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A LETTER TO FRIENDS AND ALLIES FROM RAI'S BOARD PRESIDENT

 

2012: A year in review

Dear Community Member, .

In 2012, Rainbow Access Initiative (RAI) continued to thrive because of the dedication of the Board of Directors and volunteers.  Oftentimes, when folks learn about RAI and find out we are a small grass-root Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender non-profit with no paid staff they are often surprised at how much we can accomplish with such limited resources, and this year was no exception.

Context

If this is your first exposure to RAI, it is important to know we are the only LGBT–specific organization serving the capital district of New York State (Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga & Schenectady Counties) focused solely on the development of LGBT inclusive & specific health care and human services.  Our mission is to ensure the LGBT community in the capital district has access to culturally competent and compassionate health care and human services.

We work to achieve this mission through a two-tier approach: one focused on reaching out and engaging with health care and human service providers and organizations, the other to engage and empower LGBT individuals, their families and the community at large.

2012

January - The Board of Directors and a cast of volunteers chose to kick the year off with a bang, and we hosted our first ever Beach Party.  Oftentimes, the winter months just following the holiday excitement can be cold, dark and difficult.  So, we decided to face Mother Nature with a hot and comical beach party hosted by Rocks in downtown Albany.  The event featured drag performances, local comics and giveaways including a three night stay at the Cherry Grove Beach hotel on Fire Island, NY.  The generosity of the attendees and the community at large made this our first successful fundraiser of the year.

February – Some of you may know Rainbow Access Initiative is a member of the NYS LGBT Health & Human Service Network which is a program of the Empire State Pride Agenda.  The RAI Board of Directors takes this membership very seriously and as such, Board President Chad Putman is an active member of the Network Health Committee.  This committee is responsible for the development of LGBT Health Month in NYS which is an annual initiative that occurs in March.  Twenty-Twelve marked our second annual initiative and that kicked off in late February with great fan-fair at the NYS Capital thanks to the organization of our Board President.  This year featured a press conference, news coverage, Senate & Assembly Resolutions of Support, and remarks by NYS Senator Neil Breslin and the National Coalition for LGBT Health’s Executive Director, Hutson Inniss.

March – The RAI Board of Directors and volunteers worked hard over a six month period of time to put together our first ever Art of Health event.  This was a full day extravaganza which took place in early March at the Schenectady Light Opera Company in Schenectady, NY.  The event featured our 2nd annual LGBTQ Health & Wellness Expo complete with breakout sessions focused on topics like alternative therapies, drawing and creative arts, the art of drag, educational theater and poetry.  The daytime event featured lunch with special guest and author, Marc Renson, an openly gay entrepreneur and owner of Ambitions Café on Jay St.

The Art of Health evening event was a step beyond your average awards dinner and featured a live variety show with comedy, dance, theatrical performances, along with several melodies by the Albany Gay Men’s Chorus.  Intermixed with the performances and live auction the RAI Board of Directors awarded local talent for making a splash in the performance arts in a way that has benefited the health and wellness of the LGBT community here in the capital district.

RAI Access Award recipients were as follows: Albany High School Theatre Ensemble for the Laramie Project (Ward Dales - Theatre Arts Instructor & Fiona Thompson), Proctors for QFEST which is an annual LGBT film festival held at the GE theater in Proctors and is organized by Joey Hunziker, and lastly to our favorite drag queens, Carmie Hope (Steven Homes) – Frieda Munchon (David Bagnardi) & Whiskey Sour (Kevin Bruce) for their dedication to LGBT health through performance and volunteerism.

RAI paid special recognition to the cast and crew of Homo Radio (WRPI/91.5 FM) with the Bobbi Williams Access Award.  This pioneering show which focuses on the LGBT community recently celebrated 20 years on the air in February, 2012.  At the time of the award, the Homo Radio cast and crew included Co-Producers Sean McLaughlin and Dr. Ray H. Werking Jr., Ryan Smith - Community Calendar Editor, Tim Ruppert – Program Assistant, Joe Galu – News Writer, and Co-Hosts Ulysses de Armes, Dave Leybig, and Kathy Breda.

The Trevor Project – Thanks to a multi-year agreement with The Trevor Project, RAI and Trevor volunteers were delighted to bring the lifesaving resources of the Trevor Project to the youth of the First Unitarian Society of Schenectady in late March.  The Lifeguard Workshops, developed to prevent suicide among LGBTQ youth, were offered to junior and senior high school students and were followed by a panel discussion on LGBT bullying for the full congregation.

April – Spring is often a time when RAI and Trevor volunteers are able to facilitate a number of Lifeguard Workshops in area schools, and this year was no exception.  We were delighted to be welcomed back to Mohonasen High School for their annual Day of Silence event and to facilitate a series of Lifeguard workshops for over 100 youth.  This year also featured a special performance by Josh Rivadel (playwright, songwriter and actor) of “The Gospel According to Josh”.  A one-man show featuring multiple characters and songs, this play chronicles Josh’s battle with depression and suicide after losing his grandfather and father to suicide.

April was rounded out with an article in the Schenectady Gazette which featured RAI’s “My (LGBTQ) Healthcare Story Matters” project.  The article focused on a local Transgender community member and her struggle accessing competent and compassionate health care and human services in the capital district.  This project was launched over a year ago and features videos and stories in print about the experiences of LGBT people engaging with health and human service providers in our area (www.RAI-Health.org)

June – Pride month.  RAI Board members and volunteers always make it a point to participate in this annual celebration of the LGBT civil rights movement.  This year, RAI tabled at Capital Pride in Albany and also marched in the annual gay pride parade featuring our work with the Trevor Project and the Human Rights Campaign – Healthcare Equality Index.  In fact, we closed out June with our 2nd annual Motorcycle Ride for LGBT Healthcare Equality with nearly a dozen riders and stops at Ellis Medicine, Albany Medical Center and Saratoga Hospital.  This year’s ride was extra special when we were greeted by over 25 employees at Saratoga Hospital which was an incredible experience for all.

September – RAI Board member, Katie Moskal and Board President, Chad Putman participated in the annual Schenectady County Triathlon to promote LGBT health care in the capital district.  Katie and Chad both finished their first ever “triathlon” which featured a seven mile bike ride, three mile run and two laps around a small lake in Scotia in a kayak.  The event raised some funds for RAI but also helped RAI to reach the larger community regarding our work.

October – Aside from gearing up for the release of the 2013 Healthcare Equality Index survey, RAI hosted a special performance of the “Fabulous Darshan” at the Schenectady Light Opera Company which featured the playwright and NYC cast for a live reading.  The event was a success thanks to the promotional help from our friends at Homo Radio with weekly announcements and an appearance by RAI Board President, Chad Putman.

November – Featured the release of the Human Rights Campaign – Healthcare Equality Index (HEI) 2013 survey which is a nationally recognized tool utilized by RAI to promote best practices in LGBT patient care.  RAI is committed to securing participation in the HEI 2013 by one or more of the major medical centers in the capital district.  Currently, of the 400 medical centers that participate in the HEI across the nation (15 of which in New York State), none serve the capital district.

November was also a month RAI Board President, Chad Putman was able to participate in the annual meeting of the National Coalition for LGBT Health for which RAI has been a long standing member.  This year, Mr. Putman was part of a panel focused on LGBT Health & Wellness and explored the impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as ObamaCare, on LGBT individuals and families across the country and right here in New York State.  This panel and related discussions at the annual meeting led to the development of a committee focused on LGBT community engagement and empowerment as the ACA roles out toward full implementation in 2014.  Mr. Putman has taken an active role on this committee and is optimistic the ACA will play a crucial role to address health disparities experienced by the LGBT community through health insurance enrollment and anti-discrimination provisions found in the ACA.

December – A month for reflection and looking ahead…

Twenty-Twelve has truly been a banner year for RAI with many of the highlights noted above.  Many of the events noted have been made possible by funding received through RAI’s participation in the NYS LGBT Health & Human Service Network, more specifically Senate funding which was allocated to RAI back in 2011.  Unfortunately, this funding is all but dried up and has left RAI completely dependent of fundraised dollars.  However, RAI is hopeful that an application for state funding will come through in 2013 in the form of a 5 year grant specifically set aside in the Governor’s 2012 budget to develop LGBT health care and human services in NYS.  Either way, the mission and work of RAI will continue on because this work is too important to walk away from at this crucial time.

The Board of Directors - Rainbow Access Initiative is as strong, vibrant and engaged as those who run it.  The community at large and RAI has benefited from the dedication of Board members like Kiera Griffiths (Finance Committee Co-Chair) and Katie Moskal (former Vice President).  These two individuals have served the board and the organization for a number of years and will be deeply missed as they move on to a new and exciting chapter.  RAI is grateful to have the ongoing support of Board Members Andy Little and Jenna Zirbel who have remained dedicated even after a big move to North Carolina in 2012.  RAI hopes to have Steve Hendrickson back in 2013 after a personal leave of absence.  RAI is also grateful and would like to welcome new members Jonny Puglia (Trevor volunteer extraordinaire) and James Taft who joined the Board of Directors in November. 

RAI is always looking for new talent and passion in the form of board members and volunteers.  If you would like to become involved with Rainbow Access Initiative or would like to learn more about our work, please visit www.RainbowAccess.org, “like” us on Facebook at “Rainbow Access Initiative” and contact Board President, Chad Putman at 518-225-0957 or by emailing ChadPutman@RainbowAccess.org

RAI is a 501 c/3 and donations are always appreciated and can be mailed to RAI, P.O. Box 9144, Niskayuna, NY 12309.  -Thank You!

With warm regards,

Chad Putman, LMSW