Today’s LGBTQ flag raising at Hoboken City Hall created a hint of controversy as Mayor Ravi Bhalla and 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco, the latter who is openly gay, sparred over whether or not he was made a significant part of the event.
“Inclusivity is more than just a buzz word or an easy way to grab a headline,” DeFusco said in a statement released to the press prior to the 1 p.m. flag raising.
“Much like the mayor’s prideful connection with the Sikh community, I proudly stand with the LGBTQ community and together as elected officials we are both products of Hoboken’s inclusive spirit. Sadly, his petty decision shows a glaring disregard for including anyone who is not on the same side politically even though we are members of the same party.”
In a similar vein, DeFusco tweeted after the event that he was “snubbed from being given the chance to speak.”
However, in an on-camera interview after the ceremony, Bhalla responded to DeFusco’s remarks.
“We provided invitations to all councilmembers last week to the gun violence awareness rally and to today’s gay pride rally,” Bhalla said.
“All councilmembers are always invited, and I was really hoping that the councilman would have taken the time to have joined us because I wanted to give him a special recognition that he certainly deserves as our first gay councilman.”
For the record, Councilwoman-at-Large Emily Jabbour was the only council member in attendance and the only other elected official on hand was Freeholder Anthony Romano (D-5).
Bhalla declined to get into a back-and-forth with DeFusco, exclaiming that Hoboken’s actions towards the LGBTQ community speak for themselves.
“I think actions speak louder than words. The fact that we are the first city in the state of New Jersey to pass a law that advances the rights of transgenders speaks volumes to what we’re doing not just in words, but in actions,” the mayor stated.
DeFusco first made waves about the situation on the City of Hoboken’s Facebook page on Friday, with city spokesman Santiago Melli-Huber offering a lengthy explanation as to why the councilman wasn’t made part of the program.
“You weren’t asked to speak for the same reason Councilman Doyle wasn’t asked to speak when we raised the Irish flag for St. Patrick’s Day and Councilwoman Falco wasn’t asked to speak when we raised the Pan-African Flag to mark Black History Month,” he wrote.
“That’s because these aren’t political events, and they’re not about any individual person. They’re about the community at large. If you’d like to speak in-depth about this, please give me a call. You have my number.”
As for the significance of Hoboken hoisting the rainbow flag in front of City Hall, Bhalla spoke of the importance of equality.
“It really reminds me of that day when the Supreme Court several years ago decided that marriage equality was the right of all Americans. That day there were gay pride flags hanging all throughout the city and we want to continue that momentum because that’s what our city reflects: inclusivity, diversity and equality,” he recalled.
“Raising the flag is only one part of it, but it’s part of a larger effort to make sure that we take substantive measures to make sure that everyone is being treated equally under the law.”
We also interviewed retired Sgt. Major Jennifer Long, a transgender veteran who served in Afghanistan that was personally invited to the flag raising by the mayor.
“Raising the LGBT flag in Hudson County, and particularly in Hoboken, sends a message of diversity and inclusiveness to the residents in town, and as well as across the state of New Jersey,” Long said.
We also asked her how would she respond to criticisms that the LGBT flag shouldn’t be flying with the American flag.
“This country is built on diversity; we’re a nation of immigrants. LGBT members have served in the military since its very beginning, and they have served with honor and distinction,” she explained.
“There are 150,000 veterans today who have served in the military who identify as transgender, and there are almost 9,000 veterans currently on active duty serving across the world, again serving with honor and distinction.”
The full press conference streamed live on our Facebook page and can be viewed below: