OBSERVER Staff Writer
Those who are a member of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning community, their allies and other individuals interested in becoming allies, joined together Saturday afternoon for a panel discussion in downtown Fredonia.
The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Northern Chautauqua's LGBTQ Social Action Team hosted the panel forum at the Fredonia Grange. A panel of eight individuals shared their personal stories as a member of the LGBTQ community or as an ally and how individuals can take social action.
Greg Rabb, councilman-at-large and president of Jamestown city council, said he is the only openly gay politician in the eight counties of Western New York. Rabb said he is welcomed by the Democratic party as being openly gay. He said many other politicians do not care about the LGBTQ community.
"Our issues are all stalled right now. We have marriage equality in New York state because of Governor Andrew Cuomo," Rabb said. "Politics does matter. The Republican Party does not care about our rights."
Panelists Shay Brauchler and Helen Walther are both transgender. Walther said by coming out and starting to live as her "true self" she gained power. She runs transgender support groups out of Jamestown and online.
"By coming out and not being ashamed, I can show people that yes, I'm a human being, I'm more like you than I'm different, and that I deserve the same decency and respect that you would give any stranger in the street," Walther said.
Panelist Maria Krauss, who also organized the event, said what was helpful during her coming out was preserving the family relationships she cherished the most. She spoke of her relationship with her grandma.
"One part of my family is very religious ... One of my strongest relationships is with my grandma ... and it has not changed our relationship a bit," Krauss said.
Bob Reeder spoke on behalf of PFLAG - parents, families and friends of lesbians and gays. Reeder has said one in four families has a member of the LGBTQ community. Reeder's son has come out as being gay. PFLAG also helps advocate and be allies. Reeder is part of the PFLAG Chautauqua chapter.
Abby Bologa spoke about knowing yourself first and self-acceptance. She said if you don't love yourself first, you won't find acceptance with others. She also said that it is important to be forgiving and understanding about language when talking about LGBTQ communities and to always remember to have respect towards others. Parents should talk with their children and set good examples of how they would like their kids to behave.
"If you're labeling yourself for somebody else to satisfy them, you really ... are just trying to satisfy them," Bologa said.
Teresa, a graduate of Dunkirk High School who asked that the OBSERVER only use her first name, talked about her struggles in high school with discrimination. She said she got through high school by a support system at home, good teachers at school and friends who care.
"I have been fortunate of actually having friends who accept me for me. They don't care as long as I'm there for them as a friend," she said.
Following the panel, the audience was able to ask questions. At the end, audience members were given information on current proposed legislation for equal rights in regards to employment and gender expression nondiscrimination, and the safe schools improvement acts. Information was given out on state representatives and where to write elected officials. Rabb said to write a handwritten note and mail it. Do not use email as it looks too easy to do. He suggested letter writers also sign with an email, phone and mailing address and say they look forward to an immediate response. Letters should be followed up by a phone call.
"...Without allies, we don't make progress," Rabb said.
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