Friday, July 19, 2024
InterviewsLocalNew York

Celebrating 30+ years of volunteer work and activism with James Young

Located in White Plains, New York, The LOFT is a non-profit, community-based organization serving the LGBTQ+ community of the Lower Hudson Valley.

The LOFT works to further inclusion, diversity, and pride through advocacy, education, and of course, celebration!

A key celebration for the organization is the annual LOFT Gala which returns as an in-person event on September 30 after a three-year hiatus. The Gala is a fundraising event where people get to dress up, mix, mingle, and have a night out with other queer folks in the community. The funds generated through ticket sales and the auctions keep The LOFT going and help fund the vital services and programs the center provides.

The Gala is also an opportunity for The LOFT to recognize people and organizations who have done outstanding work for the local LGBTQ+ community in the Lower Hudson. This year the Edie Windsor & Thea Spyer Equality Award will be presented to New York State Assemblymember Amy Paulin, the Business/Community Ally Award to The Leonard-Litz LGBTQ Foundation and The LOFT’s Ally Award to volunteer and activist James Young; whom we’ve previously featured in Queer Forty (links below).

We recently had a chance to catch up with James (he/they) to discuss this prestigious award and all the amazing work they’ve been doing for our community.

Queer Forty: Hi James! Congrats on your award! I see you’ve been very busy! Tell us, what does it mean to you to be awarded with the 2022 LOFT Ally Award?

James Young: Firstly, I am confused!!  There are so many wonderful people doing so many things in the community that I just don’t know how my name came up at all in this discussion.  I understand that I was voted unanimously by the staff (heresay), but I don’t see why.  This obviously is a “me” issue.  And even though they announced this last year (the gala was postponed due to covid) I am still in disbelief that they chose me.

That out of the way, being awarded The LOFT’s 2022 Ally Award is a humbling experience.  Sure, I volunteer with The LOFT and have been doing it for over 3 decades, but I assume that is what many people do.  30+ years ago, The LOFT was run only by volunteers, and they did what they could do to keep the lights on so that people would have a place to meet and connect.  If it were not for those volunteers then (some of which, I assume, are still involved with The LOFT) I wouldn’t have been able to find a queer community and my own queer identity.  Indirectly, they saved me from a life of isolation, internalized hate, and constant confusion. So, what does this award mean to me?  I suppose it may mean that I am now one of those volunteers I used to look up to.  And if others see me in that way, well, then that is really quite an honor.

James acting as a co-host (as a member of the Westchester County LGBTQ Advisory Board) of Westchester Pride 2022 with County Executive George Latimer, The LOFT Executive Director Judy Troilo and White Plains Mayor, Tom Roach  

Queer Forty: Yes, it must be. I read that you’ve been involved with The LOFT since you were 17?? How exactly did they help you?

James Young: When I was 17, I was living on my own in New Rochelle.  Having the support of The LOFT and the friends I made from there helped mold me into a socially conscious activist and advocate.  However, that is really a professional sounding answer. 

On a personal level, I was so alone and lonely, not just because I was a queer young person of color, but because I was living on my own as a teen.  The intersectionality of my various identities coupled with the ongoing microaggressions lead me to feel ostracized and unwanted.  Without emotional security, I struggled with my self-esteem.  Without proper adult support, I struggled with my identities.  And without financial security, I worked 2-3 jobs to make ends meet and struggled to hang on in school.  To me, the world, and all the people in it, were happy and loved, and I was not allowed to be either.    

However, after finding The LOFT, I was enveloped with care and concern along with all kinds of parental advice from compassionate people.  In sum, I found my tribe. 

Queer Forty: Beautiful, and can you describe your volunteer work with The LOFT?

James Young: Besides the “just be a good citizen” kind of volunteer opportunities that include finding donations for The LOFT and holding events in my home; I’ve been involved with several programs and initiatives through the years.

In 1992 I started the first LGBT Youth Group called Open Doors, which is now called Center Lane and is run by WJCS. I currently facilitate the GBTQ+ men’s group and work with The Rainbow Clubhouse.

I’ve also had the pleasure of initiating or reinitiating all sorts of programs for the center including:

VegOUT,  a monthly vegan potluck social group at The LOFT.  This program has been on pause since the start of COVID.

CALM (Centered at LOFT Meditation) was a program at The LOFT years ago.  At the start of the pandemic, The LOFT asked me to bring it back, and because I co-founded Queery, another non-profit that frequently works with The LOFT, this program is also called Queer Zen Meditation. The group is a collaboration between The LOFT and Queery.

QCBC (Queer Community Book Club): I started QCBC because I wanted to read Transgender History and I also knew that I needed some accountability.  Without it, I would start the book and then it would sit on the shelf with so many other books I started and never finished.  Since then, we have read 5 books in this community. This program is also a collaboration between The LOFT and Queery.

-Then as the program director at Queery (a volunteer position), we designed Queerphoria Affirmation Cards (curated and designed by nonbinary artists) as well as Queermark Cards.  A portion of the proceeds from these products is donated to The LOFT’s TransMission program.  I am proud to say we have donated thousands of dollars to that program over the years.

Queer Forty: Wow! That’s impressive! Thank you for taking that all on for the community. It’s such important work. Would you mind refreshing our readers on exactly what Queery does?

James Young: Queery is an art-based primary violence prevention organization that attempts to make queer theory (an academic sociological social conflict theory) accessible and fun. 

In addition to the initiatives described above, we also create campaigns that are aimed at long term change, but with concrete steps for today.  For example, our Queery Pronoun Challenge, which Queer Forty featured a couple years ago , asks people to share and respect people’s pronouns.  The concrete steps?  Introduce yourself with your pronouns and add them to your emails and socials.  Long term goal, a shift in culture where everyone shares and respects pronouns making it easier for people who identify within the TGNCNB communities to be seen, and more importantly be respected.

Over the last year, the QPC project has really made a mark.  Monroe College’s President Jerome adds his pronouns now and so does Westchester County Executive George Latimer.

James with Angel Elektra and Kitty KaBoodlez at the #queerypronounchallenge booth at Yorktown Pride

Queer Forty: That’s truly amazing. We were super excited about the initiative the first time we spoke to you about it and couldn’t be happier for its success. So, with all this volunteer work happening, do you get any time to pursue other interests?

James Young: Oh yes!!  Most recently I started writing, recording and producing queer-informed music and performing it as I.Den.t.T at various Pride events this year, as we discussed back in May.

Queer Forty: That’s right! Tell us a bit more about I.Den.t.T.

James Young: Well, I.Den.t.T uses they/them pronouns and has dreamed of performing ever since they were a child. They have been writing various forms of songs and poems, but never really had the chance to share them with the world until now.

Since December, I’ve had the privilege to release 3 songs: “Take a Breath”, “No Boundaries”, and “Queerphoria”. I hope you will take a moment to listen to them on your favorite streaming platform.

Queer Forty: We absolutely will! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us James and congrats again on the award!! Keep up the good work.

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John Hernandez

John A. Hernandez is a staff writer for Queer Forty with a focus on entertainment. He is also a writer for Vacationer Magazine and a contributor to Bear World Magazine and Gayming Magazine. He has a special love for all things horror and Halloween. He currently resides with his husband in New York City.

John Hernandez has 135 posts and counting. See all posts by John Hernandez

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