Organizations that Swish April 8, 2013

A Light In The Dark: An Introduction To The Upper Delaware GLBT Center

UDGLBT Center

Sometimes all it takes is one stone to cause a ripple, one voice to ignite a chorus. In this instance, that one voice belonged to a woman who lived through the time of the Stonewall Riots. A woman who knew what life was like during the dark times before the birth of the modern gay rights movement, and who recognized the importance of moving it forward. Here was a woman who knew she had to venture forth into the night where the light was most desperately needed. She did her part in this by establishing the Upper Delaware GLBT Center.

The Upper Delaware GLBT Center is a 501c3 non-profit organization founded by Patty Tomaszewski in 2009 to serve the needs of the GLBT communities in the upper Delaware region, which extends from Pike and Sussex Counties in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, respectively to Orange and Sullivan Counties in New York. The goal of the organization, as envisioned by its founder is to, “provide a space and programs that welcome, support and empowers the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) community living in and visiting the Upper Delaware region.” Due to its close proximity with New York City, the UDGLBT is a group that serves the needs of numerous New Yorkers who have either moved to the region or temporarily vacation there.

My involvement with the UDGLBT Center began with its inception back in 2009. At the time, it operated primarily via its Yahoo! Group and blog, serving to connect people online. Slowly, but surely, the movement began to gain momentum, attracting new members who each offered their own unique talents to further the center’s cause, which has always been to give its demographic safe venues in which to engage in the activities many of us take for granted, such as dancing together or merely being able to forge friendships with like-minded individuals. As a resident of Sussex County, I can attest to the aura of rurality prevalent in the surrounding areas. This same pastoral charm is what lures many to the region in the first place. In this way, it is a paradise for nature-lovers but rather bleak for those who, aside from loving nature, are also gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered.

When I first arrived in Sussex County I was 16 and struggling with my gender identity. The one thing I wanted more than anything else in the world was a kindred spirit with whom I could talk; someone who could  reassure me that everything would turn out alright and instill in me the same sense of community that was so sorely lacking in my life, but that seemed so prevalent in the lives of my heterosexual peers.

One of the most difficult aspects of living in such an area was the sense of isolation, which often drives the social animal that is man into deep depression. To counter this, I searched far and wide for people who were in short, like me. My desperate search for community brought me to New York City more often than not, but the frequent jaunts were somewhat taxing on a broke teenager from tree-laden North Jersey. I wished for something that was closer and had more substance than a transient night out on the town. This is what the UDGLBT Center offered, through a thoroughly-integrated approach that reached out to every facet of the GLBT community. It began with random events (plays, art shows, etc.), then some time later, monthly get-togethers at the nearby Waterwheel Cafe in Milford, PA, where same-sex couples could enjoy an evening of camaraderie, delectable food and live music. It continued with the numerous programs implemented by Patty Tomaszewski, including the P3 group, (People Promoting Pride) a GLBT youth group, comedy shows at the local theater, picnics, dances, cultural events, marches, trainings, fundraisers and other awareness-raising activities: in short, all of the events that bind a community together and foster that need for togetherness we all share as human beings. Amidst all of these venues, Patty’s group has turned people’s lives around and given them opportunities for personal growth that they may not have found otherwise. Her group has become the great unifier in a region whose GLBT members were largely isolated and disillusioned.

This past summer marked the group’s first year marching at the NYC Pride Parade. We kept pace with our pink canoe, a symbol not only of one of the Delaware Valley’s biggest tourist attractions but also of the great strides we’ve made in providing a safe haven for those who would otherwise have been struggling against the currents by themselves. As we marched together, we strode forth unified, a band of strangers brought together as great friends and neighbors under the UDGLBT banner.

As we enter our fourth year of existence, the future promises to become brighter than ever with the establishment of a physical base of operations: the UDGLBT Center recently opened in Milford, Pennsylvania. Various projects and educational initiatives are already underway such as the iCare (Increasing Community Awareness Through Relevant Education) Program which highlights specific issues such as HIV criminalization and allows pertinent speakers to engage in public discourse in an effort to educate the community at large about the issues that affect us all. Also underway are training programs which will showcase issues surrounding transgender individuals, expanded youth programming and programs for family members of the LGBT community. The inclusivity of the UDGLBT is its great strength. By fostering that sense of unity, the UDGLBT has proven that rural neighborhoods can still be neighborly.

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