“The Lancaster LGBTQ+ Coalition advocates for the health, rights, and visibility of LGBTQ+ people across Lancaster County,” Karen Foley tells The Central Voice. She’s one of many ‘founders’ who are working organically to coordinate people, resources, and activity. They’re definitely not resume queers.
A registered 501c(3) organization, the coalition officially launched July 15 when that region’s Pride Week began, culminating in a July 20 Pride celebration in Clipper Stadium.
A collectively prepared Coalition statement prepared by Cameron Childers says:
We believe in highlighting and advancing issues of intersectionality and equity.
We believe in advocating specifically for the more vulnerable subsets of our population.
“We established ourselves to provide services and advocate for the rights of the LGBTQ+ people, both individuals and the community,” Foley says, adding that the organization will also support the hard work of existing organizations to achieve statewide non-discrimination legislation as the legislature returns from its summer recess. House Bill 1404 by Rep. Dan Frankel and Senate Bill 614 by Sen. Farnese now await action. With similar language, they provide basic civil rights for queer individuals. Pennsylvania has had similar legislation introduced in 2011, 2013, 2016, and 2018. And that’s where all activity stopped.
What’s the end game?
“A place where all LGBTQ+ people live courageous, full, and authentic lives—an affirming Lancaster City and county where we live and thrive,” Foley says.
July 15 about 50 people gathered at Lancaster City Hall with the Lancaster Human Relations Commission to raise the Pride Flag, launching the third annual Pride Week, although Pride as a day event has been celebrated for 11 years in Lancaster. Pride Week was originally conceptualized by Foley. The joyful kickoff was followed by a city hall reception.
Foley said that day she was “honored to work and live in an accepting and affirming city with leadership like Mayor Danene Sorace and her Chief of Staff Jess King fighting for our rights and protections.”
Pride Week’s activities also included two significant events as the Coalition establishes its regional profile: a Town Hall Meeting with local and state government officials, including special guests State Representatives Mike Sturla of Lancaster County, Carol Hill-Evans of York County, and Patty Kim of Dauphin County and a Healthcare Mixer aimed at connecting friendly healthcare providers.
“We feel that as we celebrate the progress that has been made for LGBTQ+ people in Lancaster County and the surrounding areas, there are still major issues facing our community that need attention,” Foley says.
Against this background and a ground swelling of activity, Foley explained to CV “We still have so much work to do, specifically in other areas of Lancaster County where there is no non-discrimination legislation. We will continue to advocate and educate so that issues like the Star Barn Controversy no longer occur.” The controversy involved reports of a same-sex couple refused wedding reception services based the owner’s religious beliefs.
Besides legislative issues, the Coalition also responds to immediate needs. For example, last year for Pride Week, the Coalition raised nearly $6,000 for Waves Ahead, an organization helping the LGBTQ+ community in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.
What’s next now that the party’s over?
“Highlighting and understanding the needs of LGBTQ+ youth,” Foley stresses. Working intersectionally (connecting all the strengths and challenges of individuals and communities), the Coalition will, Foley notes, focus on creating access to affirming and affordable healthcare, and creating supportive and welcoming crisis shelters.
“One of our first major community outreach initiatives will be the development and implementation of a community needs assessment to more clearly identify the needs of the LGBTQ+ community throughout Lancaster County,” Foley says.
As a counselor for the LGBTQ+ community, Foley says, “If I can connect my clients to community and support, 50% of my work is done, and there is currently nowhere that I can send my clients to —especially healthy, sober spaces.
Here’s a concrete example of what working “intersectionally” means.
“There’s nowhere for queer people of color to connect in Lancaster County. There’s no visibility for the intersections of say, the deaf and queer communities here, and the list goes on,” Foley points out.
As the Coalition’s work begins, Foley has a clear sense of Lancaster history and the new group isn’t asking previous creators of change and progress out in order to make room for others previously excluded. Every effort builds on those who came before.
“We are honored to continue the courageous work of the Pink Triangle Coalition and the Lancaster AIDS Project. We have the utmost gratitude for what they did for our community in the past and are fully aware that without them, without other organizations that have operated in this area, we would not be launching our Coalition,” Foley says. This includes “an all-volunteer staff to keep Pride going,” she underscores.
What about ongoing programs?
The Coalition is providing community programming from its physical location in The Candy Factory at 342 N. Queen St., Lancaster, PA.
Lancaster LGBTQ+ Coalition Founders
In old school ‘organic’ fashion, the list of founders is growing, morphing, evolving - Foley, Xavier Garcia-Molina, Sherri Castillo, Cameron Childers, Tod Snovel, Suzette Harrell, Lee Cohen, Ismail Wade Smith-El, Dr. Adam Lake, Alexis Lake, Dr. Cindy Martinez, Dena Stanley, Sarah Roberts, and Olivia Walters.
Want to join the action? Look for Lancaster LGBTQ+ Coalition for Lancaster City’s next Extraordinary Give on Nov. 22.
Additional information is available at the following: www.facebook.com/lancasterlgbtqcoalition
Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat: @lgbtqcoalition