Stephanie grew up in Warminster, PA and came out in New Hope in 1990. She said she has deep roots here, having friends, family and her job. Stefani said New Hope being a LGBT community was not a factor in her decision to live here, “Just a bonus.”
She said, “We’re fortunate to live in such a beautiful part of the state. The Delaware River is still clean where it passes by New Hope. People swim, canoe and tube down the river. The architecture in and around New Hope and Lambertville has its charm and has been preserved, rather than torn down because it’s old. The shops, the restaurants, the bars, the entertainment; it’s a wonderful town, a wonderful life. It’s a small wonder that tourists come here from New York, Allentown and Philadelphia.”
Stefani said her first impression of New Hope was what she learned from driving through town in the back of her parents’ station wagon. “I can remember passing by the new Prelude and hearing my father complaining about “faggots” and applauding the fact that someone had thrown yet another brick through their sign. As a child, I didn’t know what a faggot was, but I couldn’t wait to find out.”
When she came out in 1990, she said,”Among the first people I met was Danee Russo. I can remember seeing her across the dance floor in the Cartwheel and asking someone, “Who is that?” The man replied, “That’s Danee Russo, the prettiest boy in New Hope.” She was also a very influential member of the community. From the first moment we spoke, we fell in love and were together until Danee’s death on October 23, 1995. For many years, my “place” in the community was as Danee’s partner. I don’t know that people saw me any other way.
After Danee died, I inherited responsibility for Mother Cavallucci, whom I loved like family until her death on May 5, 2000.
When I met Danee and Mother back in 1990, they made me feel like I was a part of a family. The two of them knew everyone and over the years introduced me to more people than I could ever possibly remember. AIDS killed off a good number of our family members. They were dark times but they were the best of times because we as a community banded together and took care of those in need.
During that period, in the late 1990s, I began my walk on the wild side. New Hope was not kind to me when I began transitioning from Stephen to Stefani. I got tired of having gay men approach me, telling me how handsome they thought I was as a man, and how much they hated seeing me turn into a woman. I got so tired of it, I stopped going to New Hope for about 5 years. Instead, I went to Manhattan where no one knew my history and I could be who I liked.
Eventually, a friend from New Hope called me out of the blue and asked why I’d stopped coming around. I told him, and he invited me to come back, which I did. In the intervening years, I’d learned a lot, and came to find that the New Hope community now accepted me as a trans-person. If I have a place today, hopefully it’s one of respect.”
Stephani works as the senior copywriter for a large, international corporation in their Creative Department, writing advertising copy. Prior to that, she worked as a journalist, and owned her own business for 15 years. She has been working in advertising since 2000.
She recently wrote a novel, Last Dance in Paradise, based on many of the people she knew in New Hope in the 1990s.
Stephani raised her son Zachary in the New Hope area. She said, “Danee and I took him to the Raven for dinner starting when he was 6 years old. As a foodie, Zach loved it. Danee enjoyed entertaining, so there was always every type of person in our home: gay, lesbian, Trans, black, white, Latino, rich, poor. My parents, who are extremely conservative, used to complain, “How is it going to affect your son growing up around those people?” I’ll tell you how it affected him. It’s made him an extremely open-minded, accepting young gentleman.”
She said being part of the community in New Hope is a good feeling. “I tell my ultra conservative, right wing, fundamentalist Christian parents that the gay community is not much different from their church community in that we look after one another. We’re just a lot less self-righteous about it.”
Stephani’s favorite memories are the birth of her son, meeting Danee and publishing three novels, one of them about New Hope.
She enjoys going to Zoubi’s, Karla’s, Martine’s, John & Peters, Havanas, The Landing, Marsha Browns, and the other establishments in New Hope and said, “Since we lost the Cartwheel and the Prelude, the Raven is the only truly gay bar left in town, so is near and dear to my heart.”
Stephani feels her most accomplished achievements have changed over the decades. ”Twenty years ago, I would have said, having a loving relationship with my soul mate, Danee. Ten years ago, I would have said, coming out as a trans-person and gaining acceptance. Today, I’d say, the publication of Last Dance in Paradise.”