The Day – OutCT: The nonprofit region’s LGBTQIA+ community is here to stay

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New London – Over its nine-year history, OutCT has established itself as a leading voice for the LGBTQIA+ community in Eastern Connecticut and beyond, growing its influence with the number of dates on its programming schedule.

Now, with the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, there is an office.

“We’ve never had our own brick-and-mortar place,” OutCT board member Edwin Ivey said recently as he retrieved a letter slipped from under the door of OutCT’s new address. OutCT in Downtown, 300 State St., Suite 402, which replaced a PO box.

When the COVID-19 positivity rate allows, they will have a proper groundbreaking ceremony, Ivey said.

OutCT had long needed storage space, a room for board members and staff to meet and, most importantly, a space for its youth group members to hang out. muster, Ivey said. In the future, he would like to schedule office hours several times a week so that staff members can interact with the public.

“From my perspective, having a physical space is important,” said Kia Baird, co-founder of OutCT and former president. “The organization is growing — our youth program is huge, we just had a health symposium. At this point, we are able to mentor other organizations. For example, Mohegan Sun is having a Pride event and they contacted us to help plan it. It shows the level of respect we have.

To understand the trajectory of OutCT, it is useful to recall its beginnings.

More than a pride festival

While a graduate student at the University of New Haven in 2010, Constance Kristofik, OutCT’s first president, conducted a feasibility study to determine if New London could support a Pride festival celebrating the area’s LGBTQIA+ community. The results were favorable, Kristofik said, although she wasn’t ready to get involved in union organizing at the time. She knew well the hard work that would entail, having been a Pride organizer in Pennsylvania from 2001 to 2006.

Former New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio met Kristofik during his 2011 campaign, and later, as the city’s first elected mayor in 90 years, urged her to hold a Pride festival in the city. town.

“I remember saying, ‘We really need to make your thesis a reality,'” Finizio said. “It made sense to do it in New London, in any city from New Haven to Providence to Hartford. In this area, it was one of the few places with an active LGBTQ community. I was able to leverage some of the city’s resources in terms of staff time and marketing, and that helped get started.

Finizio, who is gay, said OutCT’s success had a lot to do with New London’s long history of supporting diversity. He said gay bars appeared in the city decades ago when they were in short supply. A travel guide to gay-friendly establishments mentioned the Hygienic Restaurant in New London in the 1960s. Gay softball teams, bowling leagues, bars and establishments flourished in the city in the 1970s and 80s, did he declare.

“That’s why it was successful — because the LGBTQ community was here,” Finizio said of OutCT. “…It’s here to stay, a vibrant organization that will continue to add to the cultural landscape.”

Mayor Michael Passero, who succeeded Finizio in 2015, was instrumental in helping OutCT gain 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, allowing it to solicit tax-deductible donations. Passero had developed some expertise in this area while serving on city council.

“Constance was the most organized and driven person I’ve ever met,” Passero said. “His candidacy was fantastic.”

Incorporated in June 2013, OutCT achieved non-profit status three months later.

“Since becoming mayor, I’ve stayed in touch with the organization,” Passero said. “It’s a very important partner and constituency. It’s really satisfying to see how it’s done. I think the way the city and the people of this city support it sends a message to those who may not respect the rights of the LGBTQ community. In the City of New London, we respect everyone.

With Finizio’s encouragement, Kristofik turned to those who had been involved in her feasibility study to help her find board members for a new Pride organization. Baird, whom Kristofik met when they both served on a committee that championed marriage equality, joined the effort.

“We knew we wanted to do more than just a Pride festival,” Kristofik said. “We planned to offer cultural, social and educational programming.

As the name for the new organisation, they chose OutCT over New London Pride because it better reflected the breadth of their aspirations.

“It was 2013 and our immediate goal was to have a Pride festival,” Kristofik said. “Our short-term goal was to develop a program for young gay people, and our long-term goal was to create an LGBTQ community center. As you know, the New London Pride Festival has been repeated every year for almost 10 years and the OutCT youth program is strong.

Kristofik said the organization’s location on State Street across from the Garde Arts Center is “a huge leap forward.”

She plans to conduct another feasibility study to determine the level of interest and support for a community center. The study, which will likely be undertaken next year, will focus on fundraising goals and a timeline for the project.

A constantly evolving program

Over the years, OutCT’s programming has reflected the changing membership as well as the varied interests and expertise of its board members, according to Kristofik, who noted that she’s created a series of films annual when she was on the board.

“When Leo Schumann was a board member, he created an annual scavenger hunt and Amy Hannum created an annual art exhibit,” Kristofik said. “Kia Baird loved developing educational and entertainment programs for the Pride Festival. It was the passion of Mario DeLucia who launched the Born This Way fashion show to raise funds for the OutCT Youth program, inspired by Curtis Goodwin.

The current board includes Cecil Carter, who launched an annual Oscar party, and Chevelle Moss-Savage, who just led OutCT’s inaugural health and wellness conference at Three Rivers Community College.

Another fairly recent programming addition is “Who’s in the Neighborhood,” a monthly YouTube show introduced during the pandemic. Hosted by Moss-Savage, Acting President of OutCT and Chair of OutCT’s Education Committee, the show features an area business led by a member of the LGBTQIA+ community or ally, according to Ivey, who finds having a background in television. production.

Potential topics for upcoming shows include Heather Wright, owner of Tea & Tarot, a plant-based wellness boutique in Madison whose location outside of southeast Connecticut speaks to OutCT’s reach.

Wright, who heard about OutCT through an acquaintance, said the organization asked him to attend the health symposium in Three Rivers. She said she found Connecticut in general and the coastline in particular to be welcoming to the LGBTQIA+ community, of which she is a member.

“We happen to live in a very open part of the state,” she said. “I started my business not knowing how Madison would react, and it’s been lovely. I haven’t experienced any kind of discrimination.

Although political advocacy is not a major part of OutCT’s work, the organization monitors legislation and encourages people to testify for or against bills affecting the LGBTQIA+ community. Five years ago, Baird recalled, OutCT actively lobbied for legislation to prohibit health care providers from engaging in conversion therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation or identity. kind of a minor. Legislation has become law.

“One of the main things we’re asking for is funding,” Baird said.

OutCT is part of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Homosexual Health and Social Services Network that the state established in 2019 to benefit the LGBTQIA+ community. The network hired a consultant to survey community needs in areas such as housing, financial resources, medical care, mental health, substance abuse/addiction, sexual health and HIV prevention, legal services and violence.

“We have a lot of LGBTQ people in the community and we want to support them all,” said Ivey, who noted that OutCT’s youth group serves members as young as 12.

Although it does not advertise itself as a hotline for those seeking assistance, OutCT staff never ignore a ringing phone. Ivey said he and others have received calls from people threatening to harm themselves or seeking an LGBTQIA+ friendly church.

During the lockdown phase of the pandemic, vulnerable young people were at risk, Baird said, noting that schools can be a safe haven for those who don’t feel comfortable at home.

“The closure of schools and businesses has had a major impact on young people,” she said. “It’s better now. Luckily there are more outdoor events.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 continues to complicate matters, prompting the postponement this spring of the long-awaited return of the Born This Way fashion show, OutCT’s biggest fundraiser, which has been canceled in each of the past two years. . His return was scheduled for May 22, but the state’s rising COVID-19 positivity rate delayed it belatedly to November 13.

Baird envisions a time when OutCT can only focus on fashion shows, festivals, etc.

“Don’t all nonprofits hope to go bankrupt?” she says. “I can see us going to all the celebratory events, fully celebrating our differences. This is the vision – to be in the community, to organize events that bring joy to the community. We could do this forever.

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