Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ+) Pride Month is celebrated each year in the month of June to honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan. Within the LGBTQ+ Community, domestic violence or intimate partner violence occurs at equal or even higher rates than that of the heterosexual community. Hope’s Door is proud to collaborate with The LOFT of Westchester to gain more knowledge on how to best assist LGBTQ+ victim’s with their unique barriers to safety. We spoke recently with our friends at The LOFT about commonalities we share and how COVID-19 is affecting their typical PRIDE activities.
COVID 19 has changed so much of our daily lives, but it has not affected our need as human beings to gather, share, and support one another. That’s why The LOFT LGBT Community Center, which serves Westchester and the surrounding areas, organized a Transgender Day of Visibility Celebration on March 31st, bringing together many transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary (TGNCNB) individuals in a joyful, virtual celebration of being and caring for one another. Among the activities that took place were a live piano performance and poetry share by TGNCNB community members, and opportunities for TGNCNB community to express what “trans visibility” means to them.
The LOFT is Westchester County’s only center for LGBTQ people, ages 18 and older. The center serves as a safe space for LGBTQ and allied community members to connect with others and find support. The LOFT currently provides 56 programs and services free to the community, ranging from peer support groups to LGBTQ trainings.
Hope’s Door and The LOFT staffs have collaborated on several important projects, including the launch of The LOFT’s Rebuilding Rainbows, an Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) program, in 2017. For over 10 years, the two agencies have offered specialized services to each other’s client base. More recently, we met to discover new ways we might work together, at the suggestion of Hope’s Door Board Treasurer, Julia Peloso-Barnes, in mid-2019. We’ve since visited each other’s sites, shared information, and two of our staff, Shepard Verbas of The LOFT and Alexa Kauffman of Hope’s Door, serve on a New York State LGBTQ Network committee, whose goal is to make DV agencies more accessible to the LGBTQ community. The committee suggests appropriate means of outreach to, as well as reinforces and encourages sensitive and trauma-informed dialogue with and care of, LGBTQ clients.
The LOFT’s peer support groups provide a way for community members to connect with others who share similar identities and journeys. Peer support groups often provide a sense of solidarity and support not often found in daily life, and help to reduce feelings of isolation for among The LOFT members.
The LOFT’s social groups provide a way for LGBTQ and allied people to come together and connect over shared interests or hobbies such as knitting, singing, potlucks, and movies.
In addition to these social and support groups, The LOFT provides several services to LGBTQ and allied community members including its oldest existing program, The LOFT’s Helpline. The Helpline provides over-the-phone, email, or drop-in support for community members in need of LGBTQ-affirming service providers or a just friendly person to talk with.
The LOFT’s LGBTQ Intimate Partner Violence advocacy program, Rebuilding Rainbows, provides an opportunity for LGBTQ survivors of violence to connect with an LGBTQ advocate to help them navigate resources and safety planning. The LOFT often refers its members to Hope’s Door if they are in need of counseling, shelter or legal services. Similarly, Hope’s Door counselors often share information about LOFT activities and groups with their clients. Both agencies seek to build stronger relationships between and among our clients and staff.
Staff members at The LOFT, like those at Hope’s Door, are working harder than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. The LOFT runs over 20 weekly support groups online. Volunteers and staff have delivered groceries and medications to community members in need; provided masks by US Mail to its members around the county (sometimes referred to as “mask mailing”); and made daily check-in calls to seniors and its most isolated community members. The LOFT remains an invaluable resource to LGBTQ+ residents, connecting them to COVID testing information, food resources, legal assistance, medical support, and housing access.
The LOFT also provides the region’s only HIV/STI health and wellness initiative focused on serving transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary (TGNCNB) communities known as PROUDWST Me. The PROUDWST Me program includes case management and linkages to resources to promote the health and empowerment of TGNCNB community members.
Annually, The LOFT organizes Westchester Pride, a large, one-day Pride celebration that attracts thousands of LGBTQ+ community members and allies in downtown White Plains. This year, The LOFT has pivoted and will be organizing multiple Westchester Pride events to be held virtually throughout the month of June, with events and gatherings for all to enjoy. You can find out more about these events on their website, www.loftgaycenter.org.