By KATE ALBRIGHT and LOUIS C. HOCHMAN
It was just over two months ago when Peter Yacobellis — Montclair’s first openly gay elected official — announced the creation of “Out Montclair,” a new group to provide support, encouragement and celebration for the LGBTQ and allied community in and around town, as well as public education events.
And mid-way through Out Montclair’s first Pride Month, more than 100 people joined it Wednesday, June 16 at Egan & Sons for its first 21-and-over event, “Out at Night.” The quickly growing organization partnered with the restaurant as well as the Montclair Art Museum, which had a truck with special Pride-themed arts and crafts events for guests.
The following are quotes from attendees, discussing LGBTQ support, their reasons for supporting the new organization, and their reasons for coming together at Egan & Sons.
Jacky Sambolin: “I’m glad to be out here with other gay people. I miss it, you know, I miss just being free and meeting people, you know. I love it. And getting drunk. I’ve always felt that Montclair is very accepting and very open but we haven’t really been involved in any community activities. And part of it is because there really hasn’t been any, so it’s really nice to have them.”
Aminah Toler: “There is a large LGBGT+ community of youth in this town. They need to feel safe. They need to understand that they’re welcome and it’s OK. While some households, primarily African American households, may say it’s taboo to come out, understand you still have friends here in the community.”
Will King: “Basically I came out here because I’m a resident of Northern New Jersey and it’s good to have something that’s close to home instead of going into New York. So it’s good to see the LGBT community represented here in Northern New Jersey.”
Susan Horowitz said she has been out for decades, since she was 20. She came to the event with her wife, Irina Grobman: “Listen, this is the greatest town in the world, and it’s weird that there hasn’t been something that’s sort of visible here before. So it’s about time and we’re thrilled.”
Grobman: “We actually, a couple of years ago, went to a Pride event in Maplewood and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I wish Montclair had something like that.’ And it’s nice to see that Montclair seems to be catching up, even though it’s been a very gay-friendly and diverse town forever and ever and ever.”
Alexa Caruso works with Out Montclair: “I know the goal is to create a platform that provides a safe environment but also connects people on a really fun level. And that’s something that doesn’t really exist in Montclair right now. So it’s been great to see the community come together in such a united way, especially kicking off during Pride month. It’s been amazing.”
Sal Bigay is an Out Montclair volunteer, living in town for about a year: “I was, like, super-eager as a young queer adult in the city or the town to get involved and meet new people and build a community.” He’d moved from Sparta, and said there wasn’t as much of an LGBTQ community there.
Jim Price is a retired Montclair High School teacher: “I’ve had friends ever since college in the late ‘60s who were involved in Gay Liberation Front and Gay Activists Alliance, and it’s always been a part of my life.” He said he hadn’t known of many Pride events in Montclair in the past — “nothing that looked like a town-wide event.”
Khris Santana came from Paterson: “There’s not really anything out there, so we were just looking and we found this by chance.” Santana, 21, and Tiffany Rivera, 22, were among the younger attendees — “but it looks really nice.”
Rivera: “It’s our first time coming over here. So this is our first time coming out to any kind of Pride event.” Rivera’s own non-binary identity hadn’t been acknowledged much in high school — “only among our group of friends, since we were mostly LGBT.”
Cathy Renna is an Out Montclair advisory board member. She has lived in town for about seven years, and her wife has lived in town for more than 20: “And I’ve been an LGBTQ activist for 30 years, and this is such a wonderful town, but it was missing something. And what it was missing was an organization that could help bring LGBTQ people together. … We know a lot of these folks, some in our buildings, some in the neighborhood. I’ve known Peter forever, but there’s so many people here that have never met each other.”
Yacobellis, speaking to the crowd, said he had a sense of more community, more safe spaces during the fight for marriage equality. And he said that felt missing — prompting him and others to start Out Montclair “to create spaces, great events that help create camaraderie, to give everybody the opportunity to start to meet each other.”
“I hear stories all the time of how people don’t know each other,” the councilman said. “It’s a gay-friendly town, but we don’t know any other gay people.”
He said the last few years have shown the rights LGBTQ people can’t be taken for granted, and while Out Montclair isn’t an advocacy organization, it does exist to advance education and community.
Yacobellis, who said he wasn’t “wearing my council hat tonight,” told Montclair the same thing many attendees did — that “there’s a real hunger for community and for camaraderie, especially after a pandemic.”
He said growing up, he’d look for the Pride flag at a bar or restaurant or nightclub to find a safe space, knowing he could make friends and build relationships.
“I thought there would be a really good opportunity to try that again, to try that model again and so far so good,” Yacobellis said.
Out Montclair has a slate of events it’s running or otherwise participating in at outmontclair.org/events, including a pizza social for teens on June 24.