We wanted to thank the Hudson Independent for covering the Pride Rally in Greenburgh this June (https://thehudsonindependent.com/gay-pride-event-at-patriots-park/). The event had a profoundly emotional impact on the more than 200 LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) people and allies who gathered in Patriot’s Park to disrupt cisgender-heteronormativity in the Hudson Valley and celebrate our queerness.
Media coverage often covers bits and pieces of rallies of the media outlet’s choosing. While deadlines force media outlets to publish articles quickly, mistakes are bound to be made if the outlet does not consult those from the affinity or identity groups that the article discusses. Though these mistakes may be unintentional, they reinforce harmful, dominant narratives about marginalized communities (and in this case, queer communities). The mistakes made in the recent Hudson Independent article along with their quick response to correct the mistakes when made aware of them, as well as the subsequent opportunity to publish this piece, allow us to take a deeper, critical look at the significance of the mistakes, to reflect on them, and begin building a more liberated future.
Too often in the history of the LGBTQ+ movement, the people whose rights have been centered have been white, cisgender, able-bodied gay men. The movement has left out people of transgender experience, particularly if these people are also BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), nonbinary, disabled, or neurodiverse. Even if it may seem innocuous at first glance, when the Independent replaced “LGBTQ+” with “Gay,” it reinforced the hierarchy of the queer liberation movement that has left lasting scars on all LBTQ-identifying community members. Secondly, misgendering nonbinary speakers in news coverage reinforces systemic transphobia and a false gender binary which is responsible for the severely higher rates of mental health problems observed in the trans and nonbinary communities. To cisgender people, pronouns may not seem like that big of a deal; that is often because they have never had to fight to have their pronouns respected. However, for transgender and nonbinary people, being pronoun-ed incorrectly in a systematic and repetitive manner could be a matter of life and death.
The errors in this article highlight the need for change in the town of Greenburgh, NY. Many of our speakers and attendees of our rally were brave enough to publicly speak out on the bullying, mistreatment, microaggressions, harassment, and even assault that we have faced in our own neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and public centers. Everyone in Greenburgh deserves the equal opportunity to enjoy the beauty and charm of our lovely town. But we have a long way to go, and much education and advocacy is required to make Greenburgh a nurturing, supportive, and equitable environment for those who identify as transgender, BIPOC, nonbinary, disabled, and/or neurodiverse.
There is already a need demonstrated for this type of disruptive, grassroots activism work in Greenburgh, NY. However, in order to better promote advocacy, awareness and education in the town of Greenburgh, we have formally created “Greenburgh Pride” and will be constructing the Greenburgh Pride website imminently (located at www.greenburghpride.org). We are currently performing a formal needs assessment in the town of Greenburgh, which can be found here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScBdWn3v3k40jD7RCjfczuw9i9y2smnoipv4F1JxCIeKaL0Jg/viewform?usp=sf_link. With the mentorship of faculty at Fordham University, we will be using the data collected to better understand the needs of our community and what increased resources and advocacy efforts would be most beneficial to community members. The question is not if change is required, it is where that change is most needed.
Based on data from the United States Census Bureau (2019) and recent Gallup polls of the LGBTQ+ community (2021), there are an estimated 54,180 sexual and gender minority community members in Westchester County alone. In the past, many LGBTQ+ identifying people have left the suburbs to live in New York City in areas of relative peace and community, where we do not stand out simply for existing in the same space as others in the town who happen to be heterosexual and cisgender. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated movement out of large cities, more and more sexual and gender minorities are moving back into suburbs like Greenburgh (Cagnassola, 2021). An increasing proportion of Westchester residents who identify as sexual and gender minorities demands an increased amount of services and resources that serve our communities. The growing population of LGBTQ+ residents in Westchester and the lack of current studies and resources demonstrates the need for an updated needs assessment on some of our most vulnerable community members in the Hudson Valley.
This needs assessment and increased LGBTQ+ activism in Greenburgh come at a time when we are having a national conversation about race, gender, sexuality, sexism and about police reform. There is an increasing need for mental health services due to rising trends in hate crimes under the Trump administration and due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which differentially impacted queer communities of color (Villarreal, 2020; Human Rights Campaign, 2020). As of now, one in six members of Generation Z identify as sexual or gender minorities and approximately one in fifty identify as transgender alone. As a result of systemic discrimination against sexual and gender minorities, this community faces increased levels of mental health disorders, substance addiction, joblessness, homelessness, lack of insurance, and incarceration (Oberheim et al., 2017; Begun et al., 2016; Hughto J.M.W. et al, 2019; Abeln & Love, 2019).
Change is coming. We need to be intentional about change, rather than rushing for solutions before fully evaluating the problems. We encourage all people to take our community needs assessment by the end of this month. We encourage all people to learn about intersectionality, the pride movement, the disability justice movement, the psychiatric survivor’s movement, and the civil rights movement, as all our liberation is tied together. For us, pride lasts long beyond the end of June.
We ask for your support in promoting our needs assessment survey on your online and social media outlets. We also ask for the speeches and spoken word performances from our Greenburgh Pride team to be published in the Hudson Independent. This inaugural Greenburgh Pride Rally is a historical step for the region to achieve equity for gender and sexual minorities, and it would be wonderful to have the event more formally documented. Please see the included spoken word poem entitled, “I Know Who I am,” as an example of one we would love to distribute widely. We would also request the contents of this letter be published to help educate our town on the issues at hand, to document the urgency of the problem, and to better prepare an adequate response to the increasing proportion of LGBTQ+ community members entering and existing within the Hudson Valley.
Thank you for your collaboration in our collective efforts for social justice in the Hudson Valley. As the disability justice movement coined, we end with “nothing about us, without us.”
Mackenzie P Lerario
Jennie R Kogan
The Hudson Independent regrets its error in using an inaccurate pronoun in reference to Dr. Lerario and would note, as acknowledged in this letter, that it was corrected as soon as we were made aware of it.
A related commentary by the author can be found in our Commentary section.