More than a pane of glass was shattered on Monday, March 20, when someone smashed in the front window of Hudson Pride Connection in Jersey City. Glass can be fixed, said Michael Billy, an LGBT activist and member of the center’s board. But fear, generated by the attack, is harder to repair. Although the motive is unclear, the smashing of the front window of the Jones Street office is being investigated as a possible “bias incident,” local officials said. Billy said the staff is working with local and state authorities to find the culprit, and provide additional security. But he went on to say that the real wound is to the perception of safety, noting that this center had been a resource for the LGBTQ community for more than 24 years, a haven where people come for information, for counseling, and for connections. While no one was hurt, the incident has increased the tension many people feel in the community. “My first reaction is anger,” said Clara (not her real name), a transgender woman from Jersey City. “The Center has helped me so much. It’s like an attack on family.” Hudson Pride provides a number of key services to the LGBTQ community, including physical and mental. The center operates on the second floor of a building just south of the Journal Square Campus for Hudson Community College, and the PATH rail and bus transportation center. Police responded to the site at about 10:40 a.m. on the report of a broken window and were met by the center’s deputy director. The alarm company altered the center of motion detector activity on the front porch prior to the arrival of the staff, who discovered the window bashed in. Nothing was stolen, however. Jonathan Lucas, chairperson for the center, said he has received numerous calls from clients. “As to be expected, they are afraid and concerned,” Lucas said. “There is fear and doubt from not knowing, and this can become a distraction from what we’re here to do.” The center’s reaction involved a certain level of what he described as safe-care. “Our biggest priority is to make sure that we’re safe and the people who come here feel safe,” he said. “I understand people are scared,” said Billy. “Especially kids. This happened at 10:40 a.m., a time when we usually have our youth program there.” This also comes after an earlier incident at Garden State Equality was attacked elsewhere in New Jersey. “Those were adults,” Billy said. “But these are kids.” Police don’t know if this was bias “The local police are amazing,” he said. “They are very proactive.” Law enforcement has come up with a number of non-bias suspects also, he said, from a disgruntled client or employee to a drug addict. While it could have been a burglary, Lucas said that was unlikely, since they didn’t take anything even though there were computers and other devices within easy reach. “Someone didn’t throw a brick through the window, they kicked it out, there seems to be a lot of anger in that,” he said. The department said they would increase patrols and make their presence very visible, Lucas said. “Meanwhile, we have to revisit our security and procedures.” This would include reporting anything that might provide clues, developing procedures as to what to do and not to do, and how to be safe. “We need to do things to make sure people feel physically safe here,” he said. Until the vandalism is solved, questions will remain about why the center might have become a target. “Jersey City is a very loving community and very supportive, so we can’t paint Jersey City and Hudson County with this,” he said. “But we don’t want to make this the new normal. This is an unusual event. We want to be smart, but we want to live our lives and not be afraid.” Incidents like these can destroy trust, he said, and the center’s mission is to maintain open conversations with clients and building trust. “People feel good coming here, and their need to protect the center is heartwarming,” he said, noting that the best thing the community can do is to revert to the New York City watchwords, “If you see something, say something.” While the center can always use donations to pay for upgrading security, the main thing is to remain strong and stand up to hate. “We need to call it out and confront it, but in a safe way,” he said. Hub of activity While the center is a hub of activity, much of what it does is outreach, going into the community to look for people who might be in need of its services, such as HIV prevention, helping people who have already contracted HIV, and helping others keep from getting ill. “We look for people who are likely to be exposed and provide information that will limit the risk.” The center provides information and referrals to community groups that can provide help as well. “We do follow up to make sure they stay on regimen if they are in treatment,” he said. The center has support groups that allow clients to talk to like-minded people. There is also outreach for transgender people, women of color and others, gay or straight. “We also have youth programs, some funded by grants,” he said. These programs offer a variety of support for the most vulnerable, under educated, under employed and even homeless. The center hosts a prom for youth involved in these programs. “We partnered with the police department, who attended the prom,” he said. “This for youth all over, not just Jersey City. Making the most of a diverse city “We’re no stranger to bias crimes,” Billy said, although he pointed out that recent history has been very positive in Jersey City where there has been an outpouring of support.
“We had a sense of security and happiness and hope. We need to keep that intact.” – Michael Billy