How Gay-Friendly is Collingswood?

Getting to the bottom of gossip and tolerance in the Jersey town. By Kathleen Volk Miller

When I heard last week was National Coming Out Week, my first thought was, reallyWe still need a “coming out week”? And then I remembered that I live in the Northeast Corridor, specifically, in the very gay-friendly town of Collingswood. I have to be continually reminded that the rest of the country is not quite where Collingswood is in terms of acceptance or even tolerance. My friend Louis Alberta once said, “Being gay is irrelevant in Collingswood; it’s like being white.”

Once, I was talking with my daughter, Allison, then a senior in high school, and my nephew, who was visiting from Pittsburgh. Somehow, we were talking about prom, and Allison was incredulous about a same-sex couple who were not allowed to attend prom together. My nephew Sean was incredulous at her incredulity (incredulousness squared?). This prompted me to ask how gay kids were treated at his much larger, much less racially, financially and, I guess, all –ly’s diverse high school. Sean’s response was, “If there are any gay kids, they’re sure not out!”

Pittsburgh is not that far away. Having grown up there myself, I hate to think of it as podunk, even in its suburbs. There is a spectrum of levels between tolerance and acceptance. I have a horrifying memory of watching Sacha Baron Cohen. Yes, the whole experience of watching SBC is horrifying, but when he dressed as a cheerleader at a University of Alabama football game, and the crowd starting booing, then yelling, then throwing soda and popcorn at him, I was just as confused as my kids. We thought the whole thing had to be a set-up, that there was no way people could get that angry over a male cheerleader prancing around. We were wrong. They did.

I live just outside “one of the most gay-friendly cities in America,” and the student who was Allison’s senior-class president is gay. Dan Truitt, now a junior at Montclair State College, says that he did have it a lot easier than most, and he credits living in Collingswood, as well as having “the best parents in the world.”

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