A new nonprofit organization is promoting the businesses on Main Street in Medford while also providing a place where residents who are members of the LGBTQ community can feel safe and welcome.
Resident Justin Gibbs, visited New Hope, Pa., in June, and saw how welcoming the town was of the community, and how they embraced them. Gibbs, who said he’s gay, became inspired afterward and wanted to bring that sense of belonging to Medford.
“I made a Facebook post on a community page and I was thinking about how it would be taken, and the community grabbed it, and ran with it,” he said. “After that, I put up a post and asked for help, and I had a meeting with them, and we created a Facebook page for it and it blew up.”
The organization, which recently gained 501C3 nonprofit status, Medford Pride On Main, aims to create a community where everyone of any background can feel welcome in town and to promote businesses along the corridor.
Gibbs added the organization has built connections with the Gay Straight Alliance club at Shawnee High School and Rowan College at Burlington County to provide resources to students, and give them the opportunity to run or speak at events.
As Medford’s Main Street is a hot spot in town, Gibbs, who serves as the founder and president, said every event or work pride does is on Main Street.
“That’s why I thought of the name, Medford Pride on Main, because our Main Street is like our Thanksgiving dinner, and the businesses are our tableware,” he said. “Everything we do is focused on Medford and the businesses and promoting the downtown and the local shops.”
He went on to add the nonprofit also introduces the businesses, for those who wish to be a part of it, to customers they never thought they could reach, which helps the town grow.
On Main Street, he said some businesses have, on their own, put up Pride flags or stickers on their front doors to let others know they are welcome in their businesses.
“Businesses have done that, did it on their own will, and it shows it coming from a true, genuine place because it wasn’t given to them or asked of them,” he added. “The way we found out about them was we opened our phones, went on Facebook and saw a post on them.”
Gibbs went on to add that, as a gay man, he feels welcome and safe in a community that has Pride flags flapping in the wind. The flags tell him that he can walk down Main Street with his partner and not have to worry if they’ll be ridiculed or hurt.
Robin DiGiovanni, vice president of the organization, said they will host various educational events for everyone in the community to attend about struggles the LGBTQ community faces, how people can assist others, how it impacts children at school and home, and also personal coming out stories.
“We’ll have the forums for people to just come out and learn about all different things because there are things that everyone can learn about, including myself as a gay man that I don’t know,” Gibbs added.
With pride including the LGBTQ community, Gibbs and other board members recognized that not every person in town will, or is, welcoming of them, and they stride to not push their mission on them.
“People will make negative comments, but we won’t respond, engage or delete them,” he said. “We leave it there and feeding into it won’t do anything for us. Everyone has a right to feel the way they feel.”
DiGiovanni added the organization banned topics regarding politics and religion to keep the message of inclusion alive and to “help a person be included in their own community.”
For the future of the organization, they said they’re hosting an array of events, open to the community, such as a Community Coming Out Celebration (Sept. 28), Halloween parade float (Oct. 26) and hopefully a sidewalk pride event next summer.
The board members said they’re approaching council and Mayor Charles Watson to get their support and present to them who they are, and hope to branch out to the surrounding municipalities to provide resources to their residents as well.
To donate, volunteer or learn about events the organization has, visit www.MedfordPrideOnMain.com.
Gibbs said as a resident of 12 years, he wants to make Medford feel like home, and for it to be home for other people “regardless if you’re white, black, whatever your religion is, your sexuality – I want this home to be home for everyone.“