The State of the LGBT Community – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

The State of the LGBT Community

“Equality is the floor,” said Pride Agenda leader Alan Van Capelle. “Not the ceiling.”

With the Geneva Room filled beyond its capacity, Katie Flowers, associate director of the Center for Community Engagement and Service-Learning; and John Monaghan ’11, the student coordinator for the Jan. 29 event, introduced Alan Van Capelle, Executive Director of Empire State Pride Agenda. His appearance was part of the Civic Leadership Speakers Forum sponsored by the Center for Community Engagement and Service-Learning.

Van Capelle, who became the Executive Director of Empire State Pride Agenda and Empire State Pride Agenda Foundation in April 2003, is, at 31, one of the youngest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community leaders in the nation. Under his leadership, the Pride Agenda has influenced many changes in policy, including a law guaranteeing same-sex domestic partners the same access rights as spouses and next of kin when taking care of loved ones in hospitals and nursing homes; and a law giving domestic partners the same priority as spouses in making decisions about burial of a loved one after death.

Van Capelle spoke about his experiences growing up and the limitations and fears he felt before coming out, and about the barriers he faced while at the Empire State Pride Agenda – the prevalence of outdated ideas and strategies in dealing with the issues confronting the LGBT community and the isolation of that community in its efforts.

He discussed how, under his guidance, the Pride Agenda was reconfigured to bring about as much change on as possible, while incorporating and recruiting as many people as possible – LGBT or straight – to help make that change. The Pride Agenda has a three-pronged plan for action: Pride in the Pulpit, Pride in My Workplace, and Pride in Our Union.

These three areas are targeted so legislators vying for re-election will have to address the concerns (those of the Pride Agenda now among them) of these powerful constituencies. A permanent change in ideology, says Van Capelle, has to include a change in the laws. There are now more than 20 labor unions and 650 religious leaders who endorse the Empire State Pride Agenda, which certainly should have some effect on the legislators. “That’s the stuff, he says, “that gives me real hope.”

He spoke of the prototypical American Dream – a family, children, a house, vacations – which, while same-sex marriage is illegal, is always slightly out of reach for some people. Same-sex marriages are not now legal in New York, and so, he says, gay couples wanting to be married are denied 1,324 rights and responsibilities given to “traditional” married couples.

“Equality is the floor,” he says, “not the ceiling. We want justice. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when … I won’t accept limits the state puts on me because I’m gay.”

Although the topics discussed were serious, Van Capelle joked throughout his talk – about his partner, his parents, reactions of politicians to the Pride Agenda, and feeling like comedian Kathy Griffin. “You have to have a sense of humor when doing this work,” he says. “Things change and you push through … [but] you need to have levity.”