Rutherford Pride Alliance - Year in Review and Pride Flag Raising
By Jennifer Ersalesi
Since its inception in 2018, the Rutherford Pride Alliance (a 501 (c)3 non-profit organization) has found a number of ways to promote inclusivity, advocacy, and visibility of the LGBTQ community. By organizing various events, fundraisers, and participating in a number of community outreach projects, the Rutherford Pride Alliance (RPA) members have established themselves as a strong, inclusive, and uplifting community group. To read more about the Rutherford Pride Alliance, click here. This is Rutherford spoke with Rob Lyons, who is an active member and Chairperson of the Rutherford Pride Alliance, and Christine Beidel, Founding Member of RPA and the Pride Flag Event Chairperson about this past year and the upcoming Pride Flag raising.
TIR: Despite the pandemic, the Rutherford Pride Alliance remained active. Tell us how you held monthly RPA meetings and how you stayed connected during such a challenging time.
Rob Lyons: Just like everyone else, we experienced this unprecedented global pandemic along with our local community and the world. The hard part for us as an organization is that we were moving along with great momentum after our first year as a group. We had increased membership and really found amazing support from the community of Rutherford and then it all came to a sudden stop. The hard part of it all was that so many were looking forward to experiencing new relationships & a stronger LGBTQ community headed into our second year, that it was extremely disappointing to pause. We quickly adapted to the times and utilized Zoom to conduct our member meetings. As many of us experienced, Zoom fatigue is a real thing. We were challenged with having to connect with people and integrate social work and fun! Last year's Pride month was especially challenging as we came off the excitement of 400+ people at our first event but couldn't have anyone in person for our second. I ensured we executed our event, among other Pride events, virtually. To our surprise, some of the virtual events actually helped expand our reach, allowing non-local family and friends the opportunity to participate and support. We still look to integrate a mix of in-person and virtual aspects into our future fundraisers and events.
TIR: The RPA held a number of fundraisers throughout the last year, such as the Pride Lawn Flag Fundraiser (which is still going on?) and the Move with Pride Fundraiser. Can you explain a bit more about these fundraisers?
RL: Our Pride Flag fundraiser is still going on! In fact, we will have some available at our event on June 5th! The intent of our flag fundraiser was to be the destination for people to go to when they wanted to show off their pride and/or support for the LGBTQ community, during June. We often had residents (LGBTQ and allies) asking us where they can get rainbow flags, etc, so we decided to become that resource! We look forward to seeing the rainbows waving throughout Rutherford and the area in the month of June.
Move with Pride was an exciting fundraiser. Not only was it a different approach with the focus on physical activity as we emerged from our recent pandemic lockdown, but it was created by two new members of the RPA and new residents of Rutherford, Veronica Ruhno-McCallum and Kat Ruhno-McCallum. Veronica and Kat moved to Rutherford this past year and not only joined RPA, but also created the Rutherford Runners group. They were really key in launching this for our town and members. This physical fundraiser also took a virtual approach, allowing us to use the Nike Run Club app and having people participate around the country! It was an event that allowed people with different interests to come together in a different way and support the organization's fundraising efforts towards scholarships and next year's first Pride Festival!
TIR: Two bakeries assisted the RPA with fundraisers, as well. Steph’s Baking Boutique sold “Love is Love'' cookies and Erie’s Bakery sold Giant Rainbow Sprinkle Cookies to celebrate National Coming Out Day on October 11th. How did these fundraisers assist the RPA?
RL: We are so lucky to have local businesses support us. Our first collaboration with a local business for fundraising was with Erie Bakery. Renee and the Erie team have always shown their support for RPA and we thought it would be a great "treat" (pun intended) to partner together in conjunction with National Coming Out Day. Erie Bakery has such a loyal following, we thought it would be a great opportunity to partner with them and bring visibility to a local business but most importantly, to our non-profit organization. Visibility in any form is so important, especially for our youth. Steph's Baking Boutique was another great partnership because we paired a recently coined popular phrase "Love is Love" with Valentine's Day. What was special about this partnership is that it gave us an opportunity to work with a business in East Rutherford. One of our goals this year is to expand our relationships with towns surrounding Rutherford and make our neighbors aware that there is a local group fostering and advocating for the LGBTQ community. By partnering with Steph it allowed us to take that first step of relationship building.
These fundraisers, along with many of our others, are key for us as they support our two scholarships. This year our fundraising efforts allowed us to increase our RHS scholarship to $1000, as well as create a second $1000 scholarship that is open to students graduating HS and continuing on to secondary education, or to students who will be continuing their existing secondary education. The new RPA Scholarship is open to students that reside in the towns in which our official RPA Members reside, which is a great perk for those that join our organization! Check out our social pages for details and how to apply before 7/15.
TIR: The RPA also held a No-Limit Texas Hold’Em Turbo Poker Tournament virtually. Tell us more about this event.
RL: This is one that was different for us this year, as well. One of the greatest things about our members is that they all bring different interests to the table. David Vaughn, an RPA Member from East Rutherford, regularly participates in poker tournaments and they often select a charity that would receive a percentage of the winnings. This event really let us organize something virtually for those who otherwise wouldn't have participated in some of our other social events. We saw the opportunity to create diverse events that could really tap into the unique population of our supporters, including our wide LGBTQ ally population. It also gave many in our group an introduction to poker and it was fun to learn from one another...while we lost money to the experts (laughs)!!
David Vaughn, along with others within our fundraising/marketing committee, also led a new initiative for us this year. During our initial pilot, the RPA welcomed all new residents of Rutherford and East Rutherford, by providing an RPA Welcome Bag which informed them of our group and provided the new residents with town information, as well as local business swag and offers. We look forward to continuing this into the year and are grateful for David's efforts in getting these initiatives off the ground.
TIR: During the holidays, the RPA held a Holiday collection for RAIN (Reaching Adolescents in Need). This is not the first time the group worked with RAIN. How did you learn about this organization? Why have your members chosen to support this organization?
RL: The RAIN Foundation has really been a great organization to be a part of. Through our relationship building with Garden State Equality and other NJ-based organizations, we learned of RAIN headed into our first holiday season as an organization. As an organization, we really wanted to ensure we focused our philanthropy on LGBTQ youth, in some way. RAIN is the only LGBTQ youth homeless shelter in NJ and we felt this was a great partnership. As a group, we have been lucky to thrive in a community that has outwardly supported the LGBTQ population, adults and youth, over the recent years. However, we still are faced with the reality that many LGBTQ youths are still kicked out of their homes on a regular basis. Last year, even during COVID, teens were still being disowned by their family members. During the pandemic, the RAIN Foundation was still able to provide a safe haven for displaced young adults. RPA wanted to ensure that RAIN was supported, especially since non-profit's were also struggling financially during COVID. The holiday time period can be very tough for many without family, especially LGBTQ youth. We were so happy to be able to fulfill the RAIN house holiday wish list this year and provide each resident with a holiday full of love and support. Without a doubt, we will continue to partner with this important organization as they work to provide permanent housing and job placement for such an important population of our community.
TIR: In May, the RPA invited the community to participate in “Humans Being” - free Pride Photo Porch Sessions. Photographers Jess Stiles, Joe Lombardo, and Justin Derner, took some awesome photos of families showing their support for the LGBTQ community. Those photos are currently displayed in the Coccia Window on Park Ave. Why is it so meaningful to have these photos captured and displayed?
RL: For those who remember, one of RPA's first introductions to Rutherford was at the Civil Rights Commission's Multicultural Festival in 2019. At our booth, we created a community photo booth which one of our members, Joe Lombardo, organized. This photo booth created a fun atmosphere that captured the support and celebration of Rutherford's LGBTQ+ community and their allies. It showcased diversity in its true form, which was a true indication of the core values of our town. It's been 2 years since that event and as a community, we all went through so much together last year. Joe Lombardo wanted to revisit this approach this year The Humans Being Banner Project is a project born out of the Covid-era. Its aim was to be a gift to the communities of Rutherford and surrounding townships as an answer to the separation we have all been feeling during the lockdown. It is the collective brainchild of the membership of the RPA who have always believed that our pictures are our memories, and post-lockdown, it was time to create some more.
These special families came together to showcase their authentic support of the LGBTQIA+ community and to share with the world one message: “If you are an LGBTQIA+ child, parent or family in our town, our home is a safe space for you to BE. BE who you are, BE your authentic self, BE, essentially, the very essence of your humanity - no matter who you choose to love."
We were so lucky to have these amazing photographers volunteer their time. Joe Lombardo, a resident of North Arlington and an RPA Member, produced this event. Justin Derner, who came to us from Philadelphia, and Jess Stiles, a new RPA member, as well as a new resident of Rutherford, worked tirelessly with our families over the course of one weekend. We couldn't thank them enough and we look forward to seeing how this project will reoccur and evolve over the years.
We also are very appreciative of Better Homes & Gardens Coccia Realty and Bea Goldberg for continuously allowing us to create and showcase an impactful Pride window for the month of June.
TIR: Last year, due to pandemic restrictions, the RPA was unable to organize a gathering at Borough Hall for the Pride Flag Raising. This year there will be a celebration and gathering at Borough Hall on Saturday, June 5th at 11 am as the Pride Flag is raised again. Tell us more about this upcoming event and how Borough residents can become involved.
RL: I'll pass this question over to one of our founding RPA members, Christine Beidel, who is organizing this year's event!
Christine Beidel: This year‘s flag raising will be on June 5th at 11 o’clock at Borough Hall and we will have a local DJ -DJ JROC- playing some fun music before and after the event. We expect it to be a quick one-hour upbeat disco party! And there will definitely be some fun places to get good Instagram selfies with rainbow backdrops and balloons! We will be distributing little Pride flags and Pride heart rainbow stickers. Everyone will also have an opportunity to purchase a rainbow Pride Lawn Flag or Rainbow bracelet kits from our local partner, Made to Measure Events. Bring the whole family to the party. We’d love to see a big crowd again!
We are particularly excited about this year‘s flag raising because the town Council has declared June to be Pride Month in Rutherford!
As you know, when we did the first flag raising in 2019, we had about 400 people attend and we were just bowled over and thrilled with the support that we got from the local community. Because of that we joined with the Rutherford Arts Council and were planning a big Pride and Art festival for last year but, alas, Covid got in the way, so we had a very small but very joyous flag raising last year. We decided to stay small again this year because we didn’t know what kind of restrictions there would still be for crowds and gatherings. We’re thrilled that people can feel confident to attend on Saturday!
Next year, we will pursue a full day of festivities with other town organizations and hope to make it an annual event!
RL: I echo Christine and am happy that this year people can attend in person and feel comfortable doing so. We hope to see everyone in person again and meet many new community members we haven't had the opportunity to yet.
I want to say how truly appreciative we all are of the community of Rutherford and the surrounding area. We are continuously shown support and love from all and the diversity within our community is becoming a true foundation of what makes Rutherford a welcoming and amazing place to live!
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how to become an official RPA member. Remember--anyone can attend one of our monthly member meetings (even if you do not pay dues--all are welcome!) and you do not need to be a resident of Rutherford!!
Find out more about the Rutherford Pride Alliance and our events, by visiting our social pages (@RutherfordPrideAlliance) or visiting our page.