#StaffordNJPride Movement Underway

By Victoria Ford | Jun 26, 2019
Photo by: Lori Wyrsch

Stafford Township — Billy Wyrsch, 16, of Manahawkin is on a mission to bring Pride to Stafford Township. The #StaffordNJPride Project is a hashtag-driven movement, growing on social media and by way of shirts and stickers, to raise awareness of the local LGBTQ+ community and to share the ideas of love and acceptance.

Wyrsch attends Southern Regional High School, where he will be a senior in the fall. When he came out as gay – which really wasn’t “coming out” so much as it was confirming a rumor, he said – he didn’t necessarily envision that he would become an activist or his town’s spokesperson for LGBTQ+ Pride. But at a certain point he realized, “It’s something that needs to be done, and I’m proud to fill that role.”

Before and after he came out, he experienced bullying and other issues that ultimately led to his quitting the swim team. Southern has a GSA, a club for gay, bisexual and transgender students and their straight allies, “a safe place for students to be themselves and discuss issues affecting the gay community at Southern and in the world today,” but it’s limited in its scope – not by any fault of the teachers, he clarified.

Rallying support for Pride in a town led by a conservative Republican council may seem like an uphill battle, but Wyrsch is prepared to do the work.

“At this point, I just don’t care what people think,” he said.

By spreading awareness of the LGBTQ+ community’s presence in Stafford and the importance of Pride, he wants everyone who feels marginalized to know: “There are people who support you for being you.”

What is Pride, exactly? The generally accepted definition is a positive stance against discrimination and violence toward LGBT people, to promote their self-affirmation, dignity and equal rights, to increase their visibility as a social group, to build community and to celebrate sexual diversity and gender variance.

Wyrsch has already made a good start by getting local businesses to show their support for the project, by displaying Pride symbols or decorating their buildings in a way that celebrates inclusion and equality. So far, The Van Dyk Group, Ocean Acupuncture in Manahawkin and the Union Market and Gallery in Tuckerton are among those on board. The Terrace Tavern in Beach Haven Terrace has a Human Rights Campaign flag (the navy blue with the yellow equals sign) flying alongside its American and “Open” flags.

Another strategic move was partnering with Jetty Ink to produce T-shirts and decals. The graphic, designed by Jetty Ink's Anthony Hediger, is the letter Q with a rainbow flag background, combined with the gender symbols for male, female and androgynous/ nonbinary/ trans. By representing the Pride flag and the gender symbols, the logo encompasses all sexual orientations and gender identities, which are two totally separate characteristics.

“What Billy is doing, at his age, is such a valiant thing,” Jetty CEO and co-founder Jeremy DeFilippis said. “To stand up for what he believes in and spread positive vibes is so important, and Jetty was more than happy to help.”

Shirts are being sold at $15 apiece; since late May, 120 have already been sold, and about 200 stickers have been distributed for free (but quantities are limited). Wyrsch’s mother, Lori,  is handling the merchandise orders. T-shirts are available in sizes small through 3X. Email orders to staffordnjpride@gmail.com.

“Billy’s mom simply reached out to us to see if we could help design and produce shirts,” DeFilippis explained. “Of course, we said yes, because that is what we do, week in, week out – we design and produce apparel for the Jetty brand (ourselves) as well as others (Jetty Ink division).

“Our biggest contribution to wherever Billy takes this was to get the entire thing jump-started. Lori was asking about selling online, turnaround time, target market, etc. We answered all of those questions and set them in a direction where they’d be equipped to sell products in time for Pride month (June) to enable Billy to spread his message about inclusiveness.”

The goal is to get an official Pride event in Stafford, maybe a color run, or “anything to celebrate the month,” Wyrsch said. He draws inspiration from the successful Pride celebration in Asbury Park, which he attended this year. “It really spurred me on to bring something here,” he said.

For now, Wyrsch said he will continue to push for increased awareness through apparel and gear, with the aim of getting an actual event going by this time next year.

Wyrsch is the oldest of four boys. He’s grateful for a family and circle of friends who have been extremely supportive of his experiences and plans.

“Being a member of the LGBTQ community isn’t easy, and being a teen is even harder,” his mother wrote on Facebook. “Billy knows there are so many other teens, kids and adults who travel the same path. He thought it would be great for his hometown to show support for the LGBTQ community, so kids and adults know they belong, they are welcome and they are loved.”

— Victoria Ford


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