Pride Center sees mission as fight for basic rights

Curran Streett, executive director of the Pride Center of the Capital Region, is an advocate for mem
Curran Streett speaks during a recent Pride Center of the Capital Region event.
Curran Streett speaks during a recent Pride Center of the Capital Region event.

Curran Streett looks after her people.

As executive director of the Pride Center of the Capital Region, she is an advocate for members of the LGBTQ community — lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgendered and queer.

The center is observing its 45th year of operation, and Streett has been involved with programs at the place since she was a teenager. She became program director in 2009 and was appointed executive director to the organization, located on Hudson Avenue in Albany, in 2012.

Streett talked about progress made since 1970, and more hope for the future, in a question-answer interview.

Q: What is the center designed to do?

A: The Pride Center is the local lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgendered, queer community center. For brevity’s sake, we call it the LGBTQ community center. The purpose of the center is to improve the well-being of LGBTQ people in the Capital Region, so that includes supporting people directly through groups, especially events, education and also doing a lot of education to mainstream service providers to ensure when folks go out into the community seeking care, they see the same quality of service as everyone else in the community.

Q: I notice you use the word “queer.” Isn’t that still considered a derogatory term?

A: It is a term that has sort of been reclaimed by the community and has re-entered the vocabulary in a more positive light and reflects kind of the diversity that exists within the community. The other components of the acronym aren’t always quite the right fit for people in our community. There are a lot of reasons people have gravitated toward queer, but it’s one we use as an organization in our mission statement and encourage others to use in a positive connotation.

Q: What would the queer identity be?

A: That’s a term that may be used by someone who dates people or is attracted to people of all genders and kind of reflects the fluidity of gender. An example I could use, let’s say I’m a person who is lesbian-identified and has dated women for my entirety, connects with someone and they identify as a woman when we connect and then they transition, so they’re transgendered and now identifies as a male. Is that person a lesbian still, are they a lesbian man, would I still be a lesbian if my partner is male? So having that queer identity allows for a little more flexibility.

Q: The center started in 1970. What was the scene like back then for the LGBTQ community?

A: There really wasn’t one, and that’s part of why the center was formed. The center came about a year after the Stonewall riots [in New York City]. Our founders recognized not only was there no place for LGBTQ people to go where they could safely be themselves, there was also no political voice in the New York state capital, and they saw the importance of that at a very early stage.

I hear stories from some of the folks who were around in the early days, that one of the biggest accomplishments they felt they had achieved, in addition to carving out a space for our community, they fought pretty hard with the phone company to get the word “gay” in the phone book. Their initial struggles were with themselves, their own internalized homophobia, “Can we really ask this of the phone company, would they ever publish ‘gay’?” And then it was actually with the phone company and fighting for it. They knew if they put that in the phone book and somebody could search for “gay community center,” they would save lives and they absolutely did.

Some of the folks who were involved in the early organizing and the event planning and doing things that created a safe and healthy environment for people in our community, there are stories they used to print out tons of fliers and then go out at midnight to hang them because they knew they wouldn’t be beaten up, because less people would see them and the fliers would have a chance of staying up longer from wither being torn down or defaced because that was the climate.

Q: How are things now for members of the community?

A: There are things we have today we take for granted that our founders couldn’t have even imagined. Marriage equality would definitely be an example of that. I think people who were part of the founding of the center couldn’t imagine they would have the opportunity to marry their partners and be recognized by the state. Even the workplace protections I mentioned for gay and lesbian people, for many, for many it was completely out of the question to be out at work because they knew if they weren’t fired, it would absolutely limit any career opportunities they had.

Q: What battles are still facing the community?

A: I appreciate your asking that question because most people aren’t. Most people say, ‘Well, you got gay marriage so you’re done, right?’ And that was really just a small fraction of the work that needs to be done. The workplace protections that I mentioned, transgender people in New York state still do not have those protections, so if you are transgender and out in the workplace, you can be fired, you can be refused public accommodations like services in restaurants, you can be evicted or kicked out of your housing without cause. That’s a good example of rights and a big part of where the movement still has a lot of work to do.

Q: How does the community win over hearts and minds?

A: I think the push for marriage equality was a real good example. Members of the community see we put on our pants one leg at a time, just like everybody else, and our issues are not any different. It’s really just the need for basic rights to be afforded, as we are really fighting now for the rights of transgender people in the Capital Region and transgender people all over New York state. That personal connection is going to be critical. A lot of people know transgender people, they’re part of their daily lives and don’t realize it.

Q: What does the Pride Center offer?

A: We have support groups and discussion groups for people of all different ages and identifies. We have groups designed to support youth in four cities in the Capital Region, so we’re in Albany, Schenectady, Hudson and Saratoga. We host special event discussions, movie night, anything that may be interesting to LGBTQ groups, that’s what we’re aiming to do.

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected] or @jeffwilkin1 on Twitter.

Categories: Life and Arts

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