My heart is always full when the Pride Parade sets out, especially this year when I saw the Spectrum Health mobile therapy unit ready to go down Elmwood Avenue.
I was a staffer for 31 years, ending with my retirement in 2013, and I can say without hesitation that
Spectrum Health has been an ally since the 1980s. As an out lesbian from 1982, I was welcomed and supported.
I was also valued for my lived experience of LGBTQ life when it could be helpful to other therapists.
Better yet, the Spectrum Health team, even with all the changes in personnel over the years, saw the whole
me. My lesbianism was one small part of that whole.
During the first Pride parade, a small affair in 1988, I never would have thought to invite Spectrum Health to
participate. It was a risk for anyone to walk down the street under a Pride flag in their hometown. I
remember walking down Allen Street and an ally had the “I Am What I Am” anthem from LaCage Aux
Folles blasting from the stereo on their upstairs porch. We literally danced in the streets and sang along.
Politicians joining the parade? Unthinkable. They still hadn’t figured out that we were voters.
Commercial establishments with vans? Again – unthinkable. They didn’t know how many of their
customers with cash dollars were in the parade.
In the world of health care and social services, only Evergreen Health, then called AIDS Community
Services, would have dared. They have long been sponsors of Pride Festival, but were they on hand that
year? I can’t remember any organization backing this little band of marchers.
Even the movement as a whole was a shadow of its current self. We were lesbian, gay and bi-sexual
then. Trans, queer, and all the other initials in use today were yet to be seen.
Compare that to what you see now. Evergreen has been joined by M & T Bank in sponsoring the festival.
We open the celebration with a Progress Pride flag-raising in Buffalo and Niagara Falls with politicians all
around. And the parade is full of organizational and corporate well-wishers. Spectrum Health’s mobile therapy unit is joined by a raft of others from the non-profit world, as well as commercial ventures from the likes of Verizon and Ingram Micro and local small businesses, too. Politicians take to the streets.
Some marchers bring a tear to my eye — like the PFLAG group (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and
Gays) with their declarations of love for their children and wave after wave of school kids under the
banners of their GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) chapters.
Our world is forever changed.
Spectrum Health retiree