The Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) at East Senior High School is enjoying its 6th year at the school and enjoys incredible administrative support from the school principal. This year the GSA hosted, for the 3rd year in a row, the annual GSA Conference organized by GLYS. This fantastic event welcomes GSA’s from all over Western New York to come together for fun, learning, and support. East High School students consistently cite this as one of their favorite experiences of the year. Other annual events include a mixer with the GSA students on the West side of town, Day of Silence, and various guest speakers.
Rod Hensel has been active in the Western New York LGBT+ community for more than 40 years, most recently as an activist and advocate for the needs of LGBT+ seniors.
He came out in the community in 1979, joining the Gay Professionals and Mattachine Society of the Niagara Frontier. In 1980 he became publisher of the Fifth Freedom, Mattachine's tabloid newspaper. From 1981 until 1984, he served as president of Mattachine, speaking for the community at a time when local media and political criticism was rising and when first whispers of Gay Related Immune Disease (GRID), later renamed AIDS, entered public fears. As the disease spread, more and more friends in the local community died. In 1989 he joined the administration of Governor Mario M. Cuomo and had input into LGBT+ policies. In 1990 he was part of a group that formally established the Stonewall Democrats of Western New York writing the first constitution and by-laws for the group.
In 2013, he took an interest in the special needs of LGBT+ seniors and, with the Pride Center of Western New York, laid groundwork for the Silver Pride Project. The project was formulated to provide for the community's elders and to educate care givers on the special needs of people who had lived many years in the closet, living in fear of being found out, often shunned by church and family, and who regularly faced discrimination and harassment in housing, employment and social activities.
Silver Pride grew from a gathering of five people in an Allen Street coffee shop to more than 170 who regularly participate in coffee hours, tea times, monthly seasonal outings, pop-up events and major holiday dinners with their "family of choice."
Rod was appointed by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz to serve on the Erie County Senior Services advisory board and leveraged the appointment into establishing a regular senior services representative to be part-time at the Pride Center. The following year he sold the county on an idea to fund and establish a subsidized monthly healthy lunch program at a gay-owned establishment, an idea the county has since implemented for other underserved minority communities.
Rod also advocated for the Pride Center to establish a LGBT+ senior sensitivity training program, which was developed by the Pride Center staff and has been given to many hospitals, nursing homes, care providers and administrators in the region. He has written regular columns on LGBT+ senior issues for Loop Magazine and lgbtSr.org.
Rod is currently embarking on a community education program, based on recent personal experience, which impacts nearly half the LGBT+ senior population: the "elder orphans" who live alone without nearby family, face serious risk of suffering an injury and being placed in a nursing facility where virtually insurmountable barriers are placed barring them from going home, and resulting in the seizure of home and assets in a premature and permanent institutionalization.
Black Intelligent Ladies Alliance (BILA) was formed in January of 2009. Members are comprised of intellectual females that identify as women or females belonging to the straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (SLGBTQ) communities. Advocating for socialization, mentoring, guidance, leadership, politics, and fundamental learning in education, BILA works as a bridge to connect together, and network with, community organizations. One area of BILA’s activism concerns education about the importance of safe sex and the prevention of Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS). In addition to their activism, BILA also hosts community events for adults and children.
BILA’s mission is to include Buffalo’s educated women in the SLGBTQ community, to form a strong, loyal and reliable leadership organization and to serve as advocates in the Western New York region. BILA is a black, lesbian owned, not-for-profit organization; more information can be found at www.bila4life.com
Unity of Buffalo is a diverse, loving spiritual community empowering growth, transformation and peaceful living. Serving all people in spiritually and emotionally caring ways, Unity teaches that all people are created with sacred worth and no one exists outside the heart of God. In Buffalo, Unity has had a long tradition of welcoming LGBTQ people. Unity believes it is the first church in Western New York to perform same sex weddings in its sanctuary, dating back to the early 1960s.
Today, Unity of Buffalo is a spiritual and cultural arts center for Western New York. In addition to providing the services most people associate with a church, Unity also does much more. Home to an art gallery, Friends of Vienna chamber music concerts, PeopleArt Coffeehouse, the Tibetan Monks in Buffalo, and the Unity Peace Park – a community resource open to all featuring a gazebo, labyrinth and walking paths.
Unity is a positive, spiritual alternative to what many have experienced in traditional religious settings. Unity emphasizes the practical, everyday application of spiritual principles to help people live more abundant and meaningful lives; is a positive, practical, progressive approach to Christianity based on the teachings of Jesus and the power of prayer; honors the universal truths in all religions; and, respects each individual’s right to choose a spiritual path. The essence of Unity is in its name – Unity. That name leaves no one out. Wherever you are on your spiritual path, you’re welcome at Unity.
Learn more at www.unitybuffalo.org and http://www.unity.org/resources/lgbt
Special Citation to Assemblyman Pat Burke and Paul Morgan
Assemblyman Pat Burke is a Buffalo native, where he resides with his wife and three kids. From January of 2014 to December of 2018, Pat served the community as an Erie County Legislator. Since he was first elected to the Legislature, protecting the well-being of children has been at the forefront of Pat’s legislative efforts. He made this clear when he wrote the PENCE Bill (Prevention of Emotional Neglect and Child Endangerment) to end harmful gay conversion therapy. Pat is committed to being a strong ally for the LGBTQ community in the NYS Assembly. In his first term, Pat has already co-sponsored and helped pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) and a statewide conversion therapy ban.
Paul Morgan attended the School of Visual Arts in NYC on a full merit scholarship, and soon after found himself at the epicenter of the burgeoning global pandemic HIV/AIDS. Since returning to Buffalo 25 years ago he has served on the boards of the Allentown Association and AIDS Family Services. He worked with neighbors to save the Jersey Street Livery from demolition by neglect at the hands of a slum lord. He’s worked aggressively with Stonewall Democrats to help see the ratification of Marriage Equality, SONDA, GENDA, and a Ban on Conversion therapy. He’s humbled and honored to have been a demand for change through his role establishing WNYACT ~ Western New Yorkers Against Conversion Therapy. Last year he married his partner of 21 years Mark Nowak, himself a long time activist and advocate for those living with HIV/AIDS.