Take a walk around Main Street in Stroudsburg or Mount Pocono this June and you’ll notice a wave of rainbow flags flying in the wind, promoting equality for the LGBTQ+ community through Pride Month in Monroe County.
An initiative of the Pocono Chamber of Commerce’s LGBTQ+ Business Council, the pride flags serve as a visual celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer businesses and communities during June’s Pride Month, a commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall riots that brought the persecution of the LGBTQ+ world to light for the general public.
The LGBTQ+ Business Council, under the leadership of chairman Benny Vukaj, Marketing and Public Relations Manager of Novus ACS Medical Services, and Erik Diemer, owner of Blossom & Buzz Bees and Mite Fight, presented each borough and township throughout Monroe County with their flag initiative, and Stroudsburg and Mount Pocono welcomed the offer.
“The Poconos is a tourist area, and we’ve always been an area that’s known for love and romance, and I think that it’s great that we’re able to showcase just how accepting our community is, that anyone who wants to come and visit the Poconos should come in peace, and that we accept you here,” Diemer said.
The project initially launched last year when Diemer approached Vukaj with the concept of putting up PRIDE flags across Main Street in Stroudsburg, an idea that Vukaj eagerly accepted. And while the effort started small, it has already grown exponentially in its second year.
“Last year, we put up 30 flags, and it got a lot of positive feedback,” Vukaj said. “People really appreciated the flags. So this year, we did the same thing, but we extended our reach and our budget. We covered most of Main Street in Stroudsburg, and we are doing Main Street in Mount Pocono. The whole point of this is to grow the flag initiative so we can actually put flags throughout Monroe County, and eventually the surrounding areas, to represent the LGBTQ+ community.”
Vukaj said that this year, the LGBTQ+ Business Council opted to use what is known as the “Progress Pride flag,” featuring the original six-stripe design with a multicolored, striped chevron that represents marginalized people of color, trans individuals, and those who have been living with or were lost to HIV/AIDS.
About 70 flags have already been hung up in Stroudsburg, and another 40 are set to adorn the Mount Pocono area by Friday. Michael Moreno, the regional coordinator for the Pocono Chamber of Commerce, said that community support was fundamental to pulling off the initiative.
“We’d like to thank Novus ACS Medical Services, our PRIDE flag sponsor, for making this initiative happen,” Moreno said. “We would also like to thank our partners: East Stroudsburg University for 60 flag poles, and The Flag Store of Sciota, Pennsylvania, for 40 flag pole mount brackets, for without them this would not be possible.”
Vukaj and Moreno also invited members of the Monroe County community to visit the Pocono Pride Festival website ’s Paint the Town Rainbow page, or call the Chamber at 570-421-4433 if they wish to support the flag effort with a donation, or to request flags for their own communities.
“The more donations we get, the more we can expand our footprint with these flags,” Vukaj said. “If the community wants them in their borough or in their town, let their voices be known.”
The flags were meant to coincide with the Pocono Pride Festival, originally slated for Sunday in Stroudsburg’s Courthouse Square. The event has since been moved to October 4 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s recommendations regarding large gatherings and mitigation efforts.
Vukaj said that he hopes the flags will provide some comfort and solidarity to the long-standing LGBTQ+ community in the Poconos, which has not always been able to live their authentic lives in the area. While fighting for representation and acceptance is a daunting endeavor, efforts like the PRIDE flags are a simple and effective means to make some headway and progress.
“I think this is the right step forward to help the community understand that there are other outlets in the community, to feel safe, to be a part of, to feel that they’re not isolated in this area,” Vukaj said. “So, we’re just taking a step forward to let this community know that it is time to feel that you are part of this community, regardless of how you identify.”