but as parents, it is endlessly comforting to know we can keep them shielded for as long as possible. In this modern utopia, every day is indeed a day they can feel proud of their family and their unique story of origin.
Most days, we live in that bubble, too. But then, inevitably, we are reminded. Every time we pay our hefty tax bill for the domestic-partner health benefits I receive through Micheale’s employer, we remember. Every time we hear an elected politician bluster that our marriage is undermining the very fabric of civilization, or a clergy member compares our commitment to criminal behavior, we realize anew that we are still second class. Each time a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person is harassed, beaten or worse, we feel the fresh outrage of the minority. And every time we learn of another LGBT teenager who has found the loneliness and the shame so intolerable that ending life seemed the only way out, our hearts break a little more—and we realize how much there is left to do.
That is why we need Pride in SOMA. Not because we have so much to learn, but because we have so much to teach. Our two towns have coalesced around shared values of respect and celebration of all families, no matter our orientation or how it was that our families came to be.
That’s a powerful message we all need to shout, loud and proud, so that it’s heard beyond the borders of our townships. We need to stand together—gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, straight—and say simply that discrimination is just plain wrong. Because we gays are fabulous, but we can’t do this alone. And one of the many reasons we will have an incredible festival in SOMA this year is because one straight ally, Mary Alice Carr, didn’t stop at “Hey, we ought to have Pride here!” She stood up alongside her gay friends and she helped us make it happen.
Thanks to my two co-organizers, Mary Alice and Robyn Brody-Kaplan, a South Orange mom and force of nature who joined our small committee this year, the 2012 PrideFest has grown leaps and bounds over last year’s inaugural picnic. Businesses and nonprofits from every corner of our community have come forward with offers of support, sponsorship, generous donations to our raffle swag and incredible enthusiasm to make this event the best ever. Our stage will rock the park with a lineup of amazing local talent, both gay and straight. We will offer a greatly expanded Rainbow Kids section, with inflatables and face painting, arts and crafts projects and tattoos (guaranteed to keep your kids occupied for hours) and an incredible food court featuring the best of SOMA’s eateries.
And best of all, we will host representatives from the incredible nonprofit organizations that fight tirelessly for civil rights and marriage equality in New Jersey, including Human Rights Campaign, Garden State Equality, Lambda Legal and many more. Take some time to visit with them, read their literature and learn how you can contribute to end discrimination and further equality for all.
And a special plea to our opposite-sex families: please show up in great numbers—if for no other reason than to reassure my daughter, Maya, that all families are valued at SOMA Pride.