Music, merriment, a message of solidarity: Montclair’s first Pride Festival
It will be a celebration of the LGBTQ community and a party, with 115 tents, two stages, a beer garden and art displays, among other attractions, and will be capped by a concert at the Wellmont.
It will have a full schedule of special events around town leading up to it, including a night at the museum, an outdoor screening of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and a drag variety show.
And it will also be about making connections — and raising awareness.
Montclair’s first-ever Pride Festival, presented by Out Montclair, is scheduled for June 11, with the theme of “Be You. Be Heard.”
“With anti-LGBTQIA+ rhetoric and laws taking place across America, we have to come together in a town like ours in celebration of who we are and in solidarity of our allies,” the organizers said in a statement announcing the event.
Cathy Renna, who is on the advisory board of Out Montclair, said, “The idea of having a Pride came along pretty quickly after Out Montclair was formed.”
Besides her work with Out Montclair, Renna is the communications director for the National LGBTQ Task Force and the principal of Targetcue.com, a communications and PR firm focused on the LGBTQ community. Renna has lived in Montclair for eight years, while her wife is a 25-year resident.
“It’s really been wonderful to see how Pride is coming in Montclair,” she said. “I’m really proud of how there’s a real mix of talent and individuals.”
Featured performers will include actress and transgender activist Peppermint; athlete/musician Bryan Ruby; comedian Judy Gold; Broadway actress Laura Benanti; TV host and trans activist Carmen Carrera; actor Dyllón Burnside and the cast of “Jagged Little Pill.” The festival day will round off with a concert at the Wellmont featuring singer-songwriter Betty Who.
Montclair’s Pride has the potential to be one of the largest such Prides in the state, Renna said.
Out Montclair was founded last year. Councilman-at-Large Peter Yacobellis serves as the organization’s president.
“Pride’s kind of our first birthday,” said Andy Kahnke, Pride’s creative director. His team is in charge of marketing, advertising and community outreach efforts.
Marie Cottrell, the event’s director, said that originally it was thought that the festival was going to be a fairly modest day-long affair in the center of town, perhaps in the area of Church Street and Park Street, with a selection of tents and vendors.
She recalled Out Montclair’s initial meeting with Montclair Center BID — which is also one of the major sponsors — to discuss the concept of Pride. The response was very enthusiastic, she remembered.
As word of Pride got out, more and more businesses, organizations and individuals reached out and asked to get involved, Cottrell said.
She estimated that 10,000 people might turn out for the event.
The official opening party will take place at the Montclair Art Museum on June 2, with Pride Night at the Museum.
That day coincides with the museum’s regular Thursday night art night. So the attendees will have an opportunity to do an art project showing what Pride means to them individually. All of those pieces will be put on display during the festival, and the pieces will be eventually compiled into design books that the attendees can take home.
On June 3, Montclair Film will present a screening of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” outdoors at Lackawanna Plaza.
Before its closing the Bellevue Theatre was a venue for regular screenings of “Rocky Horror.” At the June 3 screening at Lackawanna Plaza, The Ordinary Kids performers will act along with the film.
Cottrell said that the event coordinators need volunteers to help out on the day of the festival, including running the merchandise tents, helping out backstage and setting up and breaking down.
Those who would like to sign up as volunteers can do so on the Out Montclair website, at OutMontclair.org.
Also June 3, Montclair Township will hold its annual LGBTQIA+ Pride Month flag-raising ceremony, at 3 p.m., on the corner of Church Street and South Fullerton Avenue. Mayor Sean Spiller and Peter Yacobellis, who is also the president of Out Montclair, will address those gathered.
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.
Pride takes on additional significance given recent rises in anti-LGBTQ hate crimes and legislation across the United States. Many school districts have been asked to ban books with LGBTQ content.
In Montclair, several students and parents spoke up in support of the schools’ gender and sexuality alliances after two parents made remarks about them and the school district that were offensive to many in the community.
“Pride is absolutely a celebration and a party, but it’s also about raising awareness,” Renna said.
On May 17, the Township Council issued a proclamation declaring June to be Pride Month in Montclair.
In November, Montclair earned a perfect 100 percent score for LGBTQ+ inclusiveness on the Human Rights Campaign’s Inclusiveness Index, up from 78 percent the year before.
“I think for us in Montclair, it’s about having queer people and [LGBTQIA+] people find each other,” Kahnke said. And Pride and other events like it are about creating places and opportunities to meet each other and connect with one another, he said.
Cottrell said, “It’s amazing. It’s not just a street festival. It’s an experience. It’s an experience of life.”
Tickets and more information, including a full lineup of events and vendors, is at outmontclair.org/pride.
Editor’s note: Montclair Local is one of the sponsoring organizations and participants in the Montclair Pride Festival.