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Taking Pride

Taking Pride
Local LGBTQ personalities speak out

In appreciation of Pride Week (6/1—6/7), Artvoice reached out to several prominent figures in our area’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning community with a brief inquiry. The responses, as you’ll see below, are at turns funny, frank, thoughtful, and enlightening. Read on to learn how things have changed over the years—what battles have been fought and won, why Pride Week is a blast, and what more needs to be addressed in order for our community to become all that it can be. Meet our participants:

JUSTIN AZZARELLA: I was a past volunteer on the Pride Center of WNY board before accepting a position at Evergreen Health Services, a partner organization to the Pride Center of WNY. As the Vice President for Community Development, and in working with the PCWNY and staff, I developed and implemented the transition of the Buffalo Pride Festival—a one day afternoon event in Bidwell Parkway—to Buffalo Pride Week—a full week of events promoting Buffalo’s LGBTQ Community, culminating with the move of Sunday’s main event to Canalside. The event has grown to a festival of about

2,000 people to now include more than 15,000 attendees at Canalside on Sunday alone. The organizational leadership role of Pride has been handed over to a trusted staff member, Theresa Woehrel, this year. Theresa has worked with me over the last 3 years to make Pride ever more successful. My duties at Evergreen (for the LGBTQ community so to speak) are now focused on new building renovation and new construction projects, including the Evergreen Lofts—56 apartment units—for folks with chronic homelessness issues, chronic disease—including HIV/AIDS and low income. I also serve as Evergreen’s construction project manager for the Association’s administrative building addition (206 S. Elmwood Avenue) which will more than double the size of our medical group, programming space and staff offices allowing Evergreen to better serve the LGBTQ community and their health needs.

MARVIN HENCHBARGER: I’m the executive director of Gay and Lesbian Youth Services of Western New York (GLYS). If we haven’t met, my first name is Marvin, a man’s name. I’m your stereotypical butch lesbian and going into women’s rooms is a nightmare for me. But, I am a woman so correct pronouns are “she” and “her.”

RODNEY C. HENSEL: In the 1980’s I was a gay activist and president of the Mattachine Society of the Niagara Frontier, which was an umbrella group for gay and lesbian activities in the region and one of the most successful in the nation. In the 1990s I helped in the founding of the Stonewall Democrats of Western New York. Currently I am the community liaison for the Silver Pride Project of the Pride Center. We started about a year ago to identify and try to provide services and social opportunities for LGBT seniors. We have a monthly coffee hour on the second Saturday of the month at 10 am at Loop Cafe, corner of Allen and Franklin (except in June, when it’s the third Saturday). I also write on LGBT Senior issues for Loop Magazine and

MATTHEW CREEHAN HIGGINS: I am an actor and have written or co-written six plays including Confessions, winner of Best of the Festival at the 2004 National Gay and Lesbian Theater Festival. I was on the Pride Buffalo board (the organization formerly producing the Parade and festival) and came on as Senior Director of The Pride Center of WNY in September 2014.

PAUL MORGAN: I’ve marched in the NYC Gay Pride Parade for 14 years, and was active in grassroots LGBT and HIV/AIDS activism there. Since returning to Buffalo, I have fought for marriage equality, local LGBT rights initiatives, am a member of Stonewall Democrats, and organized WYNACT—Western New Yorkers Against Conversion Therapy. I’ve served on the board of the Allentown Association, and Aids Family Service. I’ve lived with my partner for 17 years, with whom I’ve made a home in the Cottage District on the West Side of Buffalo, where we are community activists on a broad range of issues that positively impact or entire community.

CAROL SPESOR: Twenty five years ago I was founding Stonewall Democrats of WNY. I was conceiving and organizing the first outdoor gay pride event, the Candlelight Wish Celebration. I was schlepping on the train to Albany twice a month as a founding board of a brand new state-wide LGBT organization—the Empire State Pride Agenda.

These days, as a wedding officiant, I founded the Buffalo Wedding Ambassadors project—which brings Bufalonians gay and straight together to welcome the out-of-state same-sex couples who have traveled from home—and often all by themselves—to be legally wed in New York. For founding and coordinating this project, I was honored as Visit Buffalo Niagara’s 2014 Buffalo Ambassador of the Year. What is amazing is that this esteemed award isn’t a gay award or even a social justice award—it’s a hospitality and tourism award. Wow! THAT’s how far we’ve come! And in my lifetime! My heart is filled with awe and gratitude.

MICHELLE WOLF: I’m currently the Co-Chair of the Spectrum Transgender Group of WNY, now in my third year of service after serving as Outreach Coordinator prior. I also give Transgender 101 seminars to any organization that requests it, free of charge. I have given this to various UB MSW classes, UB School of Nursing, Buff State Social Work classes, the Medaille MFT program, NYS EAP, and slated to give my presentation to the NYS Department of Labor this summer.

How long have you lived in Buffalo?

Justin Azzarella: 37 years.

Rodney C. Hensel: I am originally from Cattaraugus County and I have lived in Buffalo about 35 years.

Marvin Henchbarger: I don’t live in Buffalo and I never have. I live in the Town of Niagara in Niagara County—which is not the same thing as Niagara Falls—it’s its own separate little municipality. If you take out the 11 years that I lived outside the area, I’ve lived here for a total of 56 years. When I left I was 40 years old and I was not “out” at that point. I came out while I was working on a college campus, at the ripe old age of 40. I was at Oswego to work in residents life and housing and student affairs on the campus there. It was close enough that I went back and forth but I wasn’t living in Niagara county at the time.

Matthew Creehan Higgins: I’ve lived in or around WNY my whole life. I’m 35.

Arrie Moore: I was born here, but I think of myself as a citizen of the world.

Paul Morgan: First 18 years of my life, then NYC for 16, and back to Buffalo for the last 20 years.

Carol Spesor: I’ve lived here my whole life. I’m a fourth generation Buffalonian.

Michelle Wolf: 39 years and counting. I did spend four years in the Air Force, but returned to Buffalo immediately after my service ended.

How do you think Buffalo compares to other cities in terms of acceptance and support of the LGBT community?

JA: It’s changed tremendously for the better since I was a kid. Since coming out at 23 I’ve always been open about being gay and have never had an issue personally or professionally. I find Buffalo to be a generally supportive and accepting place for gay men and lesbians. Sadly, aside from a few “micro social communities” throughout the region, our transgender brothers and sisters aren’t afforded the same level of acceptance and support.

RCH: When I first came to Buffalo, the city police were regularly harassing gay guys and still raiding the bars. The mayor referred to us as queers and sissies, so since then there has been a lot of progress. By percentage of population, it’s estimated the size of Buffalo’s gay community ranks quite high—higher than New York City even—in terms of the relative size of the community. The Human Rights Campaign measures the gay friendliness of cities and ranks Buffalo lower becasue the city and county governments are not as supportive. That’s measured in terms of funding for gay community groups (none), the lack of an official community liaison, and the lack of open LGBT people in positions of power and influence. Despite the rainbow flags on Elmwood, there’s still a lot to be done.

MH: I kind of find that to be a difficult question to answer because I’ve not spent a lot of time as an “out” lesbian in someplace else like Buffalo. Oswego didn’t count because I’m not sure that they’re dealing with it there even now, but in terms of living in a bigger city or something—I don’t know. What I will say is that I think that the community, generally speaking, has gotten to be much more accepting over time. What I cite as my reason for saying that is that GLYS was started in 1983, and they met at a gay and lesbian community center on West Delavan Avenue. It was maybe 1985 when they closed that center and the only organization meeting there that was looking for a space to rent was then known as GLYB—which at the time was Gay and Lesbian Youth of Buffalo—and nobody, but nobody, wanted to rent them space. When the YWCA agreed to rent them space in 1986, from what I’ve heard from the woman who was the executive director at the time, is that they had nasty letters in both daily newspapers at the time, they had picketers in front of the building, and they had bomb threats weekly for several months after GLYB moved in. All because they took in gay kids. That was, say, 1986. Fast forward to the fall of 2004. The YWCA put that building up for sale—meaning that we would have to move—and people came out of the woodwork to offer us space. Trinity Church came to us and said “Do you want to rent the space where our Sunday school used to be?” So there was a huge change in the environment between 1986 and 2004. There was such a change in the reaction to the only gay youth organization in eight counties trying to find some place to call home.

Based on that, I think things certainly have improved. However, I don’t of the things I really struggle about is—and this is me on my soapbox about gay youth—sometimes adults think that because same sex couples now have the right to marry in New York State, and that the Supreme Court overturned part of the Defense of Marriage Act so that my partner is now listed on my Social Security records and stuff—that it’s wonderful and peachy keen for gay kids today. But it is not. As a comparison, we passed the civil rights law over 50 years ago—and yet I want you to go out and ask young black teenagers if things are great for them. Especially the ones that are dead now. Now, I don’t think that GLBT kids are experiencing that same level of discrimination, however, it’s still tough to be a gay, lesbian, bi, trans, or questioning kid in this day and age—despite the strides that adults have made. I tell people to go back 15 years. There was no Ellen DeGeneres on television. There was no Will & Grace. There was no marriage equality. New York State had not even passed the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Law. When we talk about kids who feel safe in being “out” to any degree, we’re talking about the tip of the iceberg. Kids ought to feel safe at home, at school, and in church. Many young people—not all—but many, with their families, attend churches that deliver an anti-gay stance from the pulpit. So they’re not getting support there. If their families are there, then they go home and it’s the same thing. And you still have parents who threaten to throw their kids out of the house for being LGBT. And then they go to school, and even though right now we have close to 50 gay-straight alliances within the eight counties of western New York, mostly in Erie county, even in the schools that have these alliances, while it’s a very valuable thing and it benefits a lot of kids—“That’s so gay!” Or the word “gay” used as some sort of pejorative, or other nasty euphemisms for gays and lesbians are ubiquitous. That’s not a word I get to use a lot, but “That’s so gay!” is ubiquitous. And it’s often and generally not addressed. When the words are used in a hurtful way, adults should step in and say “Hey, not in my classroom. Not in our school. That’s a hurt word for many people.” When nobody says anything about it, and it’s heard all the time, then that tells kids “I don’t have any value.” Because we jump on other hurt words, but the ones that affect me or my family aren’t addressed so therefore I don’t matter. And all that leads into the risk-taking that LGBT kids do that leads to that ugliness of suicide or suicidal thoughts.

MCH: In Western New York we are neither a large town nor a small one. With that we have

some of the good and bad aspects of large and small town thinking, meaning that we have a lot to be grateful for about life in WNY but we still hear people longing for the excitement of living in a big place. I have gay cousins about 15 to 20 years older than me who moved away to big cities in the 1980s. When we reconnected a few years back they were truly surprised at the way that I described my day to day life in Buffalo. It was strange to them that I had been out in my entire professional career and that I had the familial support that I did, and we were coming from the same family. To me it was not a big thing, it was just what I had known.

AM: Poor. I love my city but it’s still not fully accepting of not only the lesbian/gay, but very oppressive to the transgender community. and double that within communities of color. Yes, Buffalo tries, but it must do better. There is a real need for city hall to make the Queen City a City of Good Neighbors, for real.

PM: Though we cannot compare in size to some other nationally recognized Gay Mecca, I’ll match the heart, soul, and commitment of the local LGBT community up with ANYWHERE else in this country. Buffalo delivered the crucial votes on NYS Marriage Equality legislation, and our region hosted the FIRST same sex marriage in New York State. The Pride Parade, Dyke March, and AIDS walk grow every year. We have Gay theater productions. Gay Bingo, the Imperial Court of Buffalo, The Loop, Outcome Magazine, GLYS—Gay and Lesbian Youth Services, and countless other groups who continue to grow not only with the support of the LGBT community, but with straight allies as well. On a personal note, I was recently hospitalized for a short time and the nurses showed my partner complete respect, so much so that there was no apparent recognition on their parts that he was anything other than my “spouse.” We shopped for a mattress recently in Hamburg and were treated like anyone else, and had a great buying experience. I’m not saying we don’t have problems like poverty, youth bullying, Trans abuse, and more, but it certainly beats living in Pennsyltucky or Texarkansa.

I think Buffalo’s acceptance of LGBT people is extraordinary and something for us to take great pride in. I’m speaking of the city proper, but the suburbs have come a long way in recent years. Cheektowaga town authorities for example called for the resignation of a part time corrections officer who went on a hate filled social media rant menacing and threatening Gay neighbors. We still have a long way to go as regards the police and their lack of “awareness training,” recognition of “hate crimes,” and specific issues that face our equal protection under the law, but we’re light years ahead of other deplorable areas in our nation.

CS: It’s a fine city to be gay in.(It’s still hard to be transgendered, but things are changing—we’re on our way.)

LGBT folks from other cities think so too. Here’s how I know: I’m a chaplain and after we passed marriage equality in New York State, I became a wedding officiant. I’ve married over 200 same-sex couples from all over the United States who came to the Buffalo/Niagara region to be legally wed. They all go home, LOVING Buffalo. They experience our City of Good Neighbors warm and welcoming ways and everyone they meet congratulates them and is genuinely happy for them. It’s a brand-new, awesome experience for these couples.

Here’s my take on why it’s easy to be gay in Buffalo: Buffalo is a hometown city. That means that most of the people who live here, grew up here. People sometimes move away, but not that many folks move here. So we’ve got a stable population that doesn’t change much. Some people say if you didn’t go to high school here, you’re not really from Buffalo—no matter how long you’ve lived here.

Hometown cities like Buffalo are relationship-based, rather than constituency-based. Our local LGBT community reflects this dynamic—we are a hometown LGBT community. We grew up here. And because Buffalo is a hometown city, we LGBT Buffalonians have been fully integrated into our extended families for years. We’ve been babysitting our nieces and nephews and hosting our family’s Thanksgivings for years. So being gay isn’t a big deal here.

This is where Buffalo’s gay community has been light years ahead of our big city counterparts. While the larger, move-to cities may have had more constituency clout to affect legislative changes, hometown LGBT communities have always understood how important it is to have the love and support of families, friends and neighbors. Ireland’s winning strategy for marriage equality centered on the support of family and friends standing up for their gay loved ones. In Buffalo, we know way more about opening minds and hearts than our national LGBT organizations and leaders—who are all based in large, constituency-centric metropolitan areas such as LA, New York City and Washington. D.C. For too many years, they lost time and missed the boat with marriage equality by using only a power-point fairness model with legislators instead of reaching out to our natural allies—our family, friends and neighbors—and talking about love instead of only rights.

MW: I think Buffalo is comparatively strong in terms of acceptance and support. I’m not of the opinion that any city is necessarily the Shangri-la of LGBT enlightenment, not even San Francisco, but Buffalo fares well in comparison. We still have a number of kinks to iron out, particularly in the area of trans awareness, but I’m encouraged by the forward progress.

From your experience, how has Pride Week changed over the years?

JA: Pride has exploded in scale and participation over the last five years. Not long ago, Buffalo’s Pride festival was a one day event of about 2,000 people in Bidwell Parkway with a small stage and beverage tent. Now Buffalo Pride week attracts more than 22,000 participants and boasts seven days of programing from our Flag Raising event at City Hall to our Art Gallery Opening, Gay 5k Run, Big Gay Sing-Along, Flex, Saturday night Momentum Dance Party, Pride Parade and the Pride Festival at Canalside. We enjoy the sponsorship support of major private companies such as M&T Bank, Delaware North, Towne Mini and many others along with public support from our elected officials. Most encouraging is the large increase in non-LGBTQ folks, our allies, in attendance at the festival each year.

RCH: In the early 1980’s, I was involved in some of the Pride Month activities. It was much more discreet, consisting of a lot of workshops and forums. There were also dances, drag shows and roller skating parties, but the big event was a community picnic and we made a big move taking it out of the city’s LaSalle Park to the more open and public Chestnut Ridge. Back then being spotted at a gay event could cost you your job, your family and your friends. But we had buttons and T-shirts that were worn by those who were openly gay.

MCH: The first time I attended Pride in Buffalo was 2001 and I think I remember hearing people being really excited that there was an estimated attendance of 2,000 people. These days, the attendance estimates are more along the 15-20k line. The size is bigger, the scope is grander. We have seen tremendous positive change in the past several years, and that doesn’t mean the work is done, but there is a lot to celebrate.

AM: From the few brave folks in the LGBT community to proudly march up Allen Street, while others watched in amazement and fear—to an accumulated acclimatized parade of thousands of LGBT folks over the years is a historic or herstoric tip of the hat to our LGBT elders of the Buffalo community.

PM: On the positive side, we have many more groups and organizations holding events, large and small. The event is definitely larger and draws a crowd of both gay and straight individuals as well as families. The outpouring of public support is phenomenal and should be a source of regional pride.

On the negative side, the Pride Parade after party events have become less political, less issue-awareness informed, more corporately sponsored, and less grass roots driven. I’m shocked and saddened to see the after Party at Canal Side is advertising a “VIP only area” for an additional fee. It strikes me as tone deaf and mind numbingly inappropriate to have a segregated “VIP only section” at an event that originated to celebrate the lives and civil rights struggles of a marginalized and oppressed people. This feeling is shared by many long time, hard working activists, including some statewide and nationally recognized leaders in the LGBT civil rights movement. We still have tremendous issues of racial and economic inequity that mirror the larger, straight society, and it’s something we seriously need to address.

Perhaps most disheartening is an army of young gay individuals who have an appalling lack of historical appreciation for the sacrifices and courage that won them the rights they take for granted. Thousands will attend this parade, after party, and weeklong festivities—yet political rallies and activities struggle to get more than two dozen participants?

CS: Yikes! When I first came out, Pride Week took place behind closed doors! Remember, it wasn’t a good thing to be gay, back in the 70s or 80s. Back then—(when I had to walk ten miles in the snow to a gay bar) most LGBT people were in the closet.

The early Gay Pride years were indoor-only celebrations—with wonderful workshops, speakers, concerts—but nothing was publicized in the mainstream. These early gay prides were a necessary step in our coming out process, as a community. These “discreet” gay prides—were nevertheless life-changing, shared experiences for us, as a community. This was how we transformed ourselves—how we built community—how we grew in our consciousness about what it meant to be gay. This is how we built our collective self-esteem and our courage. The negative beliefs about who we were—that had been imbedded in our psyches and souls from childhood—took time be transformed. We had to liberate ourselves, from ourselves.

There is a saying among community organizers: “There is no social transformation without inner work.” That’s what those early gay pride weeks were all about for us—as individuals and collectively as a community. We had a lot of changing to do—to empower ourselves—to grow in resolve, in strength and in numbers—in order for us to get to that point when there were enough of us, ready to show up at our first outdoor gay pride celebration. That was the Candlelight Wish Celebration, held lakeside at the Historical society, in 1991. (I conceived and organized this event) Back then, when most of the world thought gay wasn’t good—the risks of being openly gay were very real. People got fired for being gay. People were evicted from their apartments for being gay. It was a brave, brave choice that each LGBT Buffalonian made who said YES to coming to Buffalo’s first outdoor, gay pride celebration.

A few years after that, we held our first gay pride parade. That meant LGBT Buffalonians understood full well they might find themselves marching past their grandparents, their high school classmates or their neighbors—a profoundly different experience from the anonymity and energy of a big city Gay Pride Parade, like Toronto or New York City. Hometown LGBT communities, like Buffalo, have had a different coming out process from our big city constituency-based communities.

So now—fast forward to 2015—where Gay Pride has evolved to being just one of Buffalo’s fabulous summer festivals that everyone—gay and straight, celebrate. Lots and lots of people line Elmwood to cheer the parade and everyone is welcome at the Canal Side festivities. How gloriously mainstream we’ve become!

MW: We have seen wonderful growth in this area! I remember when Pride Fest was a relatively smallish affair, hardly comparable to Buffalo’s other summer festivals, but in the past few years it has experienced a tremendous upswing. The number of people attending the parade (which has grown in both length and participation) has increased exponentially. To me, this translates to so many more heterosexual and cisgender Buffalo residents coming out in support. That is really the growth we need to see. We can support ourselves, and it’s fantastic, but when we see we are seeing appreciable growth in the ranks of our supporters and allies, this directly translates to the possibility of change and our inherent inclusion in society.

If the Supreme Court decides there’s a constitutional right for same sex couples to marry, what will become the next focal point for LGBT activism?

JA: I’m very hopeful that the next focal point for the LGBTQ community will be full inclusion, love and support for transgender rights and legal protections.

RCH: My biggest fear is that people in the community will declare “game over” and do nothing. But I think the next big problem is providing for LGBT seniors whose numbers are rapidly swelling as the baby boomers age. They often have no family to help keep them independent becasue they were shunned, no savings becasue of frequent job changes in their career, higher medical costs due to HIV care for themselves or a loved one who has passed, and a real fear of mistreatment in institutions like nursing homes by aides who are not gay -friendly. These folks paved the way for gay marriage by taking the hard knocks in the early days, and they shouldn’t be forgotten now.

MCH: The next focal point is already on trans-related issues. Gender expression was not included in the state’s Sexual Orientation Non Discrimination Act that passed over 10 years ago, and it continues to languish in the State Senate now. I attended Creating Change, the National LGBTQ Task Force conference this past February and the focus on much of that conference was on trans inclusion and advocacy. If we learned anything from marriage, it is maybe that while change is slow to start, once it gets rolling it can also begin to move quickly. When marriage passed NYS four years ago, it was still a bit of a novelty—today, nationwide marriage rights feels like an eventuality.

AM: You asked and here it is: Constitutional rights for transgender citizens of this wonderful and ever growing democracy. For all human rights! WE all have a job to do better, to be better. Really.

PM: The focal point of informed activists has been, is, and should remain recognition and protection for Transgendered individuals rights. Trans adults and children face the most extreme and egregious persecution and abuse in our society. LGBT youth face disproportionately high rates of homelessness, sexual predation, substance and alcohol abuse, depression, violence and suicide. In addition, a ban on so called “ex-Gay conversion therapy” is desperately needed to protect children who are Gay or merely perceived to be Gay from dangerous, scientifically and ethically debunked psychological abuse by charlatans who claim to “cure Gayness”. Fortunately we have sponsors of just such a bill in the Senate and Assembly, and political champions right here in WNY.

CS: When marriage equality becomes the law of the land in June, that doesn’t mean that the prejudice towards LGBT people magically disappears.

When the Supreme Court rules for marriage equality across the United States, there will be a huge backlash from the religious right. Religious fundamentalists will not go gently into that good night of equality—so we should be bracing ourselves for a gaggle of proposed “religious freedom to discriminate against gays” legislation popping up everywhere. It will be fueled by the candidates running in the Republican presidential primary. Fasten your seatbelts boys and girls—we are in for a bumpy ride.

But it’s a last gasp. We can’t be stopped. Hurray for love and justice.

Therefore, while our opponents are whimpering about the horror of gay wedding cakes and how they are denied the right to discriminate against LGBT people, we should be steely-eyed focused on passing anti-discrimination legislation in all those red states that even WITH marriage equality, will still have no laws to protect LGBT people from discrimination.

We should also turning our funding efforts toward supporting our brave brothers and sisters in Asia, in Russia, in Africa—where being gay is still illegal. We should count our blessings and fundraise like crazy. We are part of a global movement.

Lastly, and to me most importantly, we must come together to work for the passage of GENDA in NY State. This is so overdue, it’s a travesty.

It was shameful years ago when in the zeal to pass statewide non-discrimination laws for gay and lesbian New Yorkers, the Empire State Pride Agenda—our statewide LGBT political organization chose the strategy to nix “gender identity and gender expression” from SONDA. They feared including transgender protection was holding back the passage of an anti-discrimination law that would otherwise be passable for gays and lesbians. That was probably true, but you don’t leave people behind in the dust on the freedom trail with the empty reassurance that “we’ll come back for ya’, don’t worry. Bye bye. ” It was wrong. We should have said “all of us, or none of us.”

But here’s some important LGBT history: Let me say with pride that Buffalo was the lone community in New York State that fought valiantly against this mean, unethical decision ESPA made to dump transgender protection. Our Stonewall Democrats passed a unanimous resolution to support keeping “gender identity and gender expression” in the SONDA bill. We even got the Common Council to pass a similar resolution. But alas, SONDA was passed without trans inclusion. After that, the promise to address non-discrimination laws for transgendered New Yorkers was put on a disingenuous to-do list. The winds were changing—and gay and Lesbian New Yorkers threw all their money, time and energy into marriage equality.

So now, we must make things right.

While surely there are other legislative goals on our plates (like outlawing conversion therapy) when the sun comes up the day after the Supreme Court rules that marriage equality should be the law across the U.S. (and after we’ve partied all night!) we should all be at a GENDA strategy meeting, with a renewed commitment to justice and equality for all.

MW: Transgender awareness and rights. This is building nicely, but we are currently where LGB was a decade or so ago. So much had yet to be done! The public still needs education and awareness before we are also considered to be equal citizens enjoying the same rights and protections as everyone else. As a minority within a minority population, we are counting on the support of our LGB sisters and brothers to help make this a reality.