Newark PROUD 2020- Pandemic Edition
Since 2013, Urban&Out has partnered with Newark Pride Inc. to present the annual Newark PROUD Awards. This year, Newark PROUD is a yearlong celebration, beginning this Pride Week as we check in with partners and past honorees on how they are meeting the challenges of the pandemic.
The Co-Founder of 2017 Newark PROUD honoree Queer Newark Oral History Project gives us an in-depth look at how university life at Rutgers-Newark has been impacted by the pandemic, the effects on her family, students, and colleagues, and the ongoing process of documenting and preserving Queer Newark
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted you and your family?
All of my immediate family have been financially impacted by COVID, but I am grateful that we have been able to stay safe and healthy during these times. I have chosen family and friends and colleagues who became ill and/ or lost loved ones. The pain in their voices when they share their struggle to find closure and comfort is palpable. I try to support as best I can. But, there really are no words to offer when death could have been prevented.
How has the lockdown impacted your work and campus?
I work with students (and staff and faculty) who were already juggling a lot pre-COVID, such as housing and food insecurities, health challenges, child and elder care, and I’ve become hyper aware that while COVID has created a sense of shared experience, there is very much a divide in how each us are actually living and managing during these times.
The abrupt switch to remote learning mid-March was challenging for students, staff, and faculty, some more than others. I am fortunate to get to work with some really smart, kind, resourceful students and some really supportive colleagues who put students first. Now that we’ve had a few months (and oh so many meetings), I feel better positioned to manage the changed work expectations.
You're a Co-Founder of Newark Proud 2017 honoree Queer Newark Oral History Project, how did that project come about?
Queer Newark was founded in the summer of 2011 by Darnell Moore and Beryl Satter. I was involved in the project from the beginning, really before it became the project it is now, through Beryl as we are both in the History Department at Rutgers University-Newark. She shared Darnell’s idea and the plan to make sure it was community-directed effort and asked me if I was interested in being involved. I loved the idea and offered my thoughts on moving forward. I’ve been involved in some way in all aspects of the project since.
We have grown considerably, with thanks in part to seed grant funding through Rutgers-Newark; our incredible team of faculty historians Whitney Strub, Timothy Stewart-Winter, Mary Rizzo, PhD student researchers, past and present, including Kristyn Scorsone, Mi Hyun Yoon, Esperanza Santos, and Naomi Extra, our interns and volunteers; and most importantly to the LGBTQ+ Newark community trusting us to preserve their stories and memories.
For many LGBTQ youth, universities, particularly large, bustling urban ones, are a place of safety and discovery. Many have lost that place and may not get it back for a long time. How does Queer Newark sustain community in this environment?
This is a key question and I wish I could say that these wonderful virtual events — talks and game nights, book readings and dance parties — can definitely sustain community in this environment. They do help for some, but we know that access and acceptance varies. My hope, particularly for those who may not be able to participate and find each other at these events, find the Queer Newark Oral History Project.
This is the 15th anniversary of Newark Pride. How has LGBTQ Newark changed since you’ve been part of it?
While I don’t recall the year, the first Newark Pride I went to was very small. I prefer smaller gatherings, in general, but I thought there would be a larger showing of support. In more recent years, it has been much larger and it feels different. LGBTQ Newark seems larger and feels different. For me, I think that’s because we have lost some important people over the years.
Favorite Pride moment(s)?
I have a few memorable Pride moments, but if I have to limit, I’d say the parade in 2017. I recall one of the planning meetings at the Newark LGBTQ Center (then on Halsey St.) when Jae Quinlan mentioned wanting a parade with a longer route. There were a few laughs and some skeptical faces around the table because it was a major undertaking in a very short amount of time. But, it turned out great; the energy was incredible. (It was the first time I ever saw a float there.)
A contender was last year’s parade, 2019, when we partnered with Audible and marched together.
Leadership is so important and so difficult right now, from leading countries to teams at work. What has the pandemic taught you about leadership?
The pandemic has underscored for me that you cannot always rely on those in leadership positions to be leaders and that you do not need to hold a leadership position to lead. Leaders set aside petty differences for the sake of the people that they are in service to.
Check out all of Newark Pride 2020
Photo: Christina Strasburger