A group of Norwich residents wants the public to know there is a part of the village’s population whose goal it is to be as inclusive as possible.
“There are a lot of residents that are for acceptance and accept everyone,” explained Jillian Vanden Beukel. “We just want an accepting community where everyone feels welcome.”
Vanden Beukel has established a new Facebook page, Norwich Residents for Love and Acceptance. She said group was created “to help promote love and acceptance in Norwich.”
“This is a safe place for everyone to voice concerns and ideas regarding open-mindedness in our community,” a description on the page states. “Hate, vandalism, posting names in a negative fashion will not be tolerated.”
The group was formed as a response to a Main Street sign that was posted by a Norwich resident that reads, “LGBTQS hijacked the rainbow! It’s not a celebration of sins, God judges.”
Vanden Beukel said the issue exploded on the news site, Have Your Say in Norwich, a Facebook forum where residents voice their opinions.
“It blew up. There were nasty comments and dramatics,” she said.
Van Beukel said she was disheartened to see the sign and negative comments, especially during Nostalgia Days, which draws outsiders to the village.
On Sunday evening, she helped organize a rally in front of the sign in support of the LGBTQ community,.
“Cars went by and swerved at us, giving us the finger and telling us to go kill ourselves,” she said. “There were people on Facebook saying we were starting a war and promoting violence. That’s not ever what we want.”
But Bruce Woodford, owner of the sign posted on Main Street, said has “no ill will” towards the LGBTQ community, and many in that community are clients of his tool-sharpening business.
He describes himself as having “a relationship with God and the Lord Jesus.”
“I believe the Bible speaks very clearly and that God judges sin and when people disobey his word there are consequences,” he said. “I will not support and celebrate choices made by the (LGBTQ community) that are wrong and will have regrettable consequences.”
He said he believes supporters of the LGBTQ are actually “a tiny minority.”
“The vast majority of people are silent and never speak up for what is right,” he said. “I guess I just got tired of being in the silent majority.”
He also said he feels a lack of tolerance for his views and was visited by a police officer following a complaint about his sign from a community member.
“Often in the LGBTQ community, they are pleading for tolerance and acceptance,” he said. “I have found they seem to have come up short with tolerance and acceptance for other people’s point of view.”
Vanden Beukel said she hopes Woodford’s sign may be put to a different use.
“We have to respect everybody, whether we respect their opinions or not,” she said. “The sign could be used for something for the positive. Talk about something good about Norwich residents.”
But Vanden Beukel said she started Norwich Residents for Love and Acceptance “as a place for everyone.”
“I didn’t want it to be an us-versus-them issue,” she explained.
She particularly worries about youth in Oxford County.
“We have youth in crisis and it’s not OK for them to drive past the sign and feel they are useless and don’t belong,” she said.