By John Burton
RED BANK – Borough Councilman Edward Zipprich had a message for the younger audience members participating in last week’s celebration of Two River Pride. Zipprich, who is openly gay, wanted participants to know that things are getting better.
“I think we’ve begun to see a lot more tolerance,” Zipprich said at the June 20 event, held in at the Two River Theater.
Organizers of Two River Pride expect the event to become an annual gathering in recognition of National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month.
While Zipprich said things have gotten better, he admitted there is still much work to be done on obtaining equality for the LGBT community. “We also have to get ready for the next generation,” he said.
The evening was in large part geared toward a younger audience, giving them an opportunity to talk about their experiences in a nurturing and friendly environment, with positive role models offering their own experiences.
A portion of the theater space at 21 Bridge Ave. was transformed into a makeshift coffeehouse – with coffee provided by Coffee Corral on Drs. James Parker Boulevard. There was an open mic session for musical and theatrical performances and reflections by some guest speakers. There was also a chance for participants to have their thoughts and reflections videotaped for use at a later time during various programs in local high schools.
Kate Okeson, who helped Zipprich, Borough Councilwoman Kathy Horgan and a handful of others organize the event, teaches art at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School. She is an activist and is co-founder of Make It Better For Youth, a group that works with LGBT youth. She said the event was aimed at “trying to open the network up” for younger people who, while facing the traditional travails of adolescence, are looking to come to terms with their sexuality and deal with peer and familial issues.
Okeson and Zipprich said it is good that young people are finding the strength to come out at an earlier age and it allows them to find their place in life. Zipprich, who is 53, said he didn’t come out until he was 37.
“That common experience of ‘what will happen if I declare this?” Okeson said. “It can be all consuming, definitely.”
“It took me a long time,” Zipprich said, recalling the trepidation he felt about how friends, family and colleagues would feel about his decision. “Was I really willing to give up my relationships with them to live openly?”
Brenda “Sue” Fulton graduated in 1980 from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in the first class to allow women. She became an Army captain before resigning her commission to come out. Now, with the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, those wishing to serve can do so and not be denied the opportunity, she said.
Joshua Fontanez of Browns Mill is an Army lieutenant who attended a military college in Vermont, where he says being gay wasn’t easy. “You can wish, hope and want,” he said, “but eventually, you have to put your foot down,” and fight for what you believe is right. Fontanez joined a group of gay students whose motto was “You’re not alone.” The school’s administration was surprised with the growth of the organization. “I knew we were doing the right thing when Fox News started attacking us,” he said.
Mayor Pasquale Menna offered a formal proclamation from the borough council honoring the event, and advised the audience to use their vote to get their message across. “Equality is not something that just happens,” he told the mostly youthful audience. “You have to work for it.”
After the evening’s events, Jordan Pollak, 19, of Manalapan described himself as a transsexual male, who will enter Rutgers University in the fall and will major in psychology and neurology. “I’m an expanding advocate,” Pollak said. “I’m trying to do everything I can to bring about change.
“I actually think events like this can be lifesaving,” Pollak said. “These events can show people they aren’t alone.”
Chris Hennessy, a 19-year-old Oceanport resident described herself as “gender queer.” Hennessy, who is attending Fordham University, said she came out to friends and family while a student at Rumson-Fair Haven High School. “Before I came out, high school was harder for me than after I came out,” she said.
The revelation gave her confidence. As for her family, “Before I came out I didn’t know how they would respond,” but they have been quite supportive, Hennessy said. “When I heard about this event I thought I wished there was this type of event when I was younger,” Hennessy said.
“We want to thank our youth,” said David Pasquale, chairman of the borough’s Human Relations Commission, and an organizer for the event, “because they always show us the best example.”