The struggle goes on.

That was the message stressed by multiple speakers as Montclair and regional officials gathered Friday for the township's second-ever Progress Pride Flag raising — an event that in some ways serves as a prelude to the township's first-ever Pride Festival, organized by Out Montclair, the group Councilman Peter Yacobellis formed last year to celebrate and support the area's LGBTQ community.

"As we celebrate and come together about our diversity, we must keep in mind that there's still struggle that we're experiencing in this country, and as much progress we've made, we have a number of elected officials, particularly in Washington, that want to roll back so much progress we've made," Reginald Bledsoe, the recently appointed first director of the Essex County Office of LGBTQ Affairs, told those gathered.

He said a Pride Flag raising communicates the message diversity is strength.

Yacobellis said organizers chose the location of Church Street and South Fullerton Avenue because it will also be the area where the Pride Festival will take place June 11. Other events associated with the festival began earlier this month, including Pride Night at the Montclair Art Museum on June 2, and a Montclair Film presentation of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” at Lackawanna Plaza the evening of June 3 (the same day as the flag raising).

On Monday, June 6, at 7:30 p.m. will be the Pride Drag and Variety Show at Vanguard Theater, featuring Harmonica Sunbeam, who has worked alongside artists including Beyonce, Mary J. Blige and Jennifer Holiday, and appeared as a backup dancer for Katy Perry on “Saturday Night Live.” Act I will be family-friendly, organizers say, but Act II will “bring on the spice.” Tickets are at vtcnj.ticketleap.com.

"Please remember the purpose in Pride," Yacobellis said at the flag raising. "Now as like so much of human history, the LGBTQIA+ community is in a fight to exist, to be taught about, to be allowed to love and commit, and to just to simply be.

Andy Kahnke, creative director of Out Montclair, wears pride-inspired nail polish on June 3, 2022. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Andy Kahnke, creative director of Out Montclair, wears pride-inspired nail polish on June 3, 2022. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
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"We dance and celebrate joyfully as we should after winning the battles we’ve had to fight just to simply exist today. And with the war far from over and with increasing intensity, it’s never been more important to affirm each other, especially our youth. We are every age and every race and every color and creed and nationality and religion and level of ability. And we love you, our allies. And we stand with every other marginalized person in this world in solidarity. The rainbow is our symbol because all of us existing together in love is pure beauty. We are, all together, what creates light."

The gathering of officials— members of the Township Council, Congress, the Essex County Board of Commissioners and others — signified unified support for the LGBTQ community, that "every level of government is represented here today and has your backs," Yacobellis said.

Essex County Commissioner Brendan Gill said: "It's about actual real action, taking our position for public service to help all communities to make sure that those communities are represented, supported and celebrated. And that's what we're going to do here in Montclair over the next few weeks."

Mayor Sean Spiller said it's important to recognize the struggle of the LGBTQ+ community and to make sure voices are not silenced: "Until every individual feels welcomed in every community, not just ours, our job is not yet done."

Reading from a township proclamation in support of LGBTQ community members and proclaiming June Pride Month in Montclair, he urged township residents to promote diversity, join LGBTQ advocacy, create welcoming spaces and "be visible, outspoken allies and upstanders against any injustice, because an injustice against one is an injustice against all."

Bledsoe said the creation of the Essex County Office of LGBTQ Affairs was an important move for the county, as he serves as a cabinet member, "and when decisions are being, made [Essex County Executive] Joe DiVencenzo and his team are looking to me to give that perspective of the LGBTQ community."

U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill, who represents the 11th District, covering much of Montclair, shared a story from her time in the military, saying she'll never forget when a man stood up at a moment when everyone in his brigade was present and asked the chief of naval operations: "When are you going to have the courage to lift 'don't ask, don't tell?'"

"And that night, that gentleman had to have people posted outside his door because a gang of midshipmen was outside saying they were going to beat him up," Sherrill said. "That was in the '90s. And so I know we're all scared about our rights now. I know we're all worried about the rollbacks and so many protections and what that might mean to us. But I do want us to take a moment during this month to think of how far we've come, to think of how much progress we have made."

Montclair Local is among the sponsors for the Pride Festival.

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