(Photo above from left to right: Program Manager Shepard Verbas, Director of Programs and Services Scott Havelka, Executive Director Judy Troilo)
June is celebrated as Pride Month to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Riots, when the LGBTQ community unified to oppose and fight back against oppression.
According to the Stonewall Inn NYC’s website— before 1969 the riots, it was illegal to serve gay people alcohol or for gays to dance with one another. When bars would get raided, women wearing less than three pieces of feminine clothing and those without I.D. or dressed in drag were arrested, along with employees and management.
Since then organizations like the LOFT LGBT Community Center in White Plains have fought to ensure the freedom and well being of their community on a local level.
The LOFT has been supporting the Lower Hudson Valley’s LGBT community and its allies for more than three decades through its programming and by advocating and education. The LOFT acts as a support system for the LGBT community by connecting them with programming, services and referrals.
“Whether is a medical doctor that is sensitive to LGBT specific issues, which we see a lot of need with trans population, or how to understand or access medical and legal services,” explains LOFT Executive Director Judy Troilo of Port Chester. “We act as a resource and have a vast database.”
You can call their helpline at (914) 948-2932 ext. 14 or email at email@example.com.
“People call daily, drop in or email if their having a crisis, looking for support when coming out, if they’re having housing difficulties or simply looking for what social groups are available,” says Troilo. “We’re always helping people that way.”
The LOFT also organizes fun activities and events like hiking and kayaking trips; and entertainment, movie and game nights. The LOFT Pride event is on June 4 from noon to 5 p.m. at 252 Bryant Ave. in White Plains.
“It’s important for us as a community to come together as whole,” said Troilo. “Like anything, there are parts to any whole. You are as powerful and dynamic as the sum of your parts. All the individuals in our community are equally as important and we’re here to lift them up and meet their needs as a community.”
Get the details on the event here:
“We’re doing wonderful things to reach the community from a programming standpoint,” said Troilo. “We have peer support groups and nightly activities that engage different factions of our community.”
The LOFT has a variety of target programming including, a mental health group; a 55+ group and senior outreach program; a group for transgender young adults; yoga lessons; the Lesbian Social Network; a writers club; book clubs; and other offerings. They also partner with CenterLane to provider services to teens.
“Our groups are for anyone who would want to come to the center,” said LOFT Program Manager Shepard Verbas of Port Chester. “Our peer support groups are a place to meet like-minded people in similar situations.”
Verbas explained the importance of having a separate group for transgender individuals and those who are gender non-conforming since they deal with very different issues. Sometimes the needs of specific individuals can get lost in translation when people are grouped together.
“We help get people get what they need, which is specific to their experience, including barriers they encounter everyday, things they want to celebrate, or how they want to be understood,” said Troilo.
“We’re just here to help people in any way we can to celebrate who we are, who they are, and to educate the community as a whole. That’s part of our responsibility, to educate local businesses, schools and others on the importance of cultural competency and understanding the needs of our community.”
The LOFT also has a group for families. LOFT Family group is a networking group for LGBT parents and children that offers open houses, trips, a newsletter, playdates and a carnival. They meet once a month on the last Saturday of the month.
“We are in the suburbs and a huge component of that is family,” explains Scott Havelka, the LOFT’s Director of Programs and Services. “There are more LGBT families moving into the suburbs and couples are deciding to adopt children. What we hear from the parents is they want their kids to meet other families that look like their families.”
The LOFT’s pro-bono name change project, legal clinic, gift shop, amazing library and computer center and other services are all run or donated by volunteers.
“We are so proud of what our small but mighty center is able to accomplish with our wonderful volunteer force,” Troilo says. “There are about 60 to 70 active volunteers help us facilitate groups and events.”
“We have a philosophy here: if you believe we’re a part of your community, you’re a part of our community. “