CAPE MAY – Those enjoying a sunny afternoon on Cape May’s Promenade June 24 were joined by a crowd celebrating Pride Month.
What started as a handful of people on Convention Hall’s steps turned into a diverse crowd of many races and ages decorated in festive outfits and rainbow colors by 6 p.m.
After a half-hour of hugs, laughs and chatter, the group, with colorful signs, flags and banners in hand, began marching to Sunset Cove around 6:30 p.m. to the sounds of up-tempo dance music and cheers from onlookers.
Waves, honks and applause came from each side of Beach Avenue from those eating at seaside restaurants and bars, relishing their leisurely walk or bike ride and celebrating what has become a notable month in the U.S.
Similar to a 2020 march advocating for the Black community and justice in the George Floyd case, the walk was organized by Cape May County Indivisible, with help from the Cape May County NAACP and the city.
The celebration came in a year when the White House, other government officials and community members across the nation continue to fight for equal rights for LGBTQ people.
President Joe Biden has been at the front of a national fight for equal rights. He June 1 signed a proclamation deeming June as Pride Month, which recognizes when, in June 1969, the modern gay rights movement began in the U.S. after riots broke out at New York City’s Stonewall Inn. The riots are said to have united thousands of people to protest what were some of the nation’s strictest anti-gay laws, such as prohibiting gay people from being served alcohol or dancing with one another.
Advocating for LGBTQ rights, however, goes beyond the corridors of the White House and U.S. Capitol. They resonate with those who are apart of the community, like those in Sarah Keegan’s family. She, along with her husband, Ryan, a Coast Guard member stationed at U.S. Coast Guard Training Center Cape May (TRACEN), wanted to attend their first Pride rally to support inclusion before leaving for their home state of New Hampshire in the coming weeks.
“I’m really lucky that my family is very open-minded and very supportive, and they’ve never treated my cousin differently for being gay,” Keegan said. “Some of my best friends from childhood are gay, and my parents were super supportive. They never treated them any differently.”
“When you know somebody and you care about somebody that these issues affect, it makes you kind of want to fight and support them more,” she added. “When you see violence against them or laws being made against them, I guess it makes it more personal when you know somebody it can really affect. It’s not just like a person you see on TV.”
June is, besides the start of a vigorous tourism season along the shore, a time where major city streets and sidewalks are chocked full with Pride marchers, something several residents who identify with the LGBTQ community said they never would’ve expected in Cape May County.
“I have gone to many Pride events. They’re just never down here, and, to be honest, I wasn’t actually aware that there were that many queer people here,” Devon Patchel, of Court House, said.
Patchel, who spoke to the Herald with Katie Kelly, of Marmora, spoke of the challenges she faced growing up in a community she said didn’t feel inclusive to her, which forced her to avoid expressing herself. Kelly also said she didn’t come out until October 2020, having kept her sexuality private since high school. The 32-year-old said that most of what made her withhold publicly expressing her identity was not finding other women like her nearby.
“I was either angry or sad all the time,” Kelly said. “I was like, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ so I started seeing a therapist and worked with her. Thankfully, I did have other gay friends that I could come out to first.”
Kelly’s struggle with maintaining her mental health is one all too familiar with people in the LGBTQ community.
The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) says adults within the community are more than twice as likely to endure a mental health condition. For those identifying as transgender, the chances double, approaching four times as likely. Those statistics are why local officials are leading the call for inclusion.
“All men are created equal. All men and women are endowed with unalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As mayor of Cape May, I want to welcome all of you here,” Mayor Zack Mullock told a crowd gathered on the beach at Sunset Cove. “We love you, not because of who you love, but because we are a loving community, and we welcome all.”
“I am here for anybody in this county,” Joe Landis, of the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office, told the crowd, urging them to report bias hate crimes when they’re witnessed. Everybody should be able to walk freely on who you are, what you represent – whether it’s your sexuality, your religion, your race. We all need to come together and make sure we look out for each other.”
Once at Sunset Cove, the rally turned into a celebration, with many marchers sharing hugs and snapping photos. Some even decided to break out their swimsuits and take their celebration to the Atlantic Ocean, while others stayed on shore, enjoying the early summer sun setting behind the Cape May Lighthouse, or returned to the Promenade to enjoy the rest of their day, as the hours transposed into evening.
To contact Eric Conklin, email email@example.com.
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