Pride Flag Raising, June 2020. (Photo: Evan Phalon)
Pride Flag Raising, June 2020. (Photo: Evan Phalon)

Toms River will celebrate Pride Month for the second year – with some of the usual modifications to comply with social distancing, such as drive-through and virtual participation. The events, including the annual Toms River Pride Festival set for this Saturday, June 20, are being sponsored by the Exit 82 theater company in downtown Toms River.

The announcement was made on last week at a rainbow Pride flag raising ceremony at Toms River town hall and the Ocean County Administration Building nearby. Organizers said there was a “tremendous show of support from representatives of Toms River Township, Toms River Police Department, Ocean County, New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District, Garden State Equality, PFLAG Jersey Shore, and more.”

This week is also the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York, which is said to have kicked off the LGBT rights movement in the United States. This year’s event organizers are posthumously honors Grand Marshal Marsha P. Johnson, the New Jersey-born black transgender activist who threw the first brick during the upheaval and also organized the first Gay Pride parade in New York City.

The first portion of Saturday’s event consists of a Drive-by Pride Course open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. beginning at the entrance of Hyers Street at Washington Street, where participants will pass through an adjacent parking lot while enjoying the festivities from their rainbow-decorated vehicles. Guests are encouraged to support local businesses participating nearby and to bring personalized statement signs demonstrating their support of Pride, which could be featured in an upcoming Downtown art installation.

From 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Virtual Pride provides participants with an online platform for “an engaging discussion on LGBTQAI+ issues with Garden State Equality, and special performances by top New York City drag queen and Toms River native Izzy Uncut, Jan of RuPaul’s Drag Race fame, Lexington Banks, Asbury Park’s Milian Mafia, and more to be announced,” organizers said.

There will be a “virtual drag show” at 8 p.m. which will cost $10 to join. It will be presented at Exit 82 Theater Company’s website.

“Toms River Pride is also seeking to feature stories highlighting local LGBTQAI+ heroes and allies, which can be submitted any time to exit82theatre@gmail.com,” an announcement said.

Pride Flag Raising, June 2020. (Photo: Evan Phalon)
Pride Flag Raising, June 2020. (Photo: Evan Phalon)

Donations obtained during the event will go toward the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, whose mission “protects and defends the human rights of Black transgender people.” The Exit 82 Theater Company said it “stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement for racial equality.”

“I’m thrilled to see that even in these tough times, we can come together to celebrate Pride right here in Toms River,” said U.S. Rep. Andy Kim (D-3), whose staff members participated in the recent flag-raising ceremony. “Since that day over 50 years ago at Stonewall, we’ve seen great progress made, but there’s still so much work to be done. We need to press the Senate to pass the Equality Act and state clearly that Black transgender women matter. Events like this, and groups like Exit 82 Theatre Company, are critical to ensuring the march towards progress and equality moves forward, and I’m proud to stand aside you in that fight.”