For the second year in a row as Hoboken mayor, Ravi Bhalla joined residents in front of City Hall to raise the rainbow flag to kick off Pride Month.
In an on-camera interview after the raising of the rainbow flag, Bhalla emphasized the initiatives his administration has undertaken that are friendly and welcoming to the gay community.
“We are very proud to have last year for the first time received a 100 percent score from the National Human Rights campaign; we are one of only two municipalities in the state of New Jersey that have received that score – that’s a great source of pride for Hoboken,” began Bhalla.
He started off the flag raising ceremony by re-emphasizing the city’s commitment to LGBTQ+ issues.
â€œWeâ€™re proud to kick off World Pride Month with our flag raising and first ever Pride crosswalks in front of City Hall. This is a symbol of not just our ongoing commitment to inclusive policies for all, but also to Hobokenâ€™s LGBTQ+ history and all those who have fought so hard for equality before us. We look forward to our second annual Hoboken Pride Week this August!â€
Notably absent from the press conference and the raising of the rainbow flag was Hoboken’s first openly gay elected official, 1st Ward Councilman Michael DeFusco, who was also notably absent last year – declining an invitation after not being included in the program.
We asked Bhalla if the councilman had been invited to participate.
“Yes, all council members were invited. We are very proud here in Hoboken to have a gay councilman in Michael DeFusco. Unfortunately, he couldn’t be here today, but, yes, he was invited,” said Bhalla.
We followed up to ask if he was disappointed that DeFusco could not be in attendance to raise the rainbow flag.
“He might have had a scheduling conflict, but he’s here with us in spirit.”
DeFusco, also the chair of the Hudson County Democratic Organization’s LGBTQ Caucus, hosted his own Pride Month kickoff event on Saturday, where Harmonica Sunbeam participated in a drag queen story hour and brunch.
Laura Knittel, the City of Hoboken’s LGBTQ+ community liaison, added that the best way to celebrate Pride Month is to thank all the friends, family and alliances who have been celebrating love.
We interviewed Knittel, who explained some of the daunting challenges that LGBTQ+ persons still encounter despite the progress the community has made since the Stonewall Inn battle from 50 years ago this June 28.
“A couple of issues that I have come across this year may be transgender people who come in who may be losing their healthcare, their housing [and] dealing with depression and suicide. Sometimes I have families, a grandmother for instance who came to tell me that her granddaughter was gay, but that her daughter wasn’t very accepting, and what should she do, where could she go to kind of sort this all out,” Knittel explained.
“I even have friends who may have one or two children who are gay, they’re straight, and they want to know where can they go to connect with like-minded people to find out how they can be more supportive. So there’s a wide range of engagement required to educate the public as we grow and become more transparent to the public.
In addition, Elizabeth Schedl, Hudson Pride Centerâ€™s chief operations officer, said she was excited and honored to be a part of Hoboken’s June Pride Flag Raising.
â€œWhile I know we still have a long way to go to create a truly accepting, understanding, and inclusive society, I can appreciate how far we have come. Hoboken’s Pride Flag Raising sends a message to all the people in the Hoboken area and beyond. It says that Hoboken is a safe place, an accepting place, and a place that above all values its community and the diversity within it.â€
Also, Paul Somerville and Allen Kratz, longtime Hoboken residents who were the first couple in Hoboken to register as domestic partners in 2004, became civil union partners in 2007, and were married in 2013 shortly after the state legalized same-sex marriage, attended the event.
Kratz was President of the New Jersey Lesbian and Gay Coalition in the 1980s when the coalition laid the groundwork for extending the protections of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination to include sexual orientation.
During the press conference, he admitted that despite all his efforts and activism to eliminate discrimination against the gay community, he wasn’t initially open to the idea of equal rights for transgender persons.
“I recall some gay activists back in the day who were not disposed to offer equal rights to transgender people. Some of us felt that that was a way of offering equal employment rights would damage the prospect of legislation passage of non-discriminatory legislation,” began Kratz.
“I am sorry to say that I was one of those people who did not give sufficient dignity to the rights of transgender people and was not open to providing the rights that I was seeking for myself.”
Since that time, however, he has realized that’s important for all groups to overcome oppression and discrimination in all of its manifestations in order to pursue life, liberty and happiness.
The full ceremony streamed live on our Facebook page and can be viewed below: