“We’re a Pride community.”
Those were the words of Mayor Jaclyn Veasy as she and the rest of Evesham Township Council used a portion of this week’s council meeting to officially recognize June as LGBTQ Pride Month in Evesham Township.
With an official proclamation in hand, Veasy described America as a nation founded on the principle of equal rights for all people.
Continuing, Veasy said some of the “most inspiring” moments in the nation’s history having arisen from the various civil rights movements that have brought one group after another from the margins American society to its mainstream.
To that end, Veasy said all people should be able to live without fear of “prejudice, disinclination, violence and hatred” based on race, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation.
“By protecting the rights of every individual, we enhance the rights of our entire society,” Veasy said.
Council’s proclamation also noted this June marks 50 years since the “Stonewall Rebellion” of June 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in New York City – from which a police raid at a gay bar sparked what Veasy described as a “historic turning point” and the beginning of the movement to outlaw discriminatory laws and practices against LGTBQ citizens in America.
And just as Stonewall launched countless LGBTQ advocacy groups, also on hand at this week’s council meeting were members of the Pride of Evesham social group.
As noted by the group’s Facebook page, the group’s mission is to “celebrate, embrace and raise awareness of the diversity and uniqueness” within and surrounding the Evesham community.
Speaking on behalf of the group was resident and group president Ryan Albright, who in the past has described the organization as a small group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning and straight allies trying to “make a difference” in Evesham.
It was actually June of last year when Albright first attended a council meeting to request the municipality officially recognize June as Pride Month in Evesham Township, suggesting that Evesham Township could fly donated rainbow flags on Main Street or take some similar action to recognize LGBTQ pride in Evesham.
It was from the ideas discussed at that meeting that Albright and other residents would eventually form Pride of Evesham, with its first meeting in February. Since that time, the group has also worked closely with local craft brewery Zed’s Beer to host meetings, brunches and launch official LGBTQ pride T-shirts.
“The Pride of Evesham was kind of an off-the-cuff idea that took a lot of steam very quickly…something that we can all be proud of and come together and take part in as a community,” Albright said.
Pride of Evesham also worked with the township council to have a large banner reading “Evesham Township – It’s a Pride Thing” hung across Main Street.
Keeping with that connection to council, the group also regularly includes two members of council in Councilwoman Patricia Hansen and Councilman Ken D’Andrea.
While speaking to the progress that has been made in the United States toward LGBTQ rights at this week’s meeting, Hansen noted there were still 26 countries in the world where being LGBTQ carried a penalty of 10 years in prison or death.
“I’ve always envisioned a place where I could live safely and openly, and social change requires people to stand up for their beliefs even in the face of adversity,” Hansen said. “To me, pride is a community coming together – and as the township recognizes June as Pride Month – it fosters a sense of community. It brings me together with the people I appreciate.”
Also speaking at this week’s meeting was Jayson Scott, executive director of the Ours Institute.
As described on the institute’s website, the organization serves the LGBTQ-plus community in Southern New Jersey through education, philanthropy, advocacy and community development.
Scott thanked Hansen for joining with the Ours Institute for Burlington County’s first officially recognized Pride Day on May 4 at Rowan College at Burlington County, held in conjunction with the Burlington County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
Scott also thanked Evesham Township Council and the Pride of Evesham group for advocating for Pride Month in Evesham Township.
“South Jersey is proud of you, and the residents of Burlington County are proud of you,” Scott said.