Jersey City Pride - Building Community by Connecting the Colors of the Rainbow
Jersey City Pride is always full of color - colorful attire and personalities and a diverse mix of people are what makes Jersey City so special. When it was time to dance it didn’t matter who you were, we all danced together and the DJ brought some serious jams. With everything happening in the world, specifically in the US, Pride is a bright light where everyone joins together to celebrate being different.
This year, Jersey City Pride focused on the T in LGBTQ+, donating the proceeds from the Drag Show in the DayTrippers bus to PFLAG's Trans Support. From the words from the Orlando Pulse Rally we had in Jersey City, “Love is Love is Love is Love is Love” (you can support the Human Rights Campaign by buying a really cute Love is Love mug here).
We spoke to the co-chairs of this year’s pride, Michael Billy and Eddie Baez, about how we can get involved, what JC Pride means to them, and about Hudson Pride Connections Center, the organization benefiting from JC Pride. This year JC Pride is taking it one step further and they are continuing Pride events starting with Story-Time with Harmonica Sunbeam the host of JC Pride. She is a fabulous drag queen who is here to have to fun, educate, and give a little giggle. She is also a dear friend of Growing in Jersey City. If you were not able to join the 14,000+ people this year at JC Pride, I hope you join in in the events to come in the next year and get your rainbows ready for Pride 2018.
How did Jersey City Pride start?
Michael Billy: Pride started in the living rooms of community activists over 17 years ago. The festival was founded by Paul Mendoza and Miguel Cardenas who started the community group JCLGO. They set the foundation for our community, which has allowed us to be where we are today. Paul and Miguel are still very much involved with the festival and our community center, The Hudson Pride Center.
Why is Pride so special to you? And what were some highlights from this year's event for you?
MB: Pride is special because the LGBTQ+ community is unlike any other. We span race, religion, socioeconomic status and age - we are everyone and everywhere. It's because of this that Pride festivals across the nation have the divine opportunity to bring us together. It's within our history that time and time again we've had to assume responsibility for each other and advocate for the wellbeing of our community. Pride reminds us how far we have come and energizes us for where we must go.
Eddie Baez: Jersey City Pride is special to me because it is an opportunity to both celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride and to raise awareness about important issues affecting not only the LGBTQ+ community, but the Jersey City community at large. This year we celebrated the "T" in LGBTQ+ to highlight the importance of Trans Awareness. We hosted several community groups at Pride this year, such as Companion Animal Trust whose mission is to help homeless cats and dogs find permanent homes, the Act Now Foundation for Alzheimers Awareness which works to change the face of Alzheimer’s Disease and related Dementia’s by engaging communities in a grassroots campaign to bring Alzheimer's Awareness to all urban neighborhoods, the Icla da Silva Foundation whose mission is to save lives by recruiting bone marrow donors and providing support services to children and adults with leukemia and other diseases treatable by marrow transplants, and a newly forming Jersey City PFLAG ( Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) chapter. As a result of participating in this year's Pride the da Silva Foundation was able to sign up 82 potential bone marrow donors.
We had 25 events during our Pride Festival "Week" August 16 - 27 that cater to different sectors of the community. One of our most successful events happened right at the Festival itself called Drag on Wheels. We partnered with Jersey City Day Trippers to raise funds for PFLAG's Trans Support Program by presenting four shows during which a different drag or trans performer did a 15 minute act on the Day Trippers bus which was parked at Pride. The lines for the shows exceeded our expectations and two additional shows were added to the line up which all reached maximum capacity.
Gayborhood Jersey City is active throughout the year and an integral part of JC Pride, can you give us some history on that organization as well.
EB: I co-founded Gayborhood Jersey City with my husband Erik in 2009. Erik and I started Gayborhood as a social group for the Jersey City area LGBTQ+ and Ally community in an attempt to make friends and meet neighbors. Over the years we've grown from 300 members in 2012 when I took over to over 1,800 members in 2017.
In 2014, with the advent of Marriage Equality, Gayborhood Jersey City went from being an online group to being agents for social change in the Jersey City community. That same year Gayborhood Jersey City and Humanity Pride became co-producers of the Jersey City LGBTQ+ Pride Festival and we've watched the attendance grow from approximately 3,500 attendees in 2014 to an estimated 14-15,000 people at this year's festival which is an increase of 50% from last year.
Proceeds from Pride benefit Hudson Pride Connection Center. Can you tell us about this organization and what makes the organization so special?
MB: The Hudson Pride Center is the largest LGBTQ+ Center in the state. We're a home and voice for the diverse LGBTQ+ community and our allies that advocates for our physical, mental, social and political well-being. We create safe and vibrant spaces to gather and celebrate our lives. What makes us special is the community we serve - our home is in Jersey City which is one of the most diverse cities in the nation with the largest LGBTQ+ population in the state. We're in a position to create a model LGBTQ+ community center.
EB: I am proud to say that the JC Pride Festival was able to make a $12,500 donation to Hudson Pride this year and will work towards raising funds for Hudson Pride's Capital Campaign throughout the year.
Michael, you are now the executive director of the Hudson Pride. How did this come about and what are you bringing to the organization?
MB: As the Co-Chair of Jersey City Pride and a former Board Member of Hudson Pride, I have worked very closely with the organization for many years. I have been leading the organization's fundraising efforts and developing our strategic plan to help us prepare for growth and development. I am honored to be able to lead a center that is such a cornerstone of our community.
Hudson Pride is such an integral factor in the lives of many LGBTQ+, how can we be part of the change or help?
MB: Make a donation, volunteer, and connect with us. We are inviting everyone reading this to be a part of history. Help us create a model center for our LGBTQ+ community. We have youth services, homeless LGBTQ+ Youth, Senior Services, outreach and education programs that literally save lives. Now more than ever it's important to step up and be a part of something greater than our individual selves.
Pride is now over, what can we look forward to for the rest of the year concerning events and programming for LGBTQ+ either through Hudson Pride, Gayborhood, or the other sponsors Human Pride Productions?
MB: You can look forward to Hudson Pride kicking off a Capital Campaign to raise funds for a new LGBTQ+ Community Center. We'll be out and about more than ever so we'll be asking our friends in the media to get the word out on our upcoming events!
EB: The planning has already begun on providing a year's worth of JC Pride programming including sponsoring Drag Queen Story Hour with Harmonica Sunbeam throughout the year. We have also been able to link with local businesses.
Please feel free to add anything.
MB: On a personal note, if you are like me - then you've probably felt the need to scream at the sky and yell at the television this year. It's important to understand that we are not powerless. That if we want to change what's happening in our country, we must start with ourselves in our homes and communities. It starts with us making a commitment to be better people today than we were yesterday. If you aren't volunteering, volunteer; if you can afford giving time and money, give it. The world needs you, your country needs you, your community needs you.
EB: Activism takes many forms and for me what we are doing at Pride is building community, which is the basis of grassroots activism. This year the Jersey City LGBTQ+ Community was asked to march in the JC Puerto Rican Day Parade, only the second time in its 57 year history, and we have already been asked to be part of the Jersey City Caribbean Carnival Parade next year. We are a diverse, beautiful city and the current political climate has only made us stronger and more united in the face of adversity.
Now more than ever, we need to get uncomfortable - Meet a neighbor, smile at a stranger, go to a meeting, volunteer, and more. We have to support our friends and family, but more so the people who are standing alone. Pride allows people who are standing alone to join hands with a new family and I hope you will join us as we continue to remind the world, that “Love is Love is Love is Love is Love.” For more information click here for Jersey City Pride and for Hudson Pride Connections Center.
Additional provided by Paul Mendoza, Miguel Cardenas, Anne Mcternan, and Michael Billy