Back in the day, gay people found one another through a kind of underground GPS. Word would get around that there was a party at a private home, and when you arrived, the place would be packed. It was fun, but times have changed.
A robust marriage-equality movement has brought same-sex marriage to nine states and the District of Columbia. Though our sister states in the Tri-State area—Connecticut and New York—have legalized same-sex marriage, our own state lags behind.
That puts the focus on New Jersey—and Hudson County’s gay community in particular—which is right across the river from New York’s. On October 31, 2011, Nancy Caamaño, executive director, Hudson Pride Connections Center, stepped down. She had served the organization—at 32 Jones St. in Journal Square—in various capacities since 2006. At that time, Board Treasurer Jonathan Lucas stepped in as interim executive director.
Enter W. Jeffrey Campbell, who came all the way from Houston to take the helm of the center, which serves the needs of the LGBT community in Hudson County. How did Campbell end up in Hudson County? His partner was working in higher education in New Jersey, so it made sense for Campbell to become a “trailing spouse.”
For the last 12 years he’d been working in HIV-prevention services in Houston and in social justice activities for that city’s LGBT community.
Campbell, 46, is also an ordained minister with the Fellowship of Radically Inclusive Ministries, a coalition of Christian churches that is affirming to LGBT people.
These things made him a prime candidate for the job. Elizabeth Edman, chair of the board, Hudson Pride, said the organization was looking for three attributes: a strong administrator, a strong public voice, and a robust fundraiser. “We know he can strengthen the organization from within [administrator], Edman said. “He is a preacher, so he is very well spoken and has a wonderful presentation and presence [strong public voice], and he will be a strong leader in fundraising.”
Before Campbell took the reins on August 22, 2012, he spent the spring getting to know the center and the town. “A lot of people don’t know that the center exists,” he says. “One of the things I will be working to do is to get the center linked to the community. There are multiple layers—Jersey City and Hudson County.”
One of Hudson County’s biggest advantages—its proximity to Manhattan—may be one of Hudson Pride’s greatest liabilities. “The bright lights and big city are a draw,” Campbell says. “They take a lot of people. It’s challenging for us.”
The center offers SAGE (Senior Action in a Gay Environment) for folks over 50, and Youth Connects for people from the ages of 13 and 24. It’s in the process of re-launching a group for lesbian and bisexual women. Campbell wants to keep and strengthen those groups, as well as its social events and educational offerings. Though the center has an old-fashioned library, its computer room is more popular; folks come in to update resumes, pay bills online, or just do research on the Internet.
The center is capitalizing on Jersey City’s thriving visual-arts scene. The 32 Jones Gallery occupies the first floor. “It gives us an opportunity to curate unique art and artists who may not have the big shows,” Campbell says. “We try to do a new show every 30 to 45 days.”
Roger Omeus, creator of the films Finding Me and Finding Me Truth, about gay African-American young people, filmed some scenes at the center.
“They did two days of shooting inside the center,” Campbell says. “I was excited to be a part of it and to move forward with that relationship.”
With a background in HIV services, Campbell is especially sensitive to this sector of the Hudson County community. “We want to go out into the community and link ourselves with individuals who are newly diagnosed who do not have access to care or have not had care for a year,” he says. “We will link them to testing and other social services in order for them to be healthy.”
The challenge, he cautions, in promoting the center’s support for people with HIV is that the larger community will think that everyone associated with the center has HIV. “There is still a stigma around HIV,” he says, “and we do multiple levels of work.”
Administering to seniors is one level. “The local senior-service agencies don’t have any gay seniors accessing services,” Campbell says. “We provide cultural sensitivity training for social workers. More and more gays and lesbians need senior health care. Many LGBT people don’t have children or are not close to their families. They depend on others for their care.”
Hudson Pride also offers outreach to transgender people.
Though the center is tucked away on Jones Street, half a block off Journal Square, it is connected to the broader LBGT movement, which is enjoying widespread national attention due to the surprising success of marriage-equality initiatives. Hudson Pride is a member of Centerlink, a coalition that supports the development of LGBT centers around the country. Campbell says, “It keeps us informed of things going on in various states and in the federal government that are key to the LGBT community—the right to marry and domestic partnerships and how referendums or Obamacare impact us.”
It’s fitting that Campbell has found himself at a place called Hudson County Pride Connections.
“I am a connector and a connection person,” he says. And he’s found Jersey City to be a good place to make connections. “Houston is very spread out,” he says, “and Jersey City is very close-knit. In Jersey City, people have a clear understanding of where their roots are ethnically. I like that.”—Kate Rounds
Hudson Pride Connections Center
32 Jones St.