Peter Yacobellis ’05 is a change agent for the LGBTQIA+ community, working to create a safer, more inclusive and accepting environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, nonbinary and gender-fluid youths and adults.
As the first openly gay member of the Montclair, New Jersey, Township Council and founder and president of the nonprofit organization Out Montclair, Yacobellis was the catalyst for the town’s first Pride festival held earlier this month.
The inaugural event, actively supported by volunteers and sponsors, drew thousands of visitors, featured two performance stages and showcased more than 100 vendors.
While the festival was a very public and visible initiative, Yacobellis also works behind the scenes to effect change. “The LGBTQ+ community is in a battle for acceptance and equality, particularly in the suburbs,” he said. “Our community is being politicized and weaponized … currently there are over 200 anti-gay and anti-trans pieces of legislation under consideration in states across America.”
Yacobellis’ work in Montclair follows decades of advocacy and activism on behalf of the LGBTQIA+ community. His activism is fueled by traumatic experiences: When he was in high school, his church congregation tried to pray away his sexuality. In 1998, he was discharged from the United States Air Force for violating the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy after disclosing confused feelings about his sexual identity.
In the early 2000s, he helped lead the march on Washington to get the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy reversed. He also worked for then- Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and was an official in the administrations of former New York governors David Paterson and Andrew Cuomo until 2014, working on marriage equality. He also helped found a New York City chapter of The Trevor Project, the national nonprofit dedicated to suicide prevention and crisis intervention for LGBTQIA+ youth.
“I’m particularly concerned about the well-being of our young people” and creating “a healthier experience for the next generations,” said Yacobellis. “We have to affirm our youth and let them know it’s OK to be who they are.” He added that had the LGBTQIA+ community been “more accepted, embraced and welcomed” when he was younger, he would have “had an easier life.”
Yacobellis and the Montclair Pride Festival have received extensive media coverage:
- PIX11: “Montclair LGBTQ community to celebrate first Pride festival”
- CBS News: “Out Montclair planning town’s first Pride festival”
- Montclair Local: “At first-ever Montclair Pride Festival, ‘my inner child is so proud and beaming'”
- Northjersey.com: “The scoop on Montclair’s first-ever Pride fest, plus lots of Pride events in NJ and NYC