SPRINGFIELD, NJ – While the Township of Springfield observed National Pride Month with its annual flag raising back in June, COVID-19 made the annual event hard to celebrate together. To continue spreading the much-needed pride spirit throughout 2020, the Springfield Recreation Department was persistent in keeping their promise by hosting a special screening of “Love, Simon” on Thursday night at Chisholm Park.

Under the pink and orange sunset sky, Adam Lieb, director of the Springfield Recreation Department, welcomed a crowd that wasn’t as big as he was used to previously, but was excited and pleased to see a small, lively group of residents and neighbors abiding CDC guidelines, supporting the Springfield LGBTQ+ community and looking forward to a fun, quiet movie night outdoors with friends and family.

Lieb made the decision to postpone Springfield’s pride celebration after New Jersey state COVID-19 guidelines on outdoor social gatherings were gradually lifted, allowing more people to attend. He purposely chose the month of October in honor of LGBTQ+ History Month and National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11.

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The overall message that Lieb wanted to send to the Springfield community with his second annual event is that anyone is welcomed to join in no matter their race, religion, cultural background or sexual orientation, something he is very passionate about.

“If you’re ever driving into Springfield, On Morris Ave. on the Union-Springfield border, we have a ‘Stigma Free Springfield’ sign, welcoming everybody to town,” Lieb said. “It is a great example of what we have to offer in Springfield.”

The evening was filled with inspiration speeches of support by Lieb, Deputy Mayor Chris Weber, committeewoman, Erika Dubois and special guest, Union County Freeholder, Rebecca Williams, a community advocate for women’s and LGBTQ+ rights.

“You guys all have our support here, it just makes this a pleasurable place to live knowing that everybody is accepted for who and what they are,” Weber said.

“Especially in the times that we’re living in, when sometimes it feels like a lot of people aren’t supported for who they are and who they love, that in Springfield you are loved, you are supported for who you are and who you love,” Dubois said. “We will continue to support everyone.”

Williams echoed each speaker’s remarks in her, giving her full support for acceptance in the community with the launch of Union County’s “Queer Power Hour” an online program where the LGBTQ+ community can get together online and hear from other members of the community, county members and allies.

“We could all use a little bit more love,” Williams said

In between the speeches, The Front & Center Senior Company, led by artistic director and owner, Renee Celeste, performed a song that was cut out of the 1970s musical “Gospel,” and despite some technical difficulties and the need to be socially distant from each other, the group gave a very moving performance.

Thirteen-year-olds, Elyana Barroquiro and Alexa Torres participated the Front & Center performance and were excited to join Springfield Recreation to put on another amazing opening act.

“I was super excited to perform at pride again,” Barroquiro said.

Along with the opening act, Barroquiro was eager for the main event because she never saw “Love, Simon” before and was overjoyed to get the chance to see it with her friends.

Torres also performed at last year’s event and getting the chance to do it again was worth the wait.

“Even though it’s in October, I still wanted to come and support everybody,” Torres said. “It’s just really fun to perform for people.”

There were many young residents in attendance, including 14-year-olds Sukanya Vadali, Abigail Oknin, Lilly Resnick and Sydney Lesniewski, supporting their friends from Front & Center and looking forward to the main event of the evening, the movie itself while munching on bags of Smartfood Popcorn picnic style.

“Even if I’m straight, I think it’s important to normalize [acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community],” Lesniewski said.

The four high school freshmen came out in support for the community and were inspired by those with the courage be who they are without fear of what critics have to say.

“[People in the LGBTQ+ community] just have so much passion,” Oknin said. “They enjoy being who they are.”

Along with support, they believe that in today’s world, it is important for the community to become educated about other people’s differences and.

“It’s really important to understand what [people in the LGBTQ+ community] are interested in and go through so that as a society we can put a stop to [discrimination,]” Resnick said.