It’s August in Jersey City which means two things: It’s hot! And it’s time for JC Pride! With a new location for the big day, this month will mark the festival’s 15th year in celebrating the LGBT community and its allies. I met with Eduardo Baez, the co-producer and co-host of the festival, who sported a white t-shirt with the words “HARD WORK PAYS OFF” emblazoned on the front, to get the scoop on this month’s JC Pride events. We sat outdoors at the Newark Avenue Pedestrian Plaza, the new locale for the Jersey City LGBT Pride Festival, which will take place on Saturday, August 29th. Spoiler alert: it’s a carnival theme this year! And after chatting with Eduardo about the week-long extravaganza, it most certainly sounds like fun will be had by all—no matter what side of the rainbow you fall on.
CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL WEEK GUIDE! Your Guide to Pride!
Check out the full schedule of events for this year’s Jersey City LGBT Pride Festival after the interview. Enjoy!
What’s your name? Eduardo Baez.
What do you do? I am one of the co-hosts for the Jersey City Pride Festival.
So, is that the role you play for JC Pride? Yes, actually I would say I am a co- producer and a co-host for the event along with Michael Billy of Humanity Pride.
How long have you lived in Jersey City? Eight years.
How did you get involved with the Pride Festival? I was asked by the festival organizers last year to come on as a representative for the community because of Gayborhood Jersey City.
Would you like to explain Gayborhood a little bit more? Gayborhood started out around seven years ago as a social group on Facebook, started by my husband, Erik Smith, for us to be able to find out what was going on in the scene in Jersey City. Where everyone was going…
The gay scene? Yes, the gay scene. It started out with social events at Pint and after a few years he was kind of ready to give up the Gayborhood and then at that point I asked to take it over. We probably had a membership of maybe 230 and over time it has grown to 850. I took the Gayborhood from being an online social thing and started adding pieces to it. I would go through the web and look for stories that were of interest; things that were local, but also national. Anything I thought was interesting to me could be interesting to other people, so I would put it out there. That went on for a while. It went through the groove, but had a different flavor; it was no longer about the meet-and-greets.
People were looking at it to get information. And then when marriage equality happened in the State of New Jersey it took on a more active role, rather than just be an online group. I realized that we could be a resourceful community. When I saw we could play an active role, I set as a goal for the next year to really take Gayborhood from the virtual world to the real world, and that happened with Pride.
So Pride, the way I’ve always represented it is I am Gayborhood. I’m a part of Gayborhood and I bring Gayborhood people to the event; to volunteer by getting the word out. It was my intent to give it a face publicly and then last year I branched out and created Gayborhood LLC, which is an event planning business.
Wow, that’s really great! Now, how long have you been a part of the Pride Festival? This will be my second year.
Ok, let’s talk about the festival. Tell me about this year. When does it kick off? What can we expect from this year’s festivities? It kicks off on Friday, August 21st. The kick off will be the flag-raising at City Hall. Actually, the 20th is a county flag-raising. The 21st is the city flag-raising. There’s going to be a press conference right after the flag-raising which is being arranged with the Mayor.
At that point, the City will speak about marriage equality, what’s going on in terms of the community here; they’ll announce their support for the festival. That same day will be a youth event sponsored by the New York Liberty Basketball team. They’re going to have 20 of the youth from Hudson Pride Connections Center go to Madison Square Garden, they’re treating them to the event with prime seats and autograph signings.
Then next Saturday, they’ll be here for Pride. The New York Liberty Team will be here, so hopefully we’ll have some basketball hoops for them. We’re trying to arrange that now.
That’s really impressive! Yeah, they’ll do demos and play hoops with people.
That sounds like a lot of fun. A great party always begins with a great theme! Now, the festival will be here, right where we are sitting, the Pedestrian Plaza, correct? Yes, and it will actually extend closer to Jersey Avenue. We will use about three quarters of the space. We need room for the stage and make a portion of the street as interactive as possible.
There will be the acts going through; we’ll have street performers scattered throughout; a lot of performances going on. We’ll have a Step & Repeat where you can take pictures.
I love Step & Repeats! It makes me feel like a celebrity. Yes, there will be local, colorful celebrities and some surprise guests! We want to make it as much fun as possible. Not only will we promote the businesses, and the smaller vendors that come on, and the different organizations, we also want to create a fun atmosphere. We have a new vendor who just came on today who does children’s haircuts; they’ll be doing haircuts for free.
It sounds like there will be something for everyone. Yes, absolutely. It’s a very family-friendly environment. Another thing we really wanted to accomplish was, not only is it Pride, but it’s a way to promote Jersey City and also promote the local restaurants. So, all the restaurants that want to participate will be extending out onto the curb. We are encouraging them to do that because that’s how you create a real pedestrian plaza.
There won’t be any tents in front of the restaurants because we are really encouraging people to go inside to eat and drink. We will have a food court around the corner on Barrow Street. We’ll have maps showing people where different things are.
Last year the festival was held in front of City Hall. This year it will be right here at the Pedestrian Plaza. Was there a reason for the change in location? City Hall, although it’s close to Grove Street, it’s not easily accessible as Newark Ave. Newark is a main street. The drive really was, beyond it being a main street, an opportunity to work with the businesses to promote them. And that’s really our goal.
It’s a celebration of pride, but it’s also a celebration of Jersey City and everything it has to offer. And the new pedestrian mall is just one of the highlights.
Other than the change in locale, how will the festival be different this year? It will be longer. Last year it was 12 – 6. This year it will be 12 – 8. Instead of being at the end of October, it will be at the end of August which makes a big difference. The after party is at South House.
Traditionally there have been great after parties in the past, but they haven’t been close to where the festival was actually held. The festival used to be in Exchange Place and the after party at Hardgrove which is close to where we are now.
I’ve actually been there and I loved it. The atmosphere is amazing. Now, you say you’ve been affiliated with the festival for two years. How do you feel it has changed over those two years? It’s definitely growing. Historically, the group who started it, JCLGO (Jersey City Lesbian and Gay Outreach); it’s important that they get the credit for it, built up the festival over the years. There was a transition a few years back and attendance lowered, and so we’re trying to bring back what was there.
Last year we decided to really kind of bring it in and concentrate on just the music. Last year was more of a dance party, like a big block party. This year we’re expanding. There’ll be all the entertainment on the street. We didn’t have that last year. Not only will we have DJ’s, but they’ll be live acts. It’s really growing in that way. Also this year, the local businesses are more involved.
Where do you see the festival ten years from now? How would you like to see it evolve? I’d actually like to see it grow to where it was…at one point there were anywhere from 8 to 10,000 people attending.
Wow, that’s really impressive. Yeah, there was fantastic work that was done. Last year there were maybe about 1,500 attendees, but that also could’ve had something to do with the weather.
And it did get changed from August to October last year. Correct. Also, we didn’t have as much media coverage. Last year we missed out on a lot of deadlines. This year we have media sponsors and we’ve been taking out ads. Last year Chicpea was a fantastic help. And this year again. Jersey City Independent, Go Magazine, Odyssey Magazine, Out in Jersey Magazine—all of them are sponsors. This year The Hudson Reporter is doing a special pride issue. They’re selling ads for us. It’s the first ever and it’s to promote the festival. It will come out that week. We’re trying for radio and television coverage. We are trying to get the word out as much as possible. Last year it was mainly social media. That’s what I was able to use.
What’s your favorite part of the festival? The end! Haha. No, I think my favorite part is when it all comes together; the actual day of the festival. I used to do continuing education events for years, for doctors and those were events you had to plan out a year ahead. You have to get the speakers, you have to get the curriculum together, you have to get the slide sets and it was a lot of work pulling it together, but I always remember that once it’s started, and I was working in the HIV field, I was educating doctor’s about HIV issues, I just felt like now I understood it. I got what all that work was about. And so that’s kind of what the t-shirt I have on represents, “HARD WORK PAYS OFF.”
And I see that and I get to experience that. I get to help the community, whether it’s the business owners or the LGBT community, it’s my gift to the community and I get to see the pay-off when people are smiling and having a good time.
I can’t imagine what all this planning entails for just this one week out of the year. How long does planning the festival take? Will you start planning 2016 right after this year’s is over? Right after this year is over we want to get the thank you’s out. We want to secure the date for next year. It’s important because we depend on sponsors. When you start late in the game, like three months out, you can do the event, but it is more difficult to get sponsors. Our goal is to right away submit for next year’s date, this way we can get a save-the-date out to the sponsors so they’ll know when our event is.
I would love for it to grow to where we can have a large parade and to it get back to 10,000 people, if not more. In the future, this will be the type of festival that will attract tourism to Jersey City.
Going back to your t-shirt, there’s a lot more to celebrate this year other than the LGBT community—marriage equality in all 50 states was a tremendous victory—is that what your shirt represents other than the hard work you put into this festival? Yeah, because marriage equality didn’t come easily and being persistent, having a goal and moving forward…I was offered another great shirt which read, “HONESTY EQUALS FREEDOM”, but I saw this one and it really spoke to me because of everything that has been going on. In addition to nationwide marriage equality, we also have in Jersey City, we’re forming a commission, a LGBT commission, and that’s one of a handful that will take an active role in advising City Hall on LGBT issues. And not just the social stuff, but health issues.
That’s something that’s in the works and should be in place by the fall, so that’s something to celebrate as well because that hasn’t existed here before. And now other close-by cities, such as Hoboken, are looking to do the same thing. That would be really great if we had something county wide. There’s a movement and all of those things took a lot of work.
Because of the marriage equality victory, do you think there will be a bigger turn out this year? I think there are multiple factors like location, time of year, and marriage equality. There could be a greater turn out because at this point people aren’t viewing this as just a LGBT festival. And we’ve always said it’s LGBT and allies, so if you were to add anything to the LGBT, you could add the “Q,” you could add the “I,” but the “A” would be really big because it’s the allies, the people that are supporting us.
I’ve seen a growing level of acceptance and openness and that’s one thing that Jersey City does have. You go out in the social scene here, and there really is no gay club, but everybody really integrates. And it’s very different from other cities. It’s even different than NY. You go to NY and things are very separate. There are gay men in one place, the lesbians in another place, the trans in another. And here everyone sort of comes together. And you’ll see that at the Pride Festival.
Perfectly said. Now how do you feel Jersey City has changed over the years—more specifically within the gay community? I see it as growing. I think it’s hard for me because I have the perspective of Gayborhood, so it’s hard for me to not see that as part of the change. I see a lot of coming together and partnering. There’s a new group Girl Meet that just started up and their working with other groups who have been here. There’s a lot of working together to create events. There was a great community here before and I see that that community just keeps growing.
One last question and this one will be really easy. What’s your favorite Jersey City hotspot? There are two places that stand out for me and those are Brightside and Port-O. And that’s because both of them have really extended themselves to the community. Port-O Lounge, Filipe from Port-O Lounge has always opened his doors. He hosted one of last year’s after parties after the unfortunate accident at the new Hardgrove location, no questions asked. Tommy Two Scoops … Tom Parisi, our local celebrity, everybody knows who Tommy Two Scoops is, also hosted an after party at Brightside last year. Those two are special to me because of the way they have always supported our community. I can’t say I really have favorites; anything close to my house. I love to hang out at 9C and Hamilton Inn. Love Two Boots Pizza. Skinner’s Loft and LITM have always been great.I like going to the new places and I’m starting to get a feel for South House, for Talde, Raval, Porta and Roman Nose. I’m really looking forward to the opening of the new Hardgrove.
I understand what you mean. My favorites shift from month to month. And I personally have never been to Jersey City Pride, so I am super excited to be celebrating there this year. Thank you for all that you do to make this happen!
Click here for a list of all the events next week! Guide To Pride
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