Tandra LaGrone is executive director at In Our Own Voices, a Capital District nonprofit working to ensure the physical, mental, spiritual, political, cultural and economic survival and growth of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of color communities. Previously, she was director of Girls Incorporated of the Greater Capital Region, one of the country’s largest organizations for girl’s rights. She is an advocated for HIV/AIDS treatment in the African American community, especially for women and young black men. The Albany native has worked as a domestic violence, youth, and LGBT advocate for over 30 years. She lives in Loudonville.
Q: What is the most critical issue facing LGBT people of color today and what can be done about it?
A: Social and civil unrest is the biggest thing along with racism and white supremacy and the anti-Black sentiment across the board when we look at the overall state of Black and indigenous people. When we look at the social determinant of health we are most impacted because of a lack of access to resources, housing, health care and education across the board. Nothing has changed, and we are still fighting for our Civil Rights and we still are at a place where anti-Blackness flows through all systems and so for LGBT people of color it is more relevant because as sexual minorities we are still navigating marginalization, oppression and we also navigating homophobia and the stigma associated with our sexuality.
Q: June is Pride Month. What activities or events does In Our Own Voices have planned to celebrate?
A: We are having (had) our pride kick off celebration and a raising of the Pride Flag in the City of Albany on June 1 and we are excited about that. We do that in collaboration with the Capital Region Pride Center and the City of Albany. And on June 3, Washington Park is having their second annual flag raising in the park. Last year the first time the flag…flew in Washington park so that is very exciting. We are putting together Say it Loud. A Black and Latino gay pride on June 12 at the Jericho Drive In and now that the governor has lifted restrictions, we are more excited because we were going to have to celebrate in their own pods and with our own groups. But, now other vaccinated people can interact with each other.
Q: You have been advocating for the LGBT community for a long time. What is the most significant step made towards equality since you have been involved.
A: I’m really proud of transgender and non-conforming folks being able to change their birth certificate markers. That was huge. More trans led originations are being funded and most recently the walking while trans bill got passed and when GENDA (Gender Expression Anti-Discrimination Act) passed, that was huge. Those are the most significant things I have seen. I know it’s funny, the average person would say ‘what about gay marriage,’ but gay marriage speaks to class, so for LGBT and sexual monitories, when we look at people of color that was not their top priority. Human and Civil Rights are a top priority. They are all things that really impacted Black and brown community.
Q: What do you say to a young person who may be reluctant about coming out about his or her sexuality.
A: I think it is important to gauge your support systems. If you have them. Ask yourself, ‘is it safe.’ We have young people we have set up sessions for and we bring in family members and they utilize in your own voices as a support system. Some people, like myself, have never had to come out growing up. I have come out more as a CEO of an organization than I did in my youth. Safety is the number one thing, and secondly we have services at In Our Own Voices that will help with the coming out process if you choose to come out.
Q: Is there a Civil Rights leader you look up to and/or try to emulate and why?
A: Barbara Smith, Carmen Vasquez, who is local, and Loretta Ross. They are my top three because their focus is on how you mobilize communities to address injustices and to really put equity at the top. Carmen mentored me, until he passed away from COVID. Equality is the floor of everything but what we want to be as a community is the ceiling, and that is justice. When I think about doing this work it is not about one single person, it is really about obtaining liberation and justice for our people, which are those most marginalized, and until we move those folks to the center we will continue to be in a fight for justice. You can always tell when the work is about justice, when it becomes less about themselves and not about calling people out but calling people in to have a conversation. I don’t do many interviews, but I thought, as an LGBT people who lives in Loudonville, and I am the only person on my street who is a person of color it might be good for a young person who lives in Colonie to read this and see there are resources out here.
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