SOMA celebrates Pride as one

Towns unite for a monthlong celebration of LGBTQ Pride with many events

Maplewood and South Orange residents, including many Columbia High School students, come together for a march to kick off Pride Month.

MAPLEWOOD / SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Pride Month in Maplewood and South Orange kicked off June 1 and 2, with a rally and flag-raising at Maplewood Town Hall, and it’s just the beginning of a monthlong celebration of LGBTQ pride for which the two towns are collaborating. Theater, book club meetings, drag shows and rallies are just some of the events highlighted in the two towns this month. Maplewood Committeeman Dead Dafis is planning the events.

“We’re at the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, and that was one of the first things that started the movement,” Dafis said in a phone interview with the News-Record on May 31, referring to the 1969 demonstrations in New York City’s Greenwich Village neighborhood. “There were certainly uprisings before then, but that was so visible that it gave way and was a turning point. People became more active and visible and demanded attention.”

Dafis said the month of Pride events is important because it allows residents to see the progress that has been made while still acknowledging there is more work to be done for LGBTQ rights.

“It’s important to take stock of where we are today and celebrate our advancements,” he said. “But we’re still living at a time when rights are under attack. The national administration and states want to roll back protections. We’re constantly in a place of uncertainty. The only way to get our seat at the table is to be visible.”

The flag-raising ceremonies are just a taste of all the events happening in the towns. The Maplewood-South Orange Book Festival on Friday, June 7, and Saturday, June 8, at The Woodland features speakers who will talk about LGBTQ issues, like Eve Ensler on Friday, June 7, at 7:30 p.m., and Darnell L. Moore, who will speak at Words Bookstore on Thursday, June 13, at 7:30 p.m.

Maplewood’s Youth Advisory Board was involved in the planning of the Pride Month events, and took charge of organizing a Pride picnic to kick things off after the flag-raising. Dafis said the youth being involved was important to him.

“Even in progressive towns, youth is hurting,” he said. “We did the rainbow crosswalks last year and I knew that the gesture of putting that on the street would help them. So, that they’ve organized and been involved is important.”

Dafis also spoke about the value of electing more LGBTQ individuals to public office. He is the first openly gay committee member in Maplewood, and would like to see more in the two towns and also at the local and state levels across New Jersey.

“People didn’t get elected by being quiet. As we’ve seen the blue wave on the national level, the silver lining is that people are running. These are people who never would have done that before,” Dafis said, mentioning South Orange Trustee Bob Zuckerman and South Orange Board of Education member Shannon Cuttle, who are both members of the LGBTQ community. “So we are seeing it at the local level and I hope we continue to see it.”

Other events slated for June include the North Jersey Pride Festival at Memorial Park on Sunday, June 9; the Pride Under the Stars Dance Party on Saturday, June 15, on Sloan Street in South Orange; and Know Your Rights training with SOMA Justice on Wednesday, June 12.

“With visibility comes awareness,” Dafis said. “When we create visible, safe spaces, we’re showing the next generation what they can do.”

For a full calendar of Pride Month events, visit