ASBURY PARK – About 20,000 people are expected to make their way to Asbury Park this Sunday for New Jersey’s 31st annual LGBTQ+ Pride Celebration.
But Jersey Pride President Laura Pople, citing a growing number of laws aimed at curbing the rights of the LGBTQ community, said this year’s event is much more than a celebration.
“It is about providing visibility for the community,” Pople said. “It is about providing an opportunity for education and for advocacy. Because even in New Jersey — we are a comparatively progressive state — there are still many issues being challenged at a federal level or that are simply something we need to continuously drive positive messaging and legislation on.”
According to the ACLU, there have been 491 anti-LGBTQ legislative measures introduced in state legislatures across the country this year alone.
Even in the Garden State bills have been introduced that would, for instance, prevent trans students from participating in school activities like sports or censor in-school discussions of LGBTQ people and issues.
“Over the last 30 years, the hostility directed toward the LGBTQ community generally has ebbed and flowed,” Pople said.
Jersey Pride launched its annual parade and festival in 1992, and, despite the ebb and flow Pople mentioned, it has remained a constant for New Jersey’s LGBTQ+ residents and their allies.
“Having an event that brings the community together, provides a safe space, provides an opportunity for connection and education is really important,” Pople said.
New Jersey, she added, has supported its LGBTQ residents at the local level in towns across the state, including Asbury Park.
“When we think about New Jersey, we generally think about a state that is one that is very positive and very affirming of it’s LGBTQ community. That said, even now in New Jersey there are pockets of local level, school board, municipal level (anti-LGBTQ) legislation moving forward. There’s incidents of hostility and discrimination that are being reported,” Pople said.
Pople said she takes some comfort in knowing people are willing to report those incidents, but “it is truly terrifying what is happening in certain states.”
In March, The Marshall Project, which looked at the FBI’s latest hate crime data, noted that “Hate crimes reported to the FBI by law enforcement agencies rose from more than 8,000 in 2020 to nearly 11,000 the following year.”
It found that crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Sikhs and bisexual people all more than doubled, and “hate crimes against Black, white and LGBTQ people made up nearly half of all incidents.”
Security at this weekend’s event, Pople said, will be “commensurate with what the climate is.”
“(In 2016), the year of the Pulse massacre (in Orlando), there was extra security because of that particular event. This year, we are again working with (Asbury Park) and we will make sure that people will feel safe for the event,” Pople said. “Our goal is visibility, providing a place to socialize but feel safe. We are taking every precaution.”
But safety concerns will not stop Jersey Pride and events like it.
“It underscores the need for Pride events to happen because what terrorists try to do is use fear as a weapon and try to change things the way they want them changed by instilling that fear and letting (fear) drive us. We will not be ruled by that,” Pople said.
This year’s activities include the parade which starts at noon at Asbury Park City Hall, the rally, featuring a host of musical performers, and the festival complete with a food court and designated family zone.
The one-day event is the result of months of planning and Pople took a moment to credit all the volunteers who make it possible.
“The passion, the commitment that they bring to this effort, and we rally together every single year. We come back together and do this again,” Pople said.
Charles Daye is the metro reporter for Asbury Park and Neptune, with a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. @CharlesDayeAPP Contact him: [email protected]