Party in the Park kicks off Pride Month in Union

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UNION, NJ — June 1 kicked off Pride Month with a big party at Anthony E. Russo Park celebrating the LGBTQ+ community.

The party began shortly after the Pride flag raising in front of Town Hall, across the street at 1976 Morris Ave. There was live entertainment, music, a dance contest, prizes and cocktails.

“I come every year. This is my third year,” said Ashley Valentin, of Union. “I’m happy our town celebrates universal love.”
“I appreciate the fact they’re still doing this,” said Theodore Evans, of Union.

Spoken word poet Mariah Ayscue presented a powerful piece called “Manhood Marvelously,” which began with the words, “I saw confusion in your eyes when I said, ‘I’m a woman and a man . . .’”

Harumy Doll, who was one of the hosts, said, “I just love the energy. I just love the support. We’re queer. We’re loved.” Doll is not doing drag full time yet but loves performing as a hobby; always around doing shows. Doll appeared on “Real Housewives of New Jersey.”

Doll hosted the lip sync contest and gave each contestant a drag name based on their favorite color. “Purple-ina” kicked off the show lip syncing to “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”

The Top 2 finalists were Pink Fantasy and Mother Earth, with Mother Earth winning by having the loudest applause from the audience.

Mother Earth, of Union, whose real name is Julie Brimley, said, “It felt great for me to win. I’m 53. I earned my years. It felt great, I felt welcome.”

Pink Fantasy, of Union, whose real name is Linda Williams, said, “I love it! It’s my first Pride.”

Brianna Tamburello, of Union, who competed under the name Turquoise-sha, said, “It was my third year competing in the competition. It felt really good. We can all come together and be happy without discrimination. We’re all here to have fun.”

Leo Panes, of Union, who competed under the name Red-Nasha, said, “It was something new. I was a bit nervous. This event was great to see everybody. It was home.”

Diana Collantes, who competed under the name Blue Ivory, said, “I was nervous. I get scared. I’m not usually out. It’s nice to be a part of a community so loving.”

Kylee Goyanes, who was serving mojitos and margaritas at Mambo, said, “This is a beautiful way to express yourself. Everybody’s happy. Good energy.”

Faith Cardillo, founder of Bulletproof Pride and Impact Network League, was there educating on the impact gun violence has on the LGBTQ+ community. “Not only is June Pride Month; it’s Gun Violence Awareness Month.” Impact Network collaborates with individuals impacted by gun violence to learn their stories, supporting, and uplifting their voices. These individuals include those identifying as gun violence survivors and those with trauma surrounding threats of gun violence, active shooter drills and situations and things of that nature. Cardillo was born and raised in Union and is a Union High School graduate.

John Zurka, a lifelong resident of Union, said, “I’m a major ally. I have a trans daughter who is living her best life ever. Pride is deep in my soul; it’s happy. I wish more people were here celebrating. It’s a great celebration of friendship and happiness.”

Sue Tamburello, who has also lived all her life in Union, is the mom of Brianna, who was in the lip sync competition. She said, “It’s a beautiful event.”

Police Officer Jessica Rocha-Santiago said, “We had a great turn out. It’s great to see the community happy and to be here and support. Hopefully, things will get better with a more connected community, more outreach, more support.”

Photos by Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta