June 13, 2011
By Jay Gartman
Robert Vitale of Bloomfield has a military-style haircut and a muscular frame. And if he were wearing camouflage clothing while walking among Asbury Park fairgoers two Sundays ago, you’d be inclined to salute him. Instead, he was wearing REALLY tight black leather short-shorts and a sash proclaiming himself “Mr. NJ Leather.” And while Robert normally is a community ambassador–visiting a local community college to talk about LGBT issues and several other events to raise money and food for HIV and Aids projects–this day the “Mr. NJ Leather” show was touring the Annual Jersey Pride LGBTI fair and he was pure entertainment. Robert walked past the ACLU-NJ table where Ed Gibson of Morganville and I were volunteering on June 5. He stopped for photos and cracked some jokes.
Ed and I would probably rank “Mr. NJ Leather” and a few stillettoed-and-sequined drag queens (who looked better than most of my high school girlfriends) among The Top Five Reasons I Table for the ACLU.
But ranked first on that list—and certainly more typical of the fairgoers that day– would be couples like Naomi and Laura from Toms River. In their late 50’s, with silver hair and attire from Chico’s, they didn’t stand out in the crowd. Their union, said Naomi and Laura, has thrived for 28 years and is just as caring and passionate one might find in heterosexual relationships. They have grandchildren, challenging careers and a home on a quiet street that is ringed with day lillies, roses, and zinnias. Naomi and Laura stopped by our table to tell Ed and me how important the ACLU’s battle for same-sex marriages was to them. “We’re so close,” they said. “All we’re asking for is the same normal life that everyone else enjoys.”
The ACLU-NJ table can be found in street fairs at many New Jersey towns throughout the spring and summer. We try to make the table alluring to fairgoers with a roulette wheel game that challenges their knowledge of The Constitution. Winners get some ACLU-initialized bling. From Cape May to Berkeley Heights, Denville to Manahawkin, there literally are more than 100 fairs and the ACLU-NJ will participate in as many as it has volunteers to do so.
If you want to volunteer to “table’ for the ACLU this summer, it’s not too late, nor is it difficult. Just fill out a volunteer inquiry form.
And if you’re curious about the other reasons on my list of The Top Five Reasons I Table for the ACLU, here are the remaining three in no particular order: (1) access to sausage onions and peppers subs, honey coated roasted almonds and butterfly potato fries, (2) working on my summer tan, and (3) conversations with interesting volunteers like Ed.