Equality Ball 2022: Celebrating Our Community, Preparing for Our Future

Brielle Winslow-Majette, Deputy Director

On June 2, about 500 individuals gathered at the Garden State Equality Ball as Governor Murphy exclaimed, “We need Garden State Equality now more than ever!” This statement came after witnessing a plethora of attacks on LGBTQ+ communities throughout the country in recent months, but just mere weeks before the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court. In hindsight, Governor Murphy could not be more correct, as the country is regressing to a time where the ideals of equity and inclusion were not so equal.

The illustrious Michelle Obama once said, “When they go low, we go high,” and that is exactly what happened as the room filled with some of Garden State Equality’s largest supporters, who showed their support for the work that lies ahead. As Garden State Equality’s mission is to uplift the diverse voices of LGBTQ+ communities, to strive for a state whose LGBTQ+ residents have full equality under the law and equal lived experiences, the room was electrified with the energy of a community that breathed that mission to life.

As we took pride in our partners, thanked our board members, celebrated our successes, and danced through our history with drag performances, we provided an opportunity for an LGBTQ+ youth member to feel visible, understood, and safe as she bravely shared her life experience. In that moment we remembered why we do this work, because the love and acceptance that filled that room that night lines every pillar of Garden State Equality’s work, thus creating lasting change.

The funds raised at the Equality Ball will help to support numerous initiatives, including the creation of safe spaces for our LGBTQ+ youth as they journey to find and accept their identity, providing support and resources for substance abuse, building a community for our older adults who have experienced isolation through Covid, putting the healing back in our communities through a positive deviance approach, continuing to fight for equality for our residents as they stare back at a world that continues to strip others of their protections, and so much more. 

Although no one predicted that the overturning of Roe v. Wade would have abruptly followed that beautiful event, we were not surprised by the oppression and hate that lurked around the corner with this decision. As an organization, we will answer Governor Murphy’s call to action, as our LGBTQ+ communities need to see themselves in their school lessons, in successful leadership positions in workplaces, and in freedom! Garden State Equality will always “go high,” until lived equality is achieved, but it would be impossible without the supporters who filled the seats of the Equality Ball! Will you join us next year?

Why Pride Month Is Still Important

Jahmila Smith, Project Manager & Trainer

I was asked earlier this month, “Why is Pride Month still important to celebrate and why does the LGBTQ+ community need it?” My initial thoughts were: we need Pride for visibility, community, and celebration. We need Pride Month because we need representation, allyship, the space and opportunity for people to show up and be themselves. We need Pride Month because Pride Month is still protest, Pride events are still an act of resistance, and a moment for us to acknowledge the needs and concerns of those whose voices we are trying to uplift and whose safety we are still fighting for.

My thoughts came full circle while tabling at Montclair Pride on June 11, when a trans youth came up to the Garden State Equality table, not only overwhelmed by our presence, but the entire presence of everyone there that day. When I asked her if she was okay, she responded, with tears in her eyes, “I’m just grateful to be here, and see everyone here.” The importance of visibility immediately struck me. For LGBTQ+ youth in particular, seeing them at Pride events reminds me of how vital it is for them to see themselves, and to celebrate who they are comfortably, safely, and proudly amongst their peers and people.

As Garden State Equality has attended numerous Pride events throughout the state of New Jersey this June, we have been able to speak to the plethora of initiatives that we have to offer for all people, youth to older adults. Our visibility showed not only pride in our work, but the pride we take in building a community that will strive to continue to strive toward lived equality for all! The amount of towns that took pride in their first Pride celebrations this year continued to show a need for safe spaces for all LGBTQ+ communities to feel like the majority, but also shed light that many towns are still fighting for this space, and for that reason Pride will always be important.

Reflections on Jersey Pride

Damien Lopez, Project Manager & Trainer

I had the pleasure of attending many events this June, but the event that stood out most to me and brought me great joy and pleasure was Jersey Pride in Asbury Park. Driving the Garden State Equality car and having the opportunity to advocate for trans rights and the equality of LGBTQ+ Americans was a memorable moment.

The significance of driving the Garden State Equality car and waving a trans rights poster goes hand in hand with what our values here are at Garden State Equality. There are many trans youth who may not have that support in their home, school, or community, especially with the attacks on LGBTQ+ identity we are seeing across the state. Those individuals may feel discouraged as to who is here for them. We say we are!

From wonderful initiatives such as the Trans Day of Visibility Brunch, to an LGBTQ Family night, to uplifting our LGBTQ youth voices with a Pride Zine, we are reminding our youth that they are seen, heard, loved, and valid.

The tabling event at Jersey Pride was a success—we had a bunch of resources and opportunities for attendees to ask questions and refer them to the correct resources. It was my first Jersey Pride and hopefully not the last! This reinstated that our youth are so diverse, inclusive, and compassionate. It’s an honor to walk with them and continue to advocate for an equal and loving future.

The Growth of Toms River Pride​

Samantha Hanson, Project Manager & Trainer

Representation is essential for our young people within the LGBTQ+ community, especially during times and in places where they often feel as if their voices are not heard. Growing up in Toms River, I can say there was little to no LGBTQ+ representation in my school or community. It is because of the instrumental work that Garden State Equality has been doing on a statewide level that the path was paved for Toms River to host its inaugural Pride event in 2019.

The event has since doubled in size, and attracted thousands of people, showing the need for more inclusive events in our community. Being able to attend on behalf of Garden State Equality and hearing stories from folks who worked tirelessly alongside us to get a place where communities like this can have Pride events, and young people excited to have a place where they belong, just shows that our work is only just beginning!

Your History is Not Your Story

Deidre Belinfanti, Project Manager & Trainer

Garden State Equality understands that we have all experienced trauma in our lives and access to mental health services are few to nil for many communities of color and queer-identified folks. Here at Garden State Equality and our ACEs self healing community, Asbury Park Healing Together, we are offering community learning sessions for youth caregivers and providers in understanding ACEs and positive deviance in creating common language and practices to promote resilience.

Along with our upcoming Community Learning Sessions, GSE is in the midst of creating a youth healing team that will bring Asbury youth between the ages 13 and 16 together to direct and facilitate ACEs-centered work in their community through peer leadership and activism. In starting this youth healing team, we are offering a social media internship for our youth, who will lead the messaging around our ACEs work. Stay tuned for more updates and events!

Advocating for Sex Workers in New Jersey

Aleyah Lopez, Fellow

On June 2, International Sex Workers’ Day, Garden State Equality joined Tahtianna Fermin of Bridges4Life for New Jersey’s first annual Sex Worker’s March! The march will now be held annually on this day to express support for the safety of sex workers. In addition to the march, Garden State Equality presented on the importance of safety for sex workers to legislators during our Lobby Day on June 22. We are excited to see where this will go and how we can continue to support this cause.

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