Nyack’s Main Street was awash in Rainbow flags on Sunday as allies, advocates, and members of the LGBTQ community took to the streets to celebrate pride month. The “Pride Promenade”, which was postponed last year due to the pandemic, celebrated diversity in the community and offered a chance to honor nine Rocklanders who have been instrumental in the fight for equality.
Jerlyne Calixte, Marlene Colburn, Oscar Flores, Marc Jacobs, Taylor Kiara, Jamey Petersen, Christina Picciano, Donna Scheibe, and Richard Skipper were all presented with plaques commemorating their efforts to promote tolerance and acceptance of LGBTQ+ people.
Some honorees, including Marlene Colburn, are veterans of the movement, having spent decades marching against exclusionary government policies and championing legal reforms that granted civil rights to same-sex couples. In 1992, Colburn helped found the “Dyke March” in Washington DC after finding that planned LGBTQ+ protests did not include any political actions to support lesbian women specifically.
Others were newer to the movement. Jamie Peterson, a high-school student, was honored for his years of volunteer work with the Rockland chapter of the NAACP and the Rockland Pride Center.
Some honorees, including Christina Picciano, founder of the Ossinng LGBTQ Alliance, were recognized for starting their own organizations dedicated to advocacy, while others, including Donna Scheibe were recognized for their contributions to existing groups. Scheibe works as a mathematics professor and has provided free tutoring to teens through the Rockland Pride Center. Richard Skipper was recognized for making cultural contributions. His show, “Richard Skipper Celebrates”, has promoted the work of more than a thousand artists.
Though they ranged widely in age, experience, and background, all the nominees remain dedicated supporters of the LGBTQ+ community, and their advocacy is as vital as it ever was.
“Our kids today and kids going forward are going to be learning about what the people here today have done to get us to this place where people can be proud of who they are, can be who they are without facing discrimination,” said New York State Senator Elijah Reichlin-Melnick, who organized the ceremony.
“A few years after I was born, the Supreme Court handed down a decision that said states could criminalize the act of love between two adults. When I was in middle school a democratic president signed a federal law that banned marriage between same-sex couples. Eight years later, a republican ran for and won reelection on the promise to put that discrimination into the Constitution. It has been a long fight and now in the last 17 years we got marriage equality made law in New York, and the Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land six years ago. Two years ago the state legislature passed the gender expression non discrimination act. To be here with you today and to be able to celebrate is a sign of progress.”
Reichlin-Melnick urged everyone in attendance to remain vigilant and avoid complacency as they continue to advocate for equal treatment.
The ceremony was attended by Rockland County Executive Ed Day, Orangetown Supervisor Teresa Kenny, Clarkstown Supervisor George Hoehmann, Assemblyman Mike Lawler, Assemblyman Kenneth P. Zebrowski, and Village of Nyack Mayor Don Hammond, and concluded with a brief speech from Congressman Mondaire Jones on the progress the movement has made and the work that is yet to come. The first black openly gay member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Jones’ election as Rockland’s congressman marked a historic victory for LGBTQ+ equality.
“It wasn’t all that long ago that I couldn’t have imagined that someone like me could even run for Congress let alone get elected to that body” said Jones. “Progress has been achieved not by accident but because people have been fighting for this for a very long time, and I know I’m grateful for it. Nowadays with marriage equality as the law of the land and LGBTQ+ people represented in media and pop culture it can be easy for folks to believe that our work is complete, that LGBTQ justice has finally been one, but for as far as we have come we have so much further to go.”