Buffalo-- Robert Roush, Executive Director of GLYS WNY Inc., has a thing for history, identity and roots. “It may be one of the strangest years in history, so that’s why it’s so very important to recognize LGBTQ+ history month this year,” said Roush. “GLYS Western New York has a history that will soon span two generations, and we are the oldest, continuous LGBTQ+ organization in the area. This uniquely positions us to talk about the history of the movement, both locally and nationally,” they added.
Roush, who goes by both he/his and they/them pronouns, notes that a movement that started with violent public backlash and calls of “sin and sickness” has morphed into an international presence that encompasses all races, nationalities and cultures. “And now gender is a matter of decision and choice. If we can decide what gender we are, we can decide who to become in every aspect of our life,” Roush said.
Roush believes that telling your own story, regardless of who you are, empowers other people, not just oneself, and that such empowerment is the only thing that can lead to lasting positive change in our society. GLYS believes that the history of the LGBTQ+ community is a story that we should continue to tell. GLYS is proud to play a small role in the wonderful, diverse story of the LGBTQ+ Rights Movement.
Buffalo, New York has a long standing history in the LGBTQ+ RIghts Movement. In fact, Buffalo had a very prominent queer activist community at the same time as the Stonewall Inn Riots were taking place in New York City. Last year was the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn Riots -- potentially the most well known event in the history of the LGBTQ+ Rights Movement. However, The Stonewall Inn Riots are incorrectly assumed to be the birth of the LGBTQ+ Rights Movement. While that assumption is false, it is not entirely fabricated. The Stonewall Inn Riots were a pivotal moment in determining the trajectory of what we now call the LGBTQ+ Rights Movement, but was previously known as the Homophile Movement and then the Gay Liberation Movement.
The Homophile Movement was what we know as our modern LGBTQ+ Rights Movement in its earliest stages. The aim of the Homophile Movement was to assimilate queer people into heteronormative society through an emphasis on civil rights. This stage of the movement took place during the 1950s to the late 1960s, when homosexuality was illegal and being "out" was extremely dangerous. While the Homophile Movement was generally middle-class and white, working-class queer folks created bar cultures that laid the groundwork for a gay liberation mindset and movement. This was the course of the LGBTQ+ Rights Movement for some time, until the night of June 28, 1969.
The Stonewall Inn Riots was an event that forever changed the trajectory of the LGBTQ+ Rights Movement. The Stonewall Inn was a bar on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, NYC. During the 1960s, it was illegal to be queer -- you could be fired from your job, arrested for disobeying masquerading laws, and be denied service in public establishments. In fact, the New York State Liquor Authority had a rule that one known homosexual in a licensed premises made the place disorderly and their liquor license could be revoked. The Mayor of NYC at the time, John Lindsay, centered his reelection campaign around “cleaning up the street,” essentially, he was attempting to rid queer people from socializing in any public establishment by forcing the NYPD to conduct raids on all known “gay bars” or bars that knowingly served queer patrons -- this is what caused the Stonewall Inn Riots to occur.
Similar to New York City, Buffalo was also undergoing reformations from the state government, around the same time -- just not under a national spotlight. Nelson Rockefeller, Governor of New York State from 1959–1973 campaigned to “clean up corruption in the Buffalo Police Department (BPD).”. The corruption in question was the fact that, in Buffalo, gay bar owners were paying off the BPD so they could operate without harassment — almost identical to how the bar owners in NYC were employing the mafia to pay off the NYPD to ensure their bars were not going to be busted for serving “deviants.”
The BPD was instructed to cut all undercover ties with the gay bar owners and shut them all down. However, once all they gay bars were shut down, the queer Buffalonians no longer had a communal spot to meet. This was a resounding issue for about two years before, finally, Don Licht and some of his friends got together in 1967 and decided something must be done about this situation!
“In May of 1967, we [Jim Haynes and Don Licht] got together. At that time Captain Kennedy of the Vice Squad closed all of the gay bars in the city. And there was basically no place for gays to meet. And for a two year period of time, nobody knew what to do. And ’69 was the Stonewall Riots in New York City….and the two of us had talked and said that something needs to be done. Well in the summer of that year there was a meeting of people at a juice bar. And maybe there were 15 or 20 of us at that meeting. And we were trying to decide what needs to be done and nobody was ready to start anything in the summer of ’69…” — Don Licht
The solution inspired by the parallel events in Buffalo and in New York City was that both communities needed to continue to take action outside of their home communities. In December of 1969 a member of the Buffalo queer community, Jim Garrow, brought the so-called "Father of the Gay Rights Movement" Frank Kameny, to Buffalo to help them with their situation. Frank Kameny is best known for coining the popular slogan, “Gay is Good”, which was inspired by the Black Civil Rights Movement. He was also one of the co-founders of the Washington, D.C. chapter of the Mattachine Society — the first gay rights organization. Kameny spoke and told this group of gay activists how to organize themselves and get started with their own chapter. Thus, the Mattachine Society of the Niagara Frontier (MSNF) was founded officially in 1970, although they started meeting in 1969.
When MSNF disbanded in 1984, the group transformed into several other organizations: AIDS Community Services (now Evergreen), Gay and Lesbian Youth of Buffalo (now GLYS Western New York, Inc.), and a local chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). Just because MSNF disbanded does not imply that activism in Buffalo ceased to exist, but transformed into other organizations to better address the specific needs of the community at that time. In fact many of those offspring organizations are still very active in the Buffalo community today!
This is where GLYS begins -- founded by MSNF members Don Licht & Jim Haynes along with Bob Uplinger, Mark Boser and Robert Frank. GLYS began in 1983 as “Gay & Lesbian Youth of Buffalo” (GLYB) where youth and volunteers met at the Gay & Lesbian Community Center (GLCC) that was located on Delavan Avenue. When the GLCC closed in 1986, the YWCA of WNY on Franklin Street offered to rent GLYB space for its Drop-In Center. In 1994, GLYB changed its name to Gay & Lesbian Youth Services (GLYS) of WNY.
Until 2000 GLYS was a part-time counseling-based organization. After Labor Day in 2000, we opened our doors as a full-time youth development agency. After the YWCA put its building up for sale in 2004, Trinity Church offered to rent space to GLYS. From 2005 to 2017 this is where our Drop-In Center was located, before we outgrew the church basement and relocated to 393 Delaware Avenue, which is still Trinity Church property.
When we moved to Trinity, GLYS offered only its Drop-In Center to LGBTQ+ youth. Our Timothy J. Moran Drop-In Center is still a service that is unique to GLYS! This is an opportunity for youth who identify within the LGBTQ+ spectrum and their allies to hang out and be kids in a safe and accepting environment. Soon, GLYS will make another move to WNY Pride Center at 278 Delaware Avenue - bringing the community back together once again, and making opportunities for more collaboration between LGBTQ+ groups in Buffalo.
For many years, GLYS has been hard at work to earn the “Western New York'' portion of our name. In 2006, GLYS actively began working with schools in the WNY area that had established Gay Straight/Gender Sexuality Alliances (GSAs). We have helped to establish a curriculum which assists schools in developing a safe and inclusive environment for all of their students and encourages creating and maintaining a GSA in your school. Currently, we work closely with 72 schools in the Westen New York area that have established GSAs. Each year we host our GLYS GSA Conference which allows teachers and students from across all 8 counties to interact with one another in a safe, learning rich environment.
In 2009 GLYS established our Youth-In-Care program. We now assist youth in all 8 counties in a variety of ways. GLYS has established relationships with numerous social welfare organizations to provide training and intercession services on behalf of LGBTQ+ youth in care. Many times LGBTQ+ youth face specific or special problems; providing additional empathy and understanding to caregivers allows these challenges to be resolved with greater results to these young people. We are currently affiliated with several local facilities including: BryLin Hospitals, ECMC, Western New York Children's Psychiatric Center: West Seneca and Amherst, Gateway Longview, and Baker Victory Services.
In 2016 we announced that GLYS would be hosting dedicated support groups for youth who identify as transgender, non-binary, or questioning, as well as their parents and caregivers! Before that date, back in 2003, Patti Jones and Kay Patterson were holding a youth only trans discussion/support group during normal DIC hours once a month. Based on the amount of youth interest it was clear to us that we needed to create a group independent from the DIC in order to give these youth the specialized attention they deserved. Since then we have evolved into several variations of trans support groups: we have a Transgender, Non-binary & Questioning Youth Group (available for youth ages 13-21) which meets at the same time as the Parents/Caregivers of Teens Group; the Gender Expansive Kids Group (available for youth ages 5-12) which meets at the same time as the Parents/Caregivers of Kids Group, and a Social Night for youth only, ages 5-21, in appropriate age specific groups.
In 2020, GLYS recognized that after 26 years with the name "Gay & Lesbian Youth Services" this title did not adequately reflect our dedication to LGBTQ+ youth. Many of our youth participants believed the name was too exclusionary for the ever growing and accepting LGBTQ+ community. So, we have officially changed our name to GLYS Western New York, Inc: Growing LGBTQ+ Youth Support.
The GLYS mission is to build affirming cultures and supportive communities for youth of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions. If you are interested or know of any youth who may want to access our services, please contact us by phone at 716.855.0221 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Citation available upon request.