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“Sway” Your Way Into the Future!

Josue “Sway” Laboy is one of my favorite young heros. He’s courageous, kind, talented, powerfully vulnerable, committed to growth and honey, he is FABULOUS. He is also a performance artist crossing fields from poetry to drag. He is also doing an awesome event at Parliament in Royal Square on Friday, July 31st to open up Equality Fest weekend, a performance piece called “The Bedroom Sessions”. (https://www.facebook.com/events/1465323607100642/). I wanted to find out more about the debut of his new piece and also find out a bit more about this hometown hero’s story of courage and self-acceptance. Meet Sway.

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The idea has been steaming for about a couple of years now, and with everything that has happened these past few months, years, in terms of equality; it gave me the push I needed to get this out there in some way. It comes from many corners of my life and shows how, through everything, the time I spent in my bedroom was crucial. I created my own realm of possibility. A piece of that will be shared during the show. Or, rather an idea of it.

I feel as though a performance piece is a medium where nothing is defined. What you come to see, is an artistic expression of someone’s vulnerability and strength. To me, it allows a person to draw from many avenues of expression and make it their very own, whether for inventive or reinvention purposes.

For the audience, I would like them to feel as if they can embrace their sexuality. Accept the things that make them uncomfortable, and hopefully leaving with a sense of exploring those parts they keep hidden. For me, its a step into the future. I’ve been setback not only by natural occurrences but by fear itself. You never know how much fear can imbed itself into your creative process, stopping you breathless until you face it and shake the nerves that come with it.

Not a small challenge…but for Sway it’s one worth taking on. As a very young man he realized he was gay but Sway experienced an array of responses from the different schools, foster families and members of his birth family as he went through the layered process of coming out to those close to him.

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As a little kid, I loved music and would do a performance every once in a blue moon for my mom or few family members. My next door neighbors encouraged me further. While in foster care, the first family I lived with were a glorious bunch, who not only encouraged me but supported me as well. The second time I lived with them, I came out. They showed me acceptance at a greater level than when I came out to close friends, although that too was just as special.

When I was 14, after being out for about half a year, I had experienced a tremendous blow to my reality and quickly slipped into a depression. I moved down to Florida to live with my father, who I can out to after five months. My friends at school were kind and I rarely had issues. Two months later, I moved home with my mother during winter of ’06. We argued over difference in beliefs and acceptance. We’re much better now, as we’ve accepted each others “differences”.

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So what do you want people to know when they come and see you perform, or hear you read poetry? What would you let other young people know who are going through their own journey of self-discovery?

I would like them to know that there’s always a new day, and only you can make it better. Words exchanged can relieve many of our emotions but if we get caught up in them, we can’t face the inevitable truth. We’re all human and equal, regardless of our masculinity or femininity. Accept yourselves for who you are, as well as others, because with positive action and attention, comes miracles. You’ll be let down at times, of course. But if another is not there to lend a hand, even though there will be – give yourself the hand up that has always been there, to guide you every which way.

Equality Fest Is Coming (and the bigwigs are in total support)!!!!

Yes, I am gonna keep talking about it until it happens because I am so excited. On Sunday, August 2, 2014 from 12:00pm – 6:00pm, the 2nd annual Equality Fest inspired by the historic passage of marriage equality in Pennsylvania in 2014 and this year celebrating the passage of marriage equality nationwide, will occur in the Royal Square neighborhood of downtown York City as a street fair along the 100 block of East King Street between South Duke Street and South Queen Street (which will be closed that day). This event is free and open to the public and last year had more than 2,000 attendees.

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This year the celebration will kick off inside the newly refurbished special event venue, The Bond, where the Equality Wedding Expo will be held throughout the festival. Mayor C. Kim Bracey with open the festival, State Representatives, Kevin Schreiber and Brian Sims (of Philadelphia) will host and representatives from York City Council will present a proclamation honoring the festival as part of the gender-free group wedding between 12:00pm and 1:15pm. How awesome is that, having such supportive, bold, modern and progressive leaders in our community!

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This year we have 7 amazing couples, including attorneys, firefighters and parents, who will be either taking or renewing their vows within the Equality Fest setting. The couples will even be receiving amazing wedding gifts from local retail stores and restaurants like Cherie Anne’s, Kimman’s and The Left Bank. Not too shabby, huh?

For more information on the event, please visit our updated website with a complete list of vendors and performers at http://www.equalityfestyork.com or for daily updated information, check facebook.com/equalityfestyork.

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Equality Fest Is Coming!!!!

Yup, shameless promotion of my favorite annual event in York. I love a lot of York events, so that is saying a lot!

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On Sunday, August 2, 2014 from 12:00pm – 6:00pm, the 2nd annual Equality Fest will occur in the Royal Square neighborhood of downtown York City as a street fair along the 100 block of East King Street between South Duke Street and South Queen Street (which will be closed that day). Inspired by the historic passage of marriage equality in 2014, Equality Fest is a day long, family friendly arts, culture and community festival, focused on celebrating equality and inclusion for all residents in the City of York, regardless of race, religion, age, economic background, mental or physical ability, gender, gender expression or sexual orientation. The event will be free and open to the public. Last year more than 2,000 citizens attended the festival and this year is promising to be bigger and better than ever! The festival will feature:

The Democratic Party of York County Main Stage
The York County Young Democrats Interactive Youth & Family Area and Demonstration Stage
The Heidelberg United Church of Christ Fine Art Fair
The Bond Wedding and Event Venue’s Equality Wedding Expo (Inside the Bond Building)
The Family First Health Wellness Garden (Inside King’s Courtyard Artist Collective)
The Equality Fest Food Court
More than 50 community based retail and informational vendors or displays
and a beautiful gender free group wedding & vow renewal in the beautifully decorated Bond Building!

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Couples who wish to legally marry as part of the festival must register for a County of York marriage license and also contact equalityfestyork@gmail.com by Monday, July 20th. Participation in the marriage ceremony will be limited.
Sponsoring organizations include The Bond, Parliament, Central Voice Newspaper, The Democratic Party of York County, York County Young Democrats, Community Arts Ink, Heidelberg United Church of Christ, and Pennsylvania State Representative Kevin Schreiber.

This is going to be a wonderful event so please visit the website at http://www.equalityfestyork.com or for daily updated information, check facebook.com/equalityfestyork. I’ll see you there!

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Coming Soon to a YORK Near You…An LGBT Center!

You can’t talk LGBT ANYTHING in Central Pennsylvania without talking to Louie Marven. He is the dapper, dashing young director of the LGBT Center of Central PA. He has had dinner with the Vice President, headlined swanky fundraisers and logged more time running festival booths than any other gay man in the commonwealth, no doubt! It’s a pretty impressive resume of both accomplishment and activism for a young man who was barely in his mid-20s when he took the job. Now comfortable (but never resting!) in the work the Center has been doing since it’s official launch in 2007, Louie has overseen the successful growth of a physical space for the Center’s work in Harrisburg. What’s up next for the Center though? A York satellite center with programming specific to and serving the York area right here in our little city! Look for it in the Fall of 2015. I couldn’t wait though, I wanted to chat with Louie right now!

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What is your role with the LGBT Center. What do you do as part of your job and what types of activities do you get to do?

I’m the executive director, so I’m responsible for the overall financial and operational management of the organization. Since we are pretty small, I have the opportunity to experience work at all levels of the organization, from working with the board to set policy to facilitating our weekly youth drop in meetings. I also represent the organization publicly and through community education, which gives me the chance to help our region better understand LGBT people and our experiences. That’s something I love to do, and I feel particularly honored to be entrusted with that task.

What do you see as the Center’s role within South Central PA? How would you like to see it grow or change over the next 5 years?

I see the Center as a place for people to enter into the LGBT communities and to get social opportunities, education, and support. I think we are a place where the community can say “I wish THIS existed in our community, and I’m going to be part of creating that” and that wish can become a reality. Our women’s group is a great example of that. Over the next five years, I see us expanding our impact throughout our eight-county service area by offering programming in satellite locations away from our home base in Harrisburg.

What struggles have you had with your position there, both within the organization and within bringing the organization to the community?

Funding is certainly a struggle! We have lots of individuals who give $5, $10, $20, $50, and even $100 a month to support our work year-round. These folks provide the core of what sustains our work over the long haul. We need more people to do this! Another struggle, which I think is a good struggle, is the effort to always be honing our message and making sure that we are communicating the best, most accurate, most up-to-date, most inclusive messages about our LGBT communities when we represent our communities through education, training, and media.

I think we need to remember that we are an LGBT community movement, not a marriage movement. People who want to get married should absolutely celebrate, but we should not be tricked into thinking the work is over! I think some of the biggest issues have to do with dealing with some of our “stuff” within the community. I think it’s relatively easy to recognize when “outsiders” are hurting us, but we aren’t always that wonderful to ourselves. We need to create truly inclusive and anti-racist spaces, deal with violence within our communities, advocate for trans health care, care for our homeless youth, and make sure that our elders are treated with dignity as they age.

Do you get to have a life outside of the Center? What else are you interested in, what do you do for fun or to relax?

I’m laughing as I read this! This work happens at strange hours, so lots of my life is related to my work at the Center. Besides that, I love making a home with my partner Shaun, running along the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg, and attempting a container garden in my city backyard. A dirty secret is that I have a few fantasy baseball teams. I met my partner at FAB 2009, which was our gala! So I’d say my work here has majorly impacted my dating and family life. Working here has given me a platform to meet all kinds of people, and I am especially grateful for that. I’ve met some of my best friends through their volunteer work with the Center.

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Even though you’re the big, bag, executive director, I loved to see that you still are the lead facilitator for “Common Roads”, the teen group at the Center. Is working with students a special mission for you? What’s your coming out story?

In high school and college I was involved in faith communities that were not necessarily of the open and affirming variety. I didn’t even let my mind “go there” in terms of thinking of myself as having a queer identity. I went to Messiah College, and despite a mostly positive experience I just didn’t feel like that would be a safe place to come out. Somewhere over the course of my college tenure I simply decided that I’d come out after I graduated. After that, it’s pretty non-dramatic! But I do feel like my entire life as the director of the LGBT Center is an ongoing coming out story.”

Louie with the Common Roads students on a night I visited to do a presentation about marriage equality.
Louie with the Common Roads students on a night I visited to do a presentation about marriage equality.

National Marriage Equality…What Next?

Yessssssssss! President Obama and Vice President Biden racing down a classically arched walkway, rainbow flags galloping freely upon freedom’s breeze. Passion’s still golden glow in the eyes of an elderly couple with more than 50 years together under their belts as they clutch gnarled fingers around a newly minted marriage license. Here in York I was at a “suit and tie” conference at a prestigious local college and the lunchtime keynote halted buzzing Tweeters amidst a sea of rainbow soaked Facebook notifications to lead the room in a rousing cheer. At a lunch meeting the next day the (straight!) woman I was talking to about it couldn’t stop the welling tears of joy and she spoke in emotional but still strident tones about her pride being an American in 2015. I admit, I might have been a little mushy myself. I might have even played Obama singing Amazing Grace on YouTube 2 or 3 or 50 times whispering “That’s MY president and my Supreme Court and my country! Halleluia!” to myself. It’s been a few days now though. The initial adrenaline rush has been reabsorbed into fatigued muscles that have been fighting for marriage equality on a national level for a generation. We have a moment to lay our heads against the crumbling monument of Stonewall and just…breathe. Then we ask ourselves the inevitable…what next?

My response would be it affects me only in spirit of hope that we are more accepted and have more rights now because of it. It does not affect my condition of wedding, have no likely proposals headed my way still. Over 30 million people worldwide, according to the news, used the Facebook [rainbow] profile pic filter. That is a great realization of acceptance and love by and for our community. It makes me happy that my married friends can now move wherever they want in the nation, and have the same rights. I know that as time goes on the controversy will settle and we will also gain non-discrimination rights. – James Sawor

I think that for Pennsylvania officially it’s one step closer, however in a few larger cities health care and job security still does not exist. So it’s a good positive step towards rolling conversation towards true equality. Also some state reps are still completely clueless as to what exactly the argument may be. It’s not about the church, it’s about social and human rights and being acknowledge under law, more than anything. – Susan Brown

Even our “straight but not narrow” allies are weighing in, many more than ever before, to show and share their support of equality for EVERYONE.

[There is] still a lot of work to do….the LGBTQ community still need the anti-discrimination laws put in place so that you can’t get fired, evicted, etc for being your authentic selves. – Keri Leamen

In fact, although many LGBT activists and community members like Elena Damrauer are still basking in the sunshine of a new day –

I am excited to know that if and when I decide to marry a partner worthy of the rest of my life I can love anywhere and it’s recognized. It’s amazing all around. I never ever thought I would be alive to see this… And I’m thankful I am! – Elena Damrauer

it is just as likely that the supportive, excited, and joy-filled celebrants won’t be personally affected by marriage equality at all. The Ally community is vocally and excitedly on board. So why the widespread and cross orientation excitement?

I think it contributes to a sense of national pride for me. We, as Americans have an international reputation for being loud, obnoxious and egocentric. I get that and generally concur. I am proud of this accomplishment and see it as social evolution for us. – Nancy Yaeger

As Mickie Singer couldn’t help literally singing out…

Birds in the sky, you know how I feel…. It’s a new day, it’s a new life for me!

Yes, we still have a LOT of work to do with transgender awareness and activism, with LGBT healthcare and with discrimination laws. We still need to ban conversion therapy and do sensitivity training in schools and childcare and community centers and with law enforcement. We still need reconciling churches and adoption reform. But for today, just for today… I’m feeeeeeling good.

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