Hudson Pride Connections Center Welcoming New Executive Director, W. Jeffrey Campbell

After months of searching, the Hudson Pride Connections Center has finally found someone to take the reins of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community center.

W. Jeffrey Campbell, a 46-year-old pastor and LGBTQ activist who recently relocated to Milltown in Middlesex County from Houston, will be the center’s new executive director as it moves into 2013, its 20th year of serving Hudson County.

Campbell grew up in Cuero, a small town 135 miles outside Houston, and moved to the bustling Texan city 23 years ago after studying business and accounting at Texas State University. There, he also studied at the Houston Graduate School of Theology, which prepared him to later become the first openly gay African-American man to pastor an open and affirming church in Houston. He has been ministering since 1992 and is considering continuing his education at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

For the past decade, Campbell says he was fighting for multiple causes outside his work as a pastor including HIV prevention, human rights and LGBTQ rights, with a special focus on the gay and bisexual male population.

He relocated to New Jersey with his partner, who moved to Central Jersey for work in January. Here, he connected with Hudson Pride board member and fellow former Texan Rick Thurman, whom he knew from campaigns for African-American gay men and HIV prevention. “I said, ‘Hey, I’m moving to New Jersey and I need a job.’ He said, ‘We’re getting ready to look for an executive director and I think you’d be perfect for the job.”

Campbell met with interim executive director Jonathan Lucas (who has been serving since previous ED Nancy Caamano stepped down last September) in March before the job listing was officially released in June, and immediately made a good impression. Over the past few months, Campbell says he met with board president Liz Edman and other board members, the center’s program directors and its members. He also attended numerous events including art openings at the center’s blossoming 32 Jones Gallery.

“We started out as a small center, but we’re looking at a few things right now and there are many more things we feel we should be doing, like getting more involved in public policy,” Lucas told JCI in a June interview. “We’re asking, ‘How do we make a statement relating to issues like bullying, equality or marriage equality?’…We want to make sure we stay relevant and provide services that the community sees as important.

“This requires someone who can get out there and keep pulse on what is going on — a visionary who says, ‘This is what we should be doing!’ and who can plan for us to bring those solutions to the community.”

Campbell says he can be that person and hopes to collect more donations from community supporters and expand the center’s reach.

“One of the things I want to focus on is letting the area know and nation know who we are as a center. A lot of great work goes on at the center as well as at Hudson Pride…and we can do so many things just through letting people know who we are,” he says.

“We’re also looking at becoming a stronger mental health center in the sense of providing services to the LGBTQ community. There are many individuals who experience grief or have lost loved ones, young people who come to the center — some of whom are homeless, people experiencing the coming-out process and who are not quite sure what to do, or who have families who are not supportive. We want to be a place where we can support those individuals and help them through those difficult times,” says Campbell.

He also plans to further expand the Hudson Pride Festival next August and have more artists showing in 32 Jones Gallery (which will host an anti-bullying campaign as part of the center’s 20th anniversary celebration) to highlight the identity of the LGBTQ community, one of his top priorities.

“The Hudson Pride Connections Center is about being a place where we are able to celebrate who we are,” says Campbell.

A reception to honor interim executive director Jonathan Lucas and welcome W. Jeffrey Campbell as the new head will be held on October 11 at 6 pm at the center, located at 32 Jones St. For more information, visit their website.

Photo courtesy of W. Jeffrey Campbell

Summer Dawn Hortillosa

is a freelance arts and entertainment writer whose work has appeared in the Jersey City Independent, The Jersey Journal, the International and other publications. She is also a creative writer and theatrical director.