Those Rural Areas



I was one of many in New York State who were disillusioned and shocked when the Empire State Pride Agenda decided to declare “mission accomplished” and close its doors. There is so much work to be done, so many issues to be resolved now and in response to what might come in the future. In fact, the idea of any lobbying group saying its work is over is ludicrous on its face.

So with thankfulness and relief I was happy to see some people, including folks from the former Pride Agenda, try to create a new lobbying group, Equality New York. They have my heartiest wishes for success. I also hope that they don’t make the same mistakes as ESPA did.

In 2002, when I retired from New York State Crime Victims Board, I was honored to get an award from the New York City Anti-Violence Project. Doing claims investigation for LGBT crime victims both upstate and downstate, I saw an incredible difference between the large metropolitan areas with an organized community and some small towns where our lives remain still a love that dare not speak its name. At the AVP event, I mentioned an assault in the village of Livonia, in Livingston County, where the only reason I found out it was a bias attack was because the victims’ advocate in the DA’s office was from that village and knew the story.


ESPA was always money-hungry. They cut off relations with Western New York because the Buffalo Brunch wasn’t bringing in enough cash. If the great metropolitan area of Buffalo wasn’t giving them enough Benjamins then what could a place like Livonia in Livingston County do?

We saw in this month’s presidential election how a progressive message fell on deaf ears in the rural areas of upstate New York. Yet that is where our battle has to be won. At least there’s a community in places like Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse to be connected to if one wants. Where could that young man from Livonia turn for support in his crisis?

Every so often I heard about stories from the rural areas of upstate, and I would send the information along to ESPA but received no response. There was never any attempt to organize rurally. After all, what could a Livonia Pride group, probably meeting in someone’s living room, do for that group financially? Yet being gay is the loneliest feeling in the world in these small towns. It’s why so many young people can’t wait to get out.

Hopefully, some of our larger LGBT organizations and foundations will help with Equality New York, and one way they could do so is providing funding for one or more organizers whose job it would be to seek out in New York State’s hinterlands a community and help nurture it. Just the fact that someone actually cares what is going on in our state’s Livonias would be welcomed with indescribable gratitude.

The LGBT folks such an effort could reach are the ones who will spread our message in that region, maybe convincing some hard-shell Republican senator that our lives are real and our issues have merit and they should look beyond the votes they can win through the nodding approval of fundamentalist churches in their districts or on the Conservative Party line in the fall. Or, properly mobilized, local LGBT people could organize to kick out elected officials who remain unconvinced. After this recent election, it’s clear that a message embracing our lives has to reach the small towns throughout New York State.

LGBT young people living and trying to survive in our Livonias deserve a sense of pride and the knowledge that someone actually cares about them and the struggle they have every day.

Bruce Kogan, a retired investigator at the New York State Crime Victims Board, is a longtime LGBT activist in Buffalo and the former president of the Stonewall Democrats of Western New York.