Excelsior College staff participates in community events, volunteer time, and serve on civic organization boards and committees. The board members of In Our Own Voices include three staff members: Peter O’Brien, instructional designer; Rob Waters, the School of Public Service dean; and Dorcey Applyrs, the School of Health Sciences faculty program director.
The purpose of Excelsior Life’s Passionate Pursuits is to help shine a light on faculty and staff successfully balancing work, home and family – just like our students.
Excelsior Life: Can you tell us more about In Our Own Voices (I.O.O.V) mission and services they provide to the community?
In Our Own Voices grew from the joint efforts of three social action groups: the Feminist Action Network (FAN), Sisters and Brothers in the Life (SABIL), and the Gay Men of Color Alliance (GMOCA). Later, they were joined by the Social Justice Center. These organizations came together initially to encourage other human and civil rights groups to broaden their agendas to include the issues that affect LGBT people of color. Today, In Our Own Voices is dedicated to addressing the many needs of the LGBT community across seven counties in New York (Albany, Greene, Montgomery, Columbia, Saratoga, Rensselaer and Schenectady).
Their mission is to work for and ensure the physical, mental, spiritual, political, cultural and economic survival and growth of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of color communities.
The organization operates as a host and sponsor to a number of programs and services:
- Capital Region LGBT Anti-Violence Project – Aims to improve domestic violence and crime victim services to members of the LGBT community through advocacy, education, training and direct services.
- TransCare – An HIV prevention program that provides transgender and gender non-conforming people of color culturally specific resources for adequate healthcare treatment, advocacy around discrimination and support services for sexual violence, hate crimes and other trauma they have experienced.
- Ask-A-Lawyer Legal Clinic – Free, private confidential legal consultation on civil issues related to name changes, domestic disputes, discrimination, family law and more.
- Health Care Kits & HIV Testing – Personal hygiene/safer sex kits for LGBT individuals and families and free, confidential HIV testing.
- Annual Black & Latino Gay Pride Events – Host of the annual event, including a Health and Wellness Expo, sober dance, family friendly activities, and safe space for positive social interaction.
Excelsior Life: How did you get involved with this organization?
O’Brien: I attended events in the Albany area. I became interested and learned of an opportunity to interview for their board of directors.
Applyrs: I became familiar with this organization when I worked as the Director of Programs and Operations for the Capital District African American Coalition on AIDS (CDAACA). Many of the community members receiving HIV prevention services at CDAACA also frequented IOOV for services.
Waters: I only recently joined the Board of Directors. I was quite interested in joining the Board because I believe that In Our Own Voices is engaged in critically important work on behalf of the LGBT community in the Capital Region- especially LBGT people of color who sometimes feel marginalized by society and are often underserved by traditional organizations.
Excelsior Life: If there was one topic on diversity that you would like to create awareness about, what would it be?
Applyrs: Diversity is an umbrella term that unfortunately many people associate with racial/ethnic diversity solely. By doing so, subpopulations such as the LGBT community are left out of conversations regarding inclusion. Failure to apply diversity to the LGBT community or people with disabilities perpetuates marginalization.
O’Brien: LGBT identifying individuals and especially those who are persons of color may have healthcare and wellness needs and challenges which overlap but are not identical to other communities.
Waters: I would say the topic of youth and diversity. Our young people are fantastic. However, many face significant social, economic, and health challenges and would benefit from organizations like IOOV – and mentorship from successful adults of all backgrounds.
Excelsior Life: Volunteering in the community is so important. How can others help educate on issues impacting the LGBT community?
Applyrs: Attending community events hosted by IOOV and other LGBT serving organizations is a great way to learn and get involved. One of the primary goals of these events is to reduce discrimination while raising awareness about the unique assets and needs of the community.
Waters: By volunteering with an organization such as In Our Own Voices. And through continuous dialogue, especially with friends, family, and colleagues at work as appropriate. I believe that what has made all the difference in the LGBT community in the last 30 years is people coming out of the shadows and being open within their communities.
O’Brien: Individuals can help educate the community on issues impacting the LGBT community in at least two ways:
1.) Acknowledge and recognize the historic challenges and future achievements among local, national and international LGBT communities.
2.) Partner with groups such as In Our Own Voices to plan and host workshops to enhance our abilities to recognize and respond to the needs of LGBT community.