Photographed by Bang Chau
Siena Malmad is making quite a name for herself within Jersey City’s LGBT community. And if you don’t know her name, well, you do now! And you should! At a mere 14 years-old, her stats already range from award-winning activist to Teen Pride creator to hate-crime-repair-girl. I met up with Siena at Hamilton Park to get more insight into who this truly inspiring teen really is. Here’s her impressive story:
Were you born and raised in JC?
I was not born in Jersey City, I was born in New York, but I was raised here.
The first time I read about you was on Facebook involving the Hair Room JC incident; the burning of the gay pride flag. Tell me about that.
Someone decided late at night that they were going to burn the flag. Hair Room had one hanging up in their flower box. They asked me if I waned to paint the flower box. So I did it and I’m about ready to give it back, I just need to touch it up a bit.
Teen Pride launched this year in correlation to JC Pride. You are the creator of Teen Pride. Tell me about that.
It’s an art and music festival for LBGT teens and allies to express themselves and to showcase their artwork and their talent.
What’s the age range for Teen Pride?
13 to 19.
Why did you create it?
There’ not a lot of spaces for teenagers of the LGBT community. There’s little to none positive spaces. Usually it’s hotlines or halfway homes. I just wanted to eliminate it getting that far. I want there to be happy places. And I’m not saying there shouldn’t be places for people to seek help, but there should also be places for people to celebrate themselves and to feel happy about who they are.
The theme this year for the very first Teen Pride event was “Gender Euphoria.” What’s the meaning behind that?
In the trans community, there’s a term called “gender dysphoria” where one may feel dysphoric about their gender. It’s a bad feeling. I’ve experienced it myself and it’s not fun. I wanted to put a positive spin on that with gender euphoria, which is to inspire and build confidence in who you are as a trans or non-binary person.
Teen Pride will be an annual event along with JC Pride?
We’re moving Teen Pride to October next year because it was really difficult to plan it in the summer and to get people to participate, so we will be doing Teen Pride on National Coming Out Day.
When did you decide to create Teen Pride?
I would say February or March of this year. The idea came to mind, and we started planning around April or May.
I read an interview you did for a local newspaper and you indicated you are gender non-conforming. Can you explain that?
Gender non-conforming means that I don’t really identify with male or female; boy or girl. I spend a lot of time thinking about it and I realize that my gender is not an important part of who I am. It’s menial.
May I ask where you fall on the LGBT spectrum?
I’m bi-sexual. And like I said before, gender non-conforming or sometimes people say “non-binary.”
You were presented with the Teen Activist Award at JC Pride this past August, how did that feel?
It felt amazing. It was kind of scary because I didn’t know they were going to hand the microphone to me and they did. I didn’t know what to say! But it felt really great.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to be presented with such a distinguished award at such a young age.
There are a lot of people watching me now. Being in the public eye is scary to me. It’s not like I’m famous, but people in Jersey City know who I am now and it’s daunting.
Well, that’s not why you did it; to be noticed. You just have a passion for JC’s LGBT community.
No! I’m just trying to do a good thing. I just didn’t realize all of this was going to come along with it. I thought that I would just be behind the curtain. You know, like the Wizard of Oz, and no one would see me.
Well, you are doing amazing things here and I hope you’re proud of yourself.
I am proud of myself. This is the best thing I’ve done in my life.
What’s your impression of JC’s LGBT community?
It’s supportive. We’re small compared to other places like New York or Chicago, and so on. We couldn’t do something like this [Teen Pride] in a place like New York, it would get lost. And no one would come. Pride in New York is huge and there are so many big events going on that a small event like this would get lost. But in Jersey City, we can. Around 200 people came and that’s pretty good for where we are. That’s a great turnout.
Where do you love to go in Jersey City?
I love the stores around City Hall specifically. And the food around there. I don’t know why, I just like being down there. It’s a great area. If I had the choice, I would live over there.
As an adult, would you like to stay in Jersey City?
It depends. There’s a good chance I’m going away to college in New York. If I travel to a place I absolutely fall in love with…only time will tell.
What high school do you go to?
You feel comfortable there being an open member of the LGBT community?
Yeah! There are a lot of LGBT students at County Prep. I’m not sure about the staff with how open they are, but the students are very open and supportive. It may be “birds of a feather flock together,” but most of the people I know there are gay. Personally, I know one straight girl; the token straight girl. The majority of my friends are gay. It just happened to be that way.
Are you comfortable with your sexuality at 14 years-old?
I am comfortable. I have no issues. It’s weird being at some places where they don’t want bi people, they’ll say this place is strictly for people who are into one gender. That’s hard. People assume a lot of things about you when you say you’re bi. That makes me uncomfortable. I feel comfortable with myself, I’m just not sure if other people feel comfortable with me.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
You know people who make documentaries? I really want to do that; a filmmaker, but specifically making documentaries. I also love journalism so I think documentaries are a perfect marriage between the two.
What’s next for Siena Malmad?
We’ll be planning smaller events for Teen Pride next year and just trying to survive high school.
LGBT Pride Recap
It was that time of year again when Jersey City raises its rainbow flags and shows its pride for the LGBT community. If you’re new to JC, or have never been to JC Pride before (why not?!), JC Pride is not just a one-day event, it’s a week-long celebration which leads up to the big day! The powers that be planned another great line-up this year which marked the 16th anniversary of the festival.
Always kicking off the week of events is the flag-raising held down at City Hall. The Raven Gallery and Boutique featured art from the show, “Pride, In the Name of Love.” A bar crawl, Iconic Lip Sync over at LITM, a cocktail social at Roman Nose, a GirlMeet meet up at Pet Shop, and a toga party up at Corkscrew were just a handful of the events preceding the festival. I’m actually really upset I missed the toga party — my knees go weak for men swathed in white sheets.
Teen Pride: Gender Euphoria
This year’s Pride Week marked the first ever Teen Pride event; an art, spoken word, and music festival. Spearheaded by the 14-year-old wonder kid Siena Malmad (spoiler alert: She’ll be my next interview, so stay tuned for her story), Teen Pride’s theme, “Gender Euphoria,” featured the art and performances of LGBTQ teens and allies within the age range of 13 to 19. This event resonated a welcoming and friendly atmosphere, with a circular chandelier decorated with origami swans. Most of those in attendance sat in a semi-circle in Art House’s black box theater facing the stage. Each person added to the warmth and love that circulated throughout the room. I even caught the artwork of one of my previous interviewees, Christopher Soto! Held at Art House Productions, the evening was chock full of talent. Proceeds from this event went to the victims’ families of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando. Great job, Siena!
Clutch the Pearls
It was a night full of comedy and risqué entertainment at Transmission. Radio personalities Tom Ragú and Chauncey Dandridge of BBOX Radio brought us Clutch the Pearls, where NYC and JC talent aligned on one stage. Comedy, burlesque dancing, and music were the theme of the night for this variety show. JC’s own burlesque beauty, Lillian Bustle, opened and closed the show. Tom and Chauncey’s partner in crime, comedienne Laura Spaeth, and JC’s Comic Rich Kiamco delivered hysterical stand-up acts. Evan Lawrence put a comedic spin on his musical talents. And of course the show-stopping, laugh-out-loud (or in my case, cackle-out-loud) drag acts of JC Superstar, Harmonica Sunbeam, and New York’s reigning queen, Ari Kiki. Personally speaking, Harmonica’s geriatric version of the Pointer Sisters’ “I’m So Excited” made me wish I had worn Depends. I thought I’d be getting a pearl necklace by the end of the night, but as it turned out, it wasn’t that kind of show.
Proceeds from Clutch the Pearls were donated to Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) and Hudson Pride Connections Center (HPCC).
The LGBT community along with its allies and supporters came out to play Saturday, August 27th. Hosted by the incomparable and JC LGBT community staple, Harmonica Sunbeam, the festival took up all of the Newark Avenue Pedestrian Plaza and then some. Food trucks, vendors, DJ, dancing, live performances, and entertainment were all abound at this year’s event. I don’t know if I’m just getting older or this festival is getting more fun each year, or both, but this particular contributor had to go home to take a nap immediately afterward and missed the after-party at Transmission. Totally bummed about that! But I’ll always have next year!
Congratulations to Harmonica who interestingly enough performed at the very first JC Pride back in 2000. Harmonica was the recipient of the Community Service Award presented by the producers of JC Pride, Michael Billy, and Eddie Baez. Congratulations to Siena Malmad, creator of Teen Pride, who also took home an award! JC Pride is no easy feat to accomplish; a huge thank you to Michael Billy, Eddie Baez, all the volunteers and to everyone involved in bringing JC Pride to Jersey City every year. Thank you!
ChicpeaJC editor, Crystal Davis, contributed to this article.