Voices from Albany’s Queer Movement: Caring and Inclusive

If you’re a queer person thinking of moving to Albany, listening to voices from Albany’s queer movement provides perspective. There’s only so much you can learn from internet research.
In order to get some insights, I spoke with four Albany queer community advocates. Each of them – whether connecting with queer youth, making inclusive health policy reform, or through direct services, like emergency housing – have been doing great queer ground work. Here are some of their answers to my questions about where Albany’s queer movement stands and opportunities for growth.

In this article, we’ll hear from Christina Romeo of GLSEN for Upstate New York, Courtney D’Allaird of UAlbany’s Gender and Sexuality Resource Center (GSRC), Jonathan Meagher-Zaya formerly of the Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region, and Tandra R. LaGrone of In Our Own Voices, Inc.

What is your perspective on queer community in Albany?

Christina Romero

Christina Romeo: “The queer community in Albany is spread out. People are in their own silos.  For someone new coming here, it’s worth putting in the effort to find the Facebook groups (try Courtney D’Alliard’s Queer Exchange FB Group). Find open mic nights and meetups and sports groups. Do your research. 

People in Albany care. They want things to be better. I found community with other advocates who just happen to be queer themselves or are extremely queer-inclusive.”

The Queer Community is Incredibly Diverse

Jonathan Meagher-Zayas

Jonathan Meagher-Zayas: “The queer community is incredibly diverse and wants a lot of different things, so it ends up being disconnected. Something positive that’s happened because of that is people fighting to make existing spaces more inclusive, instead of creating queer enclaves. For example, St. Ann Institute now has a shelter dedicated to LGBTQ Homeless Youth.

A Job That Pays Me to do LGBTQ+ Work is Radical

Courtney D'Allaird
Photo: https://lgbtualbany.ordpress.com/lgbt-campus-life/

Courtney D’Allaird: “People got comfortable. The LGBTQ+ community in Albany does not have to have a collective consciousness. Because this is a blue state and we are afforded legal protections and have a lot of access and resources, we get comfortable. We can just go live our lives in the suburbs. And in some ways it is radical to just live. Owning my home now is huge as someone who was kicked out for being queer and was homeless as a child. Having a job that pays me to do LGBTQ+ work and live my life comfortably is radical. 

Tandra LaGrone

Tandra LaGrone: “Assimilation sometimes has a different context [than merely trying to fit in]. Sometimes it’s about a human right. We have a right to live safely. We have a right to be part of and live freely in society. I look at Black and Latinx Pride as community intervention. It’s about staking our place in society.

Soon enough, society will evolve beyond just the surface standards of what’s acceptable and move beyond what we’ve been socialized to believe.”

“We can’t change the color of our skin. Why are Black men still disproportionately suffering from HIV/AIDS? Why are Black lesbian or Black trans women dying or the last to get health services? When I asked people in 2012 if marriage equality was a priority for them, it wasn’t. Feeling isolated. Feeling stigmatized. Not being treated fairly. That’s what they were concerned about.

Who has power [in Albany]? It’s white men. We need accountability for institutions of good ‘ole boys that keep getting perpetuated, including gay white men. If they’re unwilling to give up privilege, we won’t get substantive change.”

How do you envision the future of Albany’s queer movement and the community in CapNY?

Oh Bar, Albany
Oh Bar, Albany

Romeo: “I have a lot of hope. There can be a shift in culture. Younger folks, not just students, but Millennials who are professionals, need to lead the changes making non-profits more sustainable, rather than just accumulating power. There needs to be more intentional outreach within our community to uplift the voices of those who are the most marginalized and vulnerable, our trans community, gender non-conforming, and people of color. Let’s legitimize and create spaces for younger generations to be radical. It’s not enough to assimilate. We aren’t just asking for tolerance anymore. We want to recognize that queer voices matter. Our lives matter. We need to let all constituents have a voice. Embrace our differences. Be willing to be vulnerable and authentic.”

A Central Vision for the LGBTQ+ Community

Water Works Pub, Albany
Water Works Pub, Albany

D’Allaird: “I would love to see the queer community come together and be more visible in Albany. There hasn’t really been a leader with a central vision who would speak to us in the LGBTQ+ community and not just those who fit the box, like marriage or families. What about queer people who can’t assimilate, like trans identifying people or people of color, or aren’t as interested in relationships or surrogacy? There needs to be greater access to the most marginalized groups. Nonprofits and other organizations, including UAlbany, will be part of that drive for substantive change.”

Younger and More Diverse Leadership

Black and Latino Gay Pride 2014
Black and Latino Gay Pride 2014: One of Jonathan’s first local pride events at In Our Own Voices’ Black and Latino Gay Pride Event 2014 with the OG RuPaul’s Drag Race Winner Bebe Zahara Benet! Jenning’s Landing, Albany.

Meagher-Zayas: “We need to realize how all these different issues are intersectional. We need to look at it through an equity lens. There’s a NY Transgender Advocacy Group based in NYC, but here in Upstate New York, a lot of institutional-level momentum stopped at marriage equality.  

Orgs need to evolve, become more sustainable, with younger and more diverse leadership. There are more people now talking about racial justice and equity. The state won’t change unless forced. Private industry won’t change unless it’s profitable. So I see nonprofits as leading that change, recognized as being open for transitions to better representation in leadership, investing in BIPOC leaders.”

LaGrone: “I see so much compassion and empathy, bright and talented individuals who are fearless. My only wish is for them to know their history and do their homework. I believe they will fight for true liberation because if the most marginalized among us achieve liberation, we all do.”

Link Project's Intergenerational Mixer
Link Project’s Intergenerational Mixer: Folx at the Link Project’s Intergenerational Mixer to connect different generations of queer individuals at City Beer Hall, Albany

Are you looking to build an independent life for yourself in Albany, become an activist there, or just casually engage with local folx? These voices may help you get to know the kinds of people within Albany’s queer movement who would welcome you, if you reached out and called.

Written by: Mia Nilo

Mia Nilo is an overeducated, self-identified hustler hell bent on undermining the status quo through overly opinionated think pieces and reviews written from the perspective of a queer, woman of color Millennial. Attended Oxford about as long as Gatsby did and has settled for an Upstate New York life despite her Southern California heart. When not writing, hiking, or wine tasting, you can find her at book club or a local protest. Read more of her work on  www.miagnilo.com/blog. You can also find her cooking or latest scrabble game on her Insta @mia_bitesoflife and see what’s currently making her laugh the hardest on her Twitter @bitesize_rant