New advisory board acts as liaison between LGBTQ community and city government

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Ever since Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh announced the creation of the city’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Council, its members have been trying to determine the council’s mission.

The 19-member council, established Oct. 13, 2021, will serve as a liaison between members of Syracuse’s LGBTQ community and the city government to resolve any issues they may have, according to a press release from the mayor’s office.

“Too often, the interests and concerns of our LGBTQ+ community have been overlooked,” Walsh said in the statement. “The advisory council will help change that and ensure we live up to our vision of being a growing city that embraces diversity and creates opportunity for all.

The creation of four sub-committees – Community Space, Outreach and Education, Business and Employment, and City Policy – ​​will help define the mission and put skilled council members in the community to provide any assistance needed, said Leonardo Sanchez, Board Co-Chair. Members of each subcommittee will bring their years of experience to the community with their specializations, Sanchez said.

The subject area of ​​each sub-committee was chosen following collaborative discussions with members. Each subcommittee is evenly distributed with six or seven members, Sanchez said, and each member can join two subcommittees.

The co-chairs each took two different sub-committees to cover the four areas. Sanchez is in community space and city politics, while the other co-chair, Michael Sgro, is in business and employment as well as education and outreach.

“The idea right now is to hear from our people and our community and access where we need to go,” said Chris Kukenberger, board member and associate professor at Onondaga Community College. “It will help us understand what our long-term mission really is.”

Some community initiatives have already started, Kukenberger said. The council has started a conversation with the Syracuse Police Department to help create new, updated training on working with the LGBTQ population, particularly the transgender population, they said.

While some committees have started their activities, others are still in the process of defining their objectives. The Community Space Committee tried to find an inclusive operations center for members of the LGBTQ community.

The pandemic will make it difficult to find a physical space, Sanchez said. In the meantime, a website will be created to provide the community with direct contact with the council. Council member emails will be made public on the website, which will also have pages with resources for the LGBTQ community and provide updates from the council for greater transparency.

“We don’t want to try to create something that already exists,” said Coran Klavers, associate professor and chair of the English department at Syracuse University. “We want to find out what already exists and know the needs of the community.

Klavers, the only SU faculty on the board, also hopes the university can get involved. She wants to connect the League and the city of Syracuse on council matters and use university resources to provide meaningful assistance to council operations, she said.

While the council’s mission remains open to public input, all members have a common goal of providing representation to those who have not previously had a voice in government.

“We try to break down barriers. I came from New York where you saw all kinds of people of all colors in love, and when I moved here people were shocked that I was married to a man and we were an interracial couple,” Sanchez said. “We want this discomfort and fear that LGBT people have of being themselves to stop.”

Contact Grace: [email protected]

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