On the heels of celebrating a very unorthodox (and unofficial) Jersey Pride, the Garden State lost one of their most legendary voices for equality. Emily Sonnessa (who along with her wife Jan Moore, were showcased in the highly acclaimed 2017 documentary Love Wins) passed away on Friday June 11th at home at the age of 91, with her wife and family by her side.
Leaders nationwide immediately paid tribute to this woman who’s warmth and amazing hugs can only be matched by her fighting spirit for equality for all. Garden State Equality Executive Director Christian Fuscarino posted on Facebook on Saturday June 12th that “we lost a champion, a trailblazer, an icon” while New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy shared in a Monday afternoon social media post “This past weekend, we lost an icon in our LGBTQIA+ community. Emily Sonnessa wasn’t just a fighter for marriage equality – she campaigned across the country on matters of health care access and equity for the LGBTQIA+ community. Because of her work, we are a better state.”
Together for decades, the nation first got to fall in love with Moore and Sonnessa when they were denied the use of the Ocean Grove N.J. Boardwalk to have a civil union, with the battle making national headlines. The beloved couple was finally married on November 20, 2013, shortly after gay marriage became the law of the land in New Jersey. Holding their community relationships tight, Sonnessa, alongside Moore, continued rallying for the rights of senior citizens in residential living facilities and for both AIDS patients and LGBTQ residents in living facilities (Moore told N.J.com). Moore also told the publication that she fully intends to continue her wife’s work.
Asbury Park, N.J. Deputy Mayor Amy Quinn, who has followed in the trailblazing and advocacy footsteps that Sonnessa laid for so many told me exclusively “Emily Sonnessa and Jan Moore fought for marriage equality and the right to use the Ocean Grove Pavilion back in 2007. This was a time when the LGBTQ community was under targeted attack by homophobic forces. They more recently took their fight to healthcare and ensuring our LGBTQ seniors get the proper healthcare they need. When we talk about activists who paved the way for lesbians like me and LGBTQ youth who will come after me, we owe Emily and Jan a huge debt of gratitude for the rights our community has now and in the future.”
You can watch ‘Love Wins’ on the PBS website here