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Biography

ORGANIZATIONAL HISTORY

On Oct. 3, 1970, around 100 people turned out for the first meeting of what was to become in 1973 the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley - an event hosted by University of Rochester students Bob Osborn and Larry Fine with guest speakers from Cornell University, Ithaca's chapter of the national Gay Liberation Front, and the Buffalo chapter of the national Mattachine Society, The new group called itself the Rochester Gay Liberation Front, the Rochester chapter of a group that started in N.Y.C., at Cornell and at University of Rochester after the Stonewall Riots in 1969. During the first year of the group's existence, around 200 men and women, the majority of whom were non-students attended meetings and dances.

Because the majority of members were non-students, the Gay Liberation Front had left the University of Rochester campus in 1972. Later the Gay Alliance moved into a space in the Genesee Co-op, a renovated 19th century firehouse on Monroe Ave., where it stayed until a building at 179 Atlantic Ave. was purchased in 1990 to serve as the first Community Center.

In February 1973, a group of lesbians within the GAGV decided to split off and form their own group, GROW (Gay Radical Organization for Women), which became the Lesbian Resource Center (LRC), active until the '90s.

Gay lawyers and others helped to incorporate the GAGV by 1973, with the idea that the Alliance would be an umbrella organization for gay groups. The Speakers Bureau was founded by Karen Hagberg in 1970. The Bureau's goal was to seek an accurate portrayal of gays in the media and to educate community groups about gay and lesbian people. Its efforts continue today.

The Empty Closet, which had begun its existence as a four-page ditto in January 1971, went to mimeograph in 1973, the first in a long series of format changes and technical upgrades, which continue to this day.

The mid '80s was the time when the HIV/AIDS epidemic became the central gay male issue, and in Rochester as elsewhere, gay men (as well as lesbians and bi and transgender men and women) began the work of building grassroots organizations, like AIDS Rochester and Helping People with AIDS, to cope with the crisis locally and supply services for people living with HIV

The first Rochester Pride March took place on June 28, 1989. The Pride March, now the Pride Parade, continues today as a program of the Gay Alliance. By the late '80s, the GAGV began to be seen as a service organization or human services agency, and the long process of transition began. Simultaneously, the Rochester queer community was growing and expanding its horizons. The Gay Alliance of the '80s began its emphasis on working with queer youth, who previously had no support whatsoever. The needs of the growing community meant that the GAGV had to become more of an institution than a grassroots activist organization.

The first big issue of the '90s involving the GAGV was the fight for domestic partnership benefits for City of Rochester employees and their partners. The Alliance under the leadership of Lloyd Gray was part of a coalition of gay groups and individuals, and heterosexual allies, who led an intense campaign in 1994 to pass the legislation. City Council approved the measure after a heated debate. Also in 1994, the GAGV won its lawsuit against the City of Rochester, which had denied the non-profit group tax exemption. As a non-profit, the Gay Alliance primarily does social and cultural work and in the '90s it began to do its political work in a different way. The new mission statement made it clear that the agency is dedicated to empowering individuals and dealing with heterosexism and homophobia through education, support groups and advocating for an end to discrimination

Over the past decade the organization has shifted focus from grassroots political activism to the realities of creating a permanent community institution. In 2004, the Alliance moved from the tiny, outgrown Atlantic Ave. storefront to space at the Auditorium Center, 875 E. Main St. The Gay Alliance staff has grown over the years, enabling a dozen major programs to spring up which strive to meet the needs of everyone from teenagers to hate crime victims to families to elders. The Youth Group observes the Day of Silence each year and now takes youth on local college tours, as well as providing all kinds of supportive and empowering social activities and groups. Rainbow SAGE is in the process of becoming part of the Gay Alliance, in order to make its services to our elders as powerful and effective as possible. Trainings, InQueery events and Speakers Bureau presentations send our message throughout greater Rochester, to mainstream businesses, colleges, churches and service providers, as well as to LGBT individuals who need information, support and connection to their community.