NORTHAMPTON, Mass.—For seventeen years the Valley Advocate, according to its editor, has worked on that special section, now widely recognized in western Massachusetts – the “Best Of Awards.” A select number of area businesses and organizations are inducted into this “recognition” for their work. This year, a very young organization received the “Best Local Activist Honor” for a local activist organization. Such an organization is the LGBT Coalition of Western Massachusetts.
“We are honored and humbled to have been bestowed such a great recognition from our community. It’s great that our hard work and dedication has been recognized!” said Suzanne Seymour, Executive Director. “The more people know we exist, the greater the possibilities are of what we can accomplish, so with that said, we are very happy!”
Holding LGBT youth and adult events in Northampton, Florence, Springfield and Holyoke, the LGBT Coalition has had what appears to be a very busy schedule since the organization came to fruition. Such work seems to have paid off, as the “Best Of” demonstrates.
“The Coalition has been working very hard, since our establishment in 2009, to bring change to our community, and apparently, someone has noticed,” said Seymour.
Second place for the Best “Local Activist Organization” went to National Priorities Project, from Northampton, a financial organization. Third place went to Citizens for the Revitalization and Urban Success of Holyoke (C.R.U.S.H.).
Although Seymour did not know the organizations vying for the award, she was aware of the process of “casting votes” of the preferred organizations.
Since the Coalition won third place in the 2011 Best of the Valley poll, Seymour was hoping that they would move up this year. “First place is such an absolute joy to have received.”
The LGBT Coalition’s work in 2011 and 2012 seem to be what the voters saw when they selected them as the winners for this award. The organization’s commitment to advocacy work for the LGBT community is apparent especially in youth areas and others with special needs.
“Last year we surveyed Western Mass Gay-Straight Alliances to determine what their needs were. We asked, they spoke, we listened!” explained Seymour. “We started off the year celebrating the first-ever National GSA Day in Springfield, with over 100 young people present, from six different Springfield area high schools and two colleges. We are part of the Stop the Hate and Homophobia group which has actively brought attention to local anti-gay minister, Scott Lively. We were also a part of the vigil and march through Springfield to speak out against the false and misleading statements made by Lively regarding LGBT people. As religious belief is often one of the primary reasons cited to justify discrimination against LGBT people, we strongly support and advocate opportunities in which we are able to heal and reclaim our spiritual connection by speaking out against anti-gay rhetoric and addressing discrimination from non-welcoming churches.”
The Coalition continues their advocacy work by facing the primary culprit that leads the LGBT youth to run away from home or even commit suicide—ignorance. With a focus on diverse LGBT populations, the organization is partnering with other well-known institutions to understand the needs of the broader community.
“On May 21, we will be hosting a workshop for parents who may be struggling with accepting their LGBT teenagers,” said Seymour. “We are also currently partnering with the UMass Amherst Stonewall Center to bring forth LGBT diversity training for local businesses, as well as offering an ongoing film and forum series that tackles unique and thought-provoking subjects.”
In the middle of its busiest season, the Coalition also prepares for its biggest annual fundraiser.
“We are gearing up for our annual fall fundraiser, the Rainbow Riverfest, at the Holyoke Canoe Club on September 22, which offers people of all backgrounds an opportunity to see and learn from one another in a safe and welcoming space,” explained Seymour. “All this is taking place and we are not even halfway through the year, so keep an eye on our website for upcoming programs and to discover how you can become involved and get ACTIVE!”
In winning, Seymour states that there is much gratitude to the people, companies and organizations that have believed in them, supported and collaborated with them because they believe in their mission to help LGBT youth in the Valley.
“We’d also like to take a moment to thank Baystate Health, UMASS Stonewall Center, The Rainbow Times, as well as our community partners, for helping us along the way,” Seymour added. “We couldn’t have achieved these early successes without their support!”