North Jersey Pride festival undeterred on day of terrorist massacre in Orlando
MAPLEWOOD -- Organizers of the North Jersey Pride festival couldn't have asked for a better day. Clear blue sky, warm air, cool breezes.
But news earlier in the morning that a gay club in Orlando, Fla., had been the target of a terrorist attack, resulting in the largest loss of life in a single mass shooting in the nation's history, cast a pall over the otherwise upbeat event.
"The mood is a bit more somber," said Dev Gannon of the Gay Activist Alliance in Morris County. "But we are not going to let this stop the LGBT message of our right to celebrate pride.
"We are not going to let some crazy person take that away from us. We're going to honor the memory of the people that were attacked and injured by continuing to do what we do best, which is to celebrate gay diversity."
Hundreds of families sat on blankets and milled about on the hillside of Memorial Park, listening to live music while eating hotdogs and lobster rolls. The park was filled with young children too young to understand the news.
"It feels not coincidental that it's at a gay club during pride month," said Jackie McGowan, co-director of Camp Highlight, which supports children of gay and lesbian parents. "When I see something like that happen like in Orlando, I'm just concerned about what that tells our children, that their families aren't accepted."
Mead Winters had just celebrated the 20th anniversary of the North Jersey Gay and Lesbian Bowling League the previous night. He was relieved when he found out that his many friends in Orlando had not been involved in the atrocity.
"I try to keep my pride up and try to keep my spirits up, but in the back of my mind I know that the people who lost family and loved ones are devastated," Winters said. "And all we can do is come to their support and make sure they feel that we are with them on this."
Thousands were expected to attend this year's North Jersey Pride festival. In light of Sunday morning's mass shooting, police said they planned to have increased security at the venue throughout the day.
Maplewood Police Sgt. Connie Fields said additional officers were providing "heightened security" at Memorial Park, but she said the event had been running smoothly.
The shooting at Pulse nightclub, which bills itself as Orlando’s “premier gay nightclub” left 50 people dead and 53 hospitalized. Police say the shooter, Omar Mateen of Port St. Lucie, Fla. entered the club and opened fire at about 2 a.m. He then took hostages. At about 5 a.m., Mateen was shot during a gunfight after a SWAT team entered the club to rescue the hostages. Police are still trying to determine a motive.
Christian Fuscarino, executive director of Garden State Equality, a New Jersey-based advocacy and education organization for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community told NJ 101.5 that he believes the gay community was targeted in the mass shooting.
“The shooter entered a gay club and took the lives of 50 members of our community. I have every reason to believe its was targeted,” said Fuscarino, who was attending the North Jersey Pride festival Sunday.
Fuscarino said the fatal shootings were especially heinous since June is Pride month, when LGBT is acknowledged and celebrated.
Toniann Antonelli and the Associated Press contributed to this report.