Southern New Jersey sometimes feels like Philadelphia’s neglected stepchild in the LGBTQ+ community. But fortunately, there are a few things in the coming weeks that will help change that impression. In Camden, the impressive impresario DeAnn Cox will be holding South Jersey Pride in Cooper River Park on September 12th at 3pm. The event will include a drag contest, over 100 vendors and sections of the National Aids Memorial Quilt. You can go to www.jerseygaypride.com for more information or to apply for a vendor spot. 

Another great program is being spearheaded by this week’s Portrait, Kevin Bricketto, who has been trying to bring a sense of community to the South Jersey area. We took a little time to learn about the man and the mission. 

So Mr. Bricketto, let’s find out more about you starting with the origin of your name.

The name is Italian. I’m half Irish, a quarter Italian, a quarter German, but the name comes from my paternal side. I think it was originally Brichetti, but the family changed it to try to Americanize it. 

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Blackwood, NJ. But in the past few years I’ve been trying to get more familiar and involved in the LGBTQ community in Philadelphia. As you know, I’ve been participating in a number of the Independence Business Alliance (IBA) morning coffee and happy hour zoom gatherings, and I’m excited to partner with the IBA to host an in-person event in NJ. 

I’m looking forward to it. Can you tell me a little about the family?

Both of my parents are retired now. My dad ran his own insulation business and then sold that and did sales and management for quite some time. My mom was a teacher before having 4 kids and becoming a full time mom. She had my older brother, my older sister and then my twin brother Adam and me. My older brother now lives in North Jersey and is married with two beautiful sons, my nephews. My sister lives in Mullica Hill with her husband and my two beautiful nieces! 

And your twin?

Oh yeah! He’s in the Cherry Hill area. 

Okay, I’m fascinated by twins, are you identical?

Yes, Adam was born 7 minutes before I was. 

Did your mom dress you alike as kids?

She sort of dressed us as mirror reflections or opposites. So say if I had on green overalls and a red striped shirt, Adam would have on a green striped shirt and red overalls. She would do stuff like that when we were little. I remember a story that my mom used to tell us about being with our great grandmother and her loving to push us around in a stroller that was specifically made for two children born at the same time. She was really pleased and proud to show us off! 

Wow, not many of us knew our great grands.

Yeah, I wish I had more memories of both my grandparents. I do remember her babysitting us when my parents would go out while we were napping and she’d come and wake us up and give us candy. Apparently she was a little bit of a wild child in her day. We have pictures of her in racy bathing suits, one of them was taken at a neighbor’s house. When the neighbor was away they snuck in to take these posed pictures of her on the stone walkway. 

What’s the twiniest thing you’ve done?

Sadly, I don’t think I have any typical twin stories like swapping classes or something. I think we were good to a fault. I will say this about having a twin that is special for me: one of the nice things about having a twin that you’re really close to is that it’s like having your best friend with you all the time. It allows you to grow up with a sense of freedom because you don’t feel like you have to conform or fit in to have friends or create social bonds. You always have someone that you can rely on and who has your back. So you tend to grow up more independently, and are able to forge your own personality rather than trying to fit in with other kids, but it’s a little of a double edged sword because the flip side is that you can become socially dependent on each other, so I think it took both of us until a little later in life to learn some of the social skills others learned before. But I wouldn’t give it up for the world, we’re still very, very close. I’m close with everyone in the family, but we have a special bond. 

How do you differ?

[Laughing] I was going to say he has more hair than I do! He’s 7 minutes older and I think he’s always been just a little bit bolder. As just a small example, he’s the one who wasn’t afraid to drive into Philadelphia and contend with city traffic! It’s a small thing but indicative of Adam. He had more of a sense of adventure. 

Is he also gay?

Oh yeah, I guess that’s a difference too! He’s not. But he’s the first person I came out to. 

How did that come about, and did he have any inkling?

No, I don’t think he did. I don’t really remember the genesis of the conversation, but I remember that we were walking around the neighborhood. It’s been a while, so I honestly can’t recall what was said, but at the end he told me that it was one of the best and most important conversations that we ever had. It was a real weight off of my chest, because it was something that I’d been carrying around for a long time. He was very accepting and it was a very positive experience. 

About how old were you?

Hmmn, it was about 8 years ago, so I guess I was about 32, maybe 33? I didn’t come out until later in life, I think you were a part of the IBA call this summer when I shared with everyone that I’d just told my parents. It was a big thing that I’d been anxious about for some time. It’s funny, when I told my mom, who was the big one, it turned out that for years she’d been trying to make space to have the conversation, and because of my anxiety, I never took the opportunity. She didn’t feel comfortable asking me point blank; she wanted me to say something when I was ready. I recently spoke to someone about looking back with regret for having waited for so long and just moving forward, and I came to the conclusion that I want to move ahead. I hope that maybe my story will inspire someone else to have the courage to take that step sooner. 

Yeah, I used to talk to a lot of people who would say, “Well, I don’t want to say anything unless they ask me and then I’ll be honest” but I’d reply, “Well your family is probably saying, ‘We don’t want to ask until they’re ready to say something’ so if one of you doesn’t do something you’re going to be at a sad stalemate for no good reason!” 

Yes! That’s exactly what it was. But the beautiful thing about it is that my mom is now one of the biggest supporters that I have. She just texted me a picture a few weeks ago of an “LGBT ALLY” shirt that she got and she wants to attend a Pride event that’s coming up in NJ. She is excited to show her support. 

What do you think held you back for so long?

There are a lot of factors, chief among them would be work and as I mentioned, I was late developing some social skills. So I would channel all my energy into work and not deal with my sexuality. I was very cloistered; it can become a pattern without you even realizing. It’s only been about two and a half years since things turned around. I went to college hoping to become a film critic because I love movies. I majored in film when I probably should have majored in journalism, and when I graduated it was before Obamacare. I needed a job with health care, so I took a job in finance doing bank foreclosures and I hated it. It was in 2008 and banks were taking homes away from good, hard working people for missing a single payment. I spent 8 years doing that, fighting on behalf of the banks against the little guy. I was not where… It was… 

Soul sucking?

Exactly! And I was haunted by the words I was told when I graduated college, the gentleman who handed me my diploma said, “Now go out and take the world by storm.” My parents paid for my education, so I worked very hard to make them proud and graduated summa cum laude. Sitting at my desk crunching numbers didn’t feel like I was living up to expectations, and then one day I went to an animal shelter with my mom, and at the last shelter there was a little dog who was extremely shy. She hid behind the dog house and crept out a little but would run back when I put my hand out. But after I tried a few times, she suddenly ran up to me, jumped in my lap and put her head on my chest. And after 8 years, I felt like a light went back on inside me. I decided that helping animals was what I wanted to do, so I changed careers and worked in animal welfare for 5 years. I loved it, and through that I met Candy Niedoba who was on the board of the Voorhees Animal Orphanage. Now I work with her and her company, Candy L. Niedoba & The Diverse Professionals. It’s a real estate company, and I have to tell you, the last two and a half years working with them have been some of the biggest for personal growth. It was totally unexpected; you don’t usually think of real estate as life changing, but working with this team it has been. 

What do you do with them?

I’m the executive administrator. I’m sort of a Jack of all trades for the team. I support the agents with proper paperwork, do client communications, marketing and social media, I have a drone pilot’s license so I can do aerial photography for the properties, I have my notary license, a lot of stuff. 

What makes you the “Diverse Professionals?”

Well, Candy has been out and proud for a long time, which encouraged me to explore that side of myself. Camden is getting to be a wonderfully diverse community. We have clients from South Korea, the Philippines, India, and all over. When you’re buying or selling a house, it’s such a vulnerable place to be, you really need to have someone you can trust. Being able to be there for someone during that process is very uplifting. Candy and the team have always had a strong commitment to the community, and I’m so excited about the event that we’re going to be hosting with the IBA. You know the South Jersey Pride event you spoke about before, that was the first time I’d ever seen anything focused on LGBTQ+ Pride anywhere around here. It’s not that this area doesn’t embrace diversity, there just doesn’t seem to be any conversation around it. Philadelphia is lucky in that the community has such a robust voice, I don’t know if it’s because we’re more dispersed but we just don’t have it yet. Maybe it’s because I just came fully out, but I‘m really getting into the idea of local Pride here in South Jersey. So I hope the South Jersey Pride event on September 12th and the IBA event on the 21st help to bring people together. 

What are the deets on the IBA event?

Candy L. Niedoba & The Diverse Professionals are partnering with Zach Wilcha and the IBA team to have a fun, networking party. It’s going to be on Tuesday, September 21st at the Camden County Boathouse, and it’ll be a great chance to meet fellow LGBTQ+ business owners and allies, and be part of a larger conversation of pride and diversity in South Jersey! Candy and I and the Diverse Team are looking forward to being part of that conversation. 

So let’s learn a little more about you. You fly drones, how about other skills?

I do fly drones and it’s a lot of fun. It’s one of my creative outlets and I can use my degree in film with the drones and with our marketing. I love art and I draw a little. One of the beautiful things about humans is our ability to love and our ability to create and the ability to connect with each other through art. I play the banjo a little bit; I’ve always felt that there’s something fundamentally spiritual about music. I remember the first time I heard, “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis. It was a rainy Sunday night and there was something transcendent about that experience. It’s hard to put into words.

What’s a conversation piece in your home?

I love art nouveau, so I have some stained glass lamps and a lot of art nouveau posters and a LOT of books. I love to read. 

If you could get one thing back that you lost, what would it be?

I’m not a religious person but my mom gave me my great-grandmother’s rosary beads. They were in a little pewter box and I don’t know where they are, so I regret losing that. I do have my grandfather’s wallet, one of those big old billfolds. 

Star Wars or Star Trek?

Star Trek. I grew up on Next Generation. 

Three sounds you love?

There’s something about the sounds of mourning doves that always reminds me of late afternoons in summer, and the sound of the cicadas at dusk always feels a little melancholy or bitter sweet. And wind chimes, there’s something gentle about them that make me think of spring or early summer. 

Books you’d recommend for Oprah’s book club.

I love short stories. I’d say, “The Bottom of the Harbor” by Joseph Mitchell or any short stories by Raymond Carver.

Any tattoos?

Not yet, but my dog Lucy changed my life in such a meaningful way, I may get a tattoo of Lucy’s little paw with the date I adopted her. 

What’s your go to karaoke song?

“Dancing in the Dark” by Bruce Springsteen. I love that song!

You are a Jersey guy! If you were to come back as an animal, which would you be?

This is going to sound silly, I’ve always said I’d come back as one of those Galápagos Island turtles! They live for so long and have such an easy life, that sounds pretty darn good to me!