essex county commissioners host inaugural lgbtq+ pride month celebration

(Newark, NJ) – On Wednesday, the Essex County Board of County Commissioners held its inaugural celebration of LGBTQ+ Pride Month at the Essex County Hall of Records. The ceremony recognized the great cultural, artistic, social, and political contributions of Essex County’s LGBTQ+ community and honored several prominent residents.

The program was conducted by Commissioner President Wayne L. Richardson, who noted the importance of support and advocacy for LGBTQ friends, family and neighbors especially during this time of increased hostility from far-right groups and agitators. “Our Board has made a point to celebrate the diversity of Essex County with yearly events honoring individuals from various groups and highlighting the importance of their contributions to Essex County and society as a whole,” said Richardson. “We are proud to add the LGBTQ community to the groups we celebrate. And I might add, it is long overdue. I salute each honoree for all you do that continues to make Essex County a wonderful place to live, work and raise a family.  It is important for our local government to promote equality and human rights for all members of our community. By coming together to celebrate and support the LGBTQ community, we can create a more harmonious and united society.”

The Board honored five exemplary Essex County LGBTQ+ residents for their leadership and impact: Richard Rockwell of Bloomfield, Kathy Ahearn-O’Brien of Montclair, Reginald Bledsoe of Newark, and Ruebena Spence & Madeline Gale of Montclair.

Richard Rockwell has lived in Bloomfield for 20 years with his partner, Rodgee Cao. He has served as a Bloomfield Councilman at-Large since 2018 and he is Council Liaison to the Bloomfield Morris Canal Greenway Committee, Bloomfield Planning Board and Bloomfield Historic Preservation Commission. He was on the Board of the Historical Society of Bloomfield for most of the time he has lived in Bloomfield. He authored a book titled Bloomfield Through Time (Fonthill, 2015). Rich has been involved in the LGBTQ+ rights movement since the 1970s when he helped found the Eromin Center in Philadelphia, one of the first LGBT-friendly counseling services in the country. When Rich Rockwell is not attending meetings, working on Township projects, historic preservation projects, and conducting tours of the Bloomfield Historic District and Morris Canal, he works part-time as a Land Steward at Manitoga, the Russel Wright Design Center, and he volunteers as a licensed expert in invasive species remediation with the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, South Mountain Conservancy, Bonsal Preserve and several native species restoration projects in Bloomfield.

Kathy Ahearn-O’Brien is the Executive Director of Hyacinth AIDS Foundation in New Brunswick. Prior to being named Executive Director in March 2009, she served as a member of the senior staff for over 10-years and was instrumental in strategic conversations on client services, prevention and public policy, the cornerstones of Hyacinth’s mission. Kathy is also the appointed Co-Chair of the Essex County LGBTQ Advisory Board, tasked with advising the County Executive on issues relative to the LGBTQ population for residents, employees and visitors of the County. She served as a member of the board of the New Jersey Lesbian and Gay Coalition from 2000 until 2009 and served as a board member of Lambda Families of New Jersey (one of New Jersey’s earliest LGBTQ family groups) from 1993-1999.  She is the Co-Chair of New Jersey’s Taskforce to End the HIV Epidemic. Kathy Ahearn-O’Brien has her Master’s degree in Public Administration from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

Reginald Bledsoe, born and raised in Newark, has a long history serving his community.  He was elected as the youngest Democratic District Leader in District 5 of Newark's Central Ward in 2010, and served on the Newark Board of Education from 2017 to 2020. Currently, Reginald is the Director of the Essex County Office of LGBTQ+ Affairs and works closely with Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. His office is one of only two in the state. He was appointed to the Essex County Schools of Technology Board of Education in 2023 and subsequently elected as the 2023-2024 President of the Essex County School Boards Association. Reginald has served as an advisory board member for NJ Child Assault Prevention, a statewide community-based prevention program, is a former member of the NJ Federation of Housing Cooperatives, and has served on the Board of Directors for United Community Corporation, One Voice for LGBTQ Issues, and Newark Gay Pride. He has received numerous community awards, including being featured in Observer NJ's List of 50 Powerful Young Black Democrats in 2015 and as one of NJ's 30 Under 30: Political Up-and-Comers in 2016. 

Reubena Spence and Madeline Gale are two of the co-founders of Out Montclair (OM), and Program Coordinators of its 50+ Program. Reubena is the Chair of the OM Board, and Madeline is an OM Board Trustee. They are also Co-Chairs of the NJPAC LGBTQ+ Advisory Council, Montclair Civil Rights Commissioners, Executive Board Members of Montclair NAACP and Montclair Mutual Aid, and they recently were on the organizing team of the first Newark LGBTQ+ Film Festival. Reubena is a Graphic Artist and Scroll Designer at, and Madeline is an Early Childhood, Special Education and Literacy Specialist. Reubena Spence and Madeline Gale work to create a community, a nation, and a world where all are equal, safe, respected, included and accepted, and where differences are celebrated.

Reverend Katherine Rollo of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Verona delivered opening and closing prayers during the event, and Michael T. Robinson of Newark performed two compelling musical performances for the audience.

To see more photos of the event, click here. To view a recording of the event, click here.



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For Additional Information - Contact:
Adam Tucker, Public Information Officer
Essex County Board of County Commissioners
973-621-4452 (phone) 973-621-5695 (fax)
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Board of County Commissioners,
County of Essex
465 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.,
Room 558 Hall of Records,
Newark, New Jersey 07102