I’d been contemplating for a while what I wanted to write about for Pride month. When the writer’s group started in the spring things began to take shape in my mind.
There were six women in the group, including myself. And as the women got to know each other I saw a deeper connection, a common thread that somehow managed to uniquely run through each person in the group. Coincidence? There’s no such thing. In her book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron often talks about spirituality and synchronicity…
“The universe is always assisting you, if you allow it to.”Julia Cameron, Author
When I first came to Asbury Park several years ago, I felt it was a place where people were safe to be who are are with no judgement. “Everyone is either gay or bisexual.” I would say. Because to me, that was the natural propensity of the people who live here. Interestingly, many straight people agreed with me.
Of course, that’s not entirely true. But what I have found to be true is the people that live here who do not fly a rainbow flag in front of their abode do respect it, creating a community that melds together pretty cohesively.
Asbury Park would not be what it is today without the gay community. They have made significant contributions, some of which have been written about in stories like: The Rainbow Room, and Road Trip, and many others I’m sure.
If you read about the lesbian night clubs Rainbow Room and Key West, both owned by Carol Torre and her two partners Camile Neto and Kay San Fillippo, then you know that Carol and her partners were pioneers, women ahead of their time who took a huge risk.
Asbury Park was a dark place at that time. It was also a time when gay women hid in the closet, for fear of repercussions from work and/or family. But they provided a safe haven for many women who just wanted to be themselves and have some fun. That risk paid off ten-fold.
As we were heading into June, I asked the group to write an essay. “What does Pride mean to you?” Or “What does your sexuality mean to you?” Or whatever they wanted to write about in relation to Pride. The group bravely took on the challenge. Here is the first of their stories.
A Memory by E.S. Lee
Last year while I was in rehab recovering from an injury I sent my sister into AP to retrieve some provisions from my apartment forgetting it was Pride. She texted “traffic is crazy and there are floats blasting out ‘I Will Survive’ and rainbow flags everywhere…what’s up?” I chuckled, knowing she was about to see drag queens and men in leather. “Welcome to AP Pride.”
This is the same sister that was open minded enough to join me at the old Key West bar in Asbury years ago. One of my friends had greeted her with “What are you doing here?” knowing she was straight and in the military. The remarks were more out of welfare for my sister’s future than interrogative of her sexuality.
You see it was long before the failed “don’t ask don’t tell” or legalized marriage, making her mere presence at the bar fodder to jeopardize her security clearance.
“Welcome to the Rainbow Room where we were protective of our friends and family, blood or chosen.”
It was one of the few public places in the area we could feel safe enough to be ourselves, to be gay, women who loved women, and were OK with that. It was the mid 80’s and Asbury Park was not exactly the safest place for girls in their early 20s, but it was closer than going into the city.
My girl pack and I would meet there almost every weekend to play pool and dance. For us it was natural, to most of the rest of the world we were weird, or at best: different. We would play pool and dance the night away. My pool game never got very good, but we laughed a lot and danced and danced, showing off our disco moves and singing along to ‘Heaven In Your Arms’ until we were sweaty and salty to the taste. We were “out” even if it was just for one night.
In many ways I ‘grew up’ in Asbury’s Key West. After all, I met my first girlfriend there and like most first relationships it didn’t last. At that bar we set free our pent up souls that we hid from the rest of the world all week for fear of bodily violence, loss of security clearances, getting fired from our newly established careers, or disowned by family.
As the years passed, the laws changed and now we no longer need a special bar like Key West to meet, to feel safe, and express our love. As for my friends, some are miles away but our Rainbow Room bonds keep us in touch if only on holidays and the occasional funeral.
Funny, I’m still afraid to attach my name to this piece, perhaps some left over PTSD of days gone by or a legitimate fear of being subjected to discrete repercussions of being out in 2019. So as we pass through Pride Month, a huge thank you to all that serve, gay or straight, in or out of the closet, to ensure our freedom to love.