Embracing Diversity and Equality: Clifton's Pride Flag Soars High in Colorful Display of Inclusion
The first Pride marches were held in three major cities on June 28, 1970, on the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. They were a reminder of the 1969 raid of The Stonewall, a popular gay bar in NYC, and of the resistance to police brutality and targeted arrests of drag queens and other patrons found inside. Thousands of protesters took to the streets over the next six days, ushering in a liberation movement for the LGBTQ community. Since then, annual June gatherings in cities across the country celebrate Pride and the rejection of the idea that some people should keep themselves hidden or live their lives in secret.
Every year since 2016 - except for 2020, due to the pandemic - members of the LGBTQ community and their allies have gathered to celebrate Pride Month by raising the rainbow flag at City Hall. This year’s event, held on Saturday, June 17, featured a diverse mix of speakers and the newer Progress flag. This more colorful version of the rainbow Pride flag includes light blue, pink, and white for the transgender community and black and brown for people of color who are also part of the queer community but who face the extra burden of racial discrimination.
Clifton resident Ray Robertello generally acts as the Master of Ceremonies but was out of the country for the event this year. Ray is one of the original organizers and has played an active role in this annual event since its inception in 2016. This year, the job of MC was handed off to the very capable Samantha DeRose and the event came together aided by organizers Samantha Bassford, Florey Cruz-Cerpa, Jeffrey Kracht, and John Traier.
On this calm and sunny Saturday, Mingo Lane, an accomplished Broadway actor, opened with his rendition of the National Anthem. His rich baritone was an uplifting and inspiring start to the morning’s ceremony.
Reverend Ron Verblaauw, from Union Congregational Church in Montclair, offered a beautiful, non-denominational invocation.
“Bless our celebration of this flag raising that it be a sign of hope, an expression of our joy in life, and a reminder of our hard-won freedoms to love and to be loved.
Bless our laughter that it heralds the building of new friendships and lasting relationships with each other.
Bless those who may come to oppose us that our happiness may be contagious and overcome all fear.
Bless our differences as a source of our strength and a sign of our respect for one another.
Bless those for whom it takes great courage to be here, and being present, may begin to experience the abundance of life.
Bless our continuing calls for full equity, recognition, and freedom for all of our siblings in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer community, that we may speak here and live into Your vision of justice, mercy, and peace for all.
Bless each one of us here today with your presence.”
Welcoming remarks from Clifton Mayor Ray Grabowski affirmed Clifton’s place as a community that strives to be welcoming and inclusive. “We recognize that everyone has the right to live authentically and with dignity and support from the residents of our community. Our presence here today is an affirmation of respect for everyone. May the flag we raise today serve as a constant reminder of our ongoing commitment to fostering an inclusive and compassionate society for all.”
Samantha DeRose, a Clifton resident for more than 20 years, praised the community for being a place where she and her wife could raise their four children, work, and start a small business. “So today, as we raise the flag, we raise more than just a colorful emblem. We raise a testament of our commitment to the principles of diversity, equality, and respect for all. And Clifton thrives on these principles. They're woven into the fabric of this community, making it a place for people to find safety, acceptance, and love. It's a symbol of unity, as a beacon of our enduring commitment to kindness, inclusivity, and respect for all. It's our shared promise that we will continue to build this community that cherishes every color of the human spectrum, where acceptance isn't an act of grace, but a given right. So when you see that flag waving boldly in the sky, remember to carry its message of hope with you. Be inspired by its resilience, its vibrancy, and its unyielding stand for equality.”
D Belinfanti, a representative from Garden State Equality, which is a nonprofit devoted to advocacy, education, policy, and lobbying, said that “The one thing about pride is about unity. It's about fellowship and it's about love and it's about progressing.”
Sundeep Iyer is the Director of the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. Despite our progress towards equality and freedom for each person to live authentically, violence against gay, lesbian, and transgender folks persists. New laws which cut back on gender-affirming care and prevent people from having identification documents that correspond with their gender identity create a hostile environment and highlight the need for continued work. Sundeep’s division enforces New Jersey’s strong anti-discrimination law which he praised as being the oldest and perhaps strongest in the country. “And so we've got to be vigilant and we've got to continue to get together in events like this to show our solidarity with the LGBTQ community. Because again, our diversity is our great strength here. And today, I'm so proud to be part of this celebration.”
“I call this part of the summer Freedom Summer,” said Bloomfield Councilwoman-at-Large Wartyna “Nina” Davis. “And the reason I call it Freedom Summer is that there's so many things that are happening in this period of time that reminds us basically about our aspirational goals to work toward freedom and equality and justice.” She also spoke briefly about the upcoming Juneteenth, another celebration of hard-won freedom.
Clifton resident Cameron Hebron, a 2015 alumnus of Clifton High School, in a gorgeous self-made outfit, spoke of his experiences as an Afro-Latino bisexual and the important intersectionality of those different marginalized identities. “The intersection of my identity is a blessing and a curse because I have such amazing insight into the lives of the people around me,” he said, “I feel as if I’m alienated from that conglomerate community because there are not many spaces where melanated queer people feel welcome. And even in your average queer space the intersection of my blackness, my other-ness, made it difficult for me to find queer friends who I can be myself around.” He spoke about the need for people who call themselves allies to do more than wave a rainbow flag. There need to be people working to create and protect spaces where the full range of LGBTQ folks - including black, brown, and indigenous people - are welcome.
Closing out the morning, another Clifton resident, David Turner, had the honor of raising the flag. He and husband Aaron Hill moved to Clifton from NYC in search of a slower pace of life and a diverse, welcoming community. He joked, “Thank you so much for coming out. I'm not sure how your parents felt about it, but…slow burn” as attendees chuckled. David spoke about their choice to move to this community where “knitting newcomers into an old place” matters. “So we chose Clifton,” he affirmed. “You chose Clifton.”
Before stepping over to the flagpole where City Manager Nick Villano waited with the Progress flag fastened and ready for hoisting, he added, “While rainbows may be a naturally occurring phenomenon, harmony among human beings is not. It takes a choice. It's a frame of mind. And that is what we celebrate today…We choose to stand up for ourselves and for others who are displaced and unseen, and we choose to do it in Clifton. We choose Clifton as our home, a place to feel safe.”
David’s pride was plastered across his face as he pulled the ropes and raised the flag skyward. The crowd applauded and gathered for a big group photo, all feeling the warmth of so many full hearts and joyful hope for a better tomorrow for all people.