HomeCherry Hill NewsCherry Hill recognizes Pride Month with LGBTQ+ film screening discussion

Cherry Hill recognizes Pride Month with LGBTQ+ film screening discussion

Seniors ‘aging’ with pride share their prom experiences

The Cherry Hill library co-hosted with Jewish Family and Childrens’ Services a screening and discussion of Take Me to Prom, a Canadian short film that features LGBTQ+ individuals recounting their own prom experiences. (EMILY LIU/The Sun)

More than five years ago, Reva Farenback-Brateman organized the LGBTQ+ Aging with Pride group with six seniors – five men and one woman – at Jewish Family and Childrens’ Services (JFCS).

Today, it has more than 40 regular members, and the JFCS geriatric social worker said it’s rare to not have a few new members at each meeting.

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“It’s open to everybody; you don’t have to be Jewish even though the usual meetings are in the Katz Jewish Community Center in Cherry Hill,” said Farenback-Brateman.

To celebrate Pride Month on June 27, the JFCS teamed with the Cherry Hill library and  township to organize a screening and discussion of Take Me to Prom, a Canadian short film that features LGBTQ+ individuals recounting their high-school prom experiences over seven decades. 

The discussion was led by members of the Aging with Pride group – Alyx Reinhardt, Ruth Rouff, Don Cook, Dave Phillips and Mitch Augarten – who engaged the audience of mostly seniors. They recounted their own prom stories with the audience. Later, they reflected on their experiences then and now, noting how things have changed in the LGBTQ+ community.

“It’s an opportunity for us to really get to know each other at a completely different level, rather than just attending a meeting where somebody’s presenting,” said Augarten, a Cherry Hill resident who is an active member of the Aging with Pride group. 

“ … I’m feeling for the first time in my life that I’m now more of an activist than I ever was before.”

“I think as I’ve gotten older, I’m much more conscious of the problems, the issues that are out there,” Cook, a Marlton resident, told The Sun. “I see it in my vulnerability, his vulnerability (gesturing to Phillips). I see it more readily than when I was 30 years old.”

Cook recalled how his former partner died of AIDS and their hospital experience.

“Our doctor came and said, ‘Why can’t he? He can’t sit on the bed?’ ‘Oh yeah, he can, if he ain’t got it now, he ain’t ever have it, don’t worry about it,’” Cook remembered. “I think that was a very difficult time, a very very hard time. 

“A lot of people were lost,” he added. “A lot of people died. I think that was a big stigmatization to our community. It wasn’t our fault, but it didn’t help.”

Some speakers addressed the importance of normalizing relationships as a part of combating the stigma.

“You try to normalize things for people by being yourself,” Augarten suggested. “You just try to normalize people for people and you get accepted through that. If you were to ask me to describe myself in 10 words, I don’t think ‘gay’ would come up in the top five, the same way that if I asked you to describe yourselves, how many of you would put heterosexual in the top five?”

Reinhardt recounted how, when she moved to South Jersey, she displayed a picture of her girlfriend.

“It was 25 years ago, and we couldn’t get married or anything like that,” she said. “And so there’s my picture and, ‘Oh, who’s that?’ ‘That’s Maria, she’s my girlfriend, we just moved here …’ 

“I normalized it with everybody I worked with,” Reinhardt added, “and in the end, what ended up happening (was), it became a non-issue.”

Many of the seniors at the discussion noted that today’s culture makes it much easier for people to come out, but they acknowledged that bias against the LGBTQ+  community persists, especially on social media.

“When people can come to that incorrect conclusion just by the proliferation of gay things on social media, it’s scary, and this comes across whether you’re talking about gay issues or women’s health, sexuality, religion,” Augarten remarked.

“ … Social media and the freedom of social media allows them to proliferate these ignorant ideas.”

The LGBTQ+ Aging with Pride group is one of two hosted by the JFCS, and meets on the second Friday of every month at the Katz JCC. The JFCS’ also hosts Project Rainbow for LGBTQ+ youth in grades six to eight and nine to 12. 

Learn more at https://jfcssnj.org/lgbtq-support/


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