Part four of a series. Over the course of performances for La Cage Aux Folles, our engagement team has highlighted the lives of some of the leaders of Rochester’s LGBTQ+ community in our lobby. But if you weren’t there every week, you will have missed someone! So this series of blog posts celebrates their contributions.
Artist, filmmaker, and community organizer Adrian Elim is a vanguard at the intersection of LGBTQ and Black identities. Elim is the creative force behind ROC Black Pride. After reflecting on the fact that queer and trans people of color have often remained marginalized, targeted for violence, and unheard even as LGBTQ acceptance for white, cisgender folks has increased, Elim spawned the idea to foster safe and bold spaces for “black and brown folks” under the LGBTQ umbrella. Elim says that for people of color there is no separation between cultural, racial identity and sexual orientation and gender identity. Rather than continue to fight for theirs and thousands of other Rochesterians identities to be better represented at the historically white-run and white-focused Pride, Elim decided to craft their own community celebration event. They hosted a series of black-centered parties during ROC Pride weekend in 2015, and the following year put out a call for an open planning and collaboration session. Those meetings and the collaborators they drew led to the first official Rochester Black Pride in 2016. Since then, the festival has grown exponentially. Earlier this month the annual event included a jubilant opening ceremony, a series of concerts, dance parties, a fashion show, and the annual Vogue Rochester party and competition, an homage to the LGBTQ Ballroom Scene historically founded and kept alive by queer people of color.
Chloe Corcoran was an educator with Trans Rochester Speaks until her recent move from Rochester to Los Angeles. The project seeks to draw together the voices of trans activists and advocates to redsicover and celebrate the often-hidden history of Rochester’s transgender community. A graduate of the University of Rochester who studied political science and history, Corcoran later returned to the campus to serve as Associate Director of Alumni Relations from 2017 to 2019, working with alumni on identity, affinity, and diversity programming. Her career has led her to various positions in higher education in cities across the East Coast, but once back in Rochester she worked tirelessly in Advancement and Development. She used these skills in her invaluable volunteer role as the Chair of the Board’s Development Committee at the Out Alliance. She is also enrolled at the Warner School of Education in pursuit of her doctorate degree in higher education, focusing on diversity and inclusion issues.
Miles Perry is a Program Assistant at the Paul J. Burgett Intercultural Center at the University of Rochester. A student of both Public Health and International Relations, Perry is passionate about community empowerment through advocacy and outreach. He has lived in Rochester his entire life and previously attended Greece Arcadia High School. While there he was one of two local winners of the Princeton Prize in Race Relations for his work to establish a high school class on diversity and a club called MOSAICS where students could explore deeper understanding of various cultures and identities. Perry was a key player in creating a more racially and culturally supportive environment in his school, and has taken that mission with him outside of his academic experience. Perry is also the only student in the history of U of R’s annual Student Life Awards (also called “the Rockys”) to be recognized for individual leadership two years in a row. When he is not working at the Intercultural Center or otherwise shaping campus culture he can often be found writing or performing poetry. He currently serves as the Head Laureate for the oral performance group known as No Disclaimers.
Rowan Collins is an LGBTQ+ educator and activist and a pioneer of the now nationally used and recognized SafeZone programming, the flagship resource for effective LGBTQ awareness and allyship. Collins co-wrote the curriculum for schools and employers in 2015 while serving as the Education Coordinator for the Out Alliance. He traveled to 27 states within the first two years of releasing the program to present it to various organizations and institutions across the country, sometimes delivering the training pro bono in communities where it was especially needed. In partnership with other dedicated individuals at the New York Chapter of the ACLU, Collins has also been instrumental in the drafting and lobbying of a bill to mandate appropriate treatment of trans students in academic settings. Collins transitioned at a time when the visibility of and resources available for trans youth were minimal, and he has dedicated much his life to helping ensure that those who embark on a similar journey to his do not feel alone.
Zariah Williamson is a youthful yet relentless voice for change in Rochester, NY. Her activism primarily centers on youth empowerment, advocacy for women of color, and community strengthening for LGBTQ indivduals. As a teen, Williamson collaborated with both the Lesbian Task Force and the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) to make schools safer for young children who may be experiencing homophobic or transphobic bullying. She also partnered with the Out Alliance on the coordination teams for ROC Pride and ROC Black Pride, describing her goal as bridging the gap between the wider LGBTQ community and LGBTQ people of color and reminding the wider community that “intersectionality is a crucial place to start a dialogue for change.”
Carol Ebersole-Weiss is a member of the national board of governors for the Human Rights Campaign, and the Western New York coordinator of the Human Rights Campaign of Greater New York. As a member of the HRC’s leadership, Ebersole-Weiss is forced to look the issues most threatening to LGBTQ individuals in the face and be a part of social and legislative action to protect communities against them. Her focus lately has been on “Religious Freedom” legislation that seeks to allow employment and housing discrimination against LGBTQ individuals, as well as the notorious “Bathroom Bills” targeting transgender schoolchildren. In spite of this often thankless work, Ebersole-Weiss still believes in the power of stories to transform the future. “Share your stories,” she urges, “Change hearts and minds.” She is also a preserver of history, speaking at various community organizations and academic institutions on the progression of the gay and trans rights movements throughout past decades, a journey which while it still may have far to go is one of triumph and overcoming odds. Carol Ebersole-Weiss is a ceaseless example in Rochester, Western NY, and the nation of what it means to fight the good fight with hope.
Colleen Raimond is a lifelong Rochester native who now works as the LGBTQ Coordinator for student life at the University of Rochester. In this role at the Paul J. Burgett Intercultural Center, Raimond boasts “the best job in the world” where she gets to work every day with the future of our community and has an opportunity to focus her work on the many issues facing community members who are minoritized and at intersections within the community. A passionate activist, they are known for their crowd-energizing speeches at rallies. Raimond is also the current President of the Board of Directors at the Out Alliance where she helps the organization with its mission of educating allies and cultivating spaces for all people to be their most authentic selves. Prior to joining the team at U of R, Raimond was an attorney, focusing her pro bono practice on assisting transgender and gender variant folks in obtaining legal name changes. She does her part in guiding LGBTQ individuals to holistic support in the social, educational, and legal spheres of their lives.
Kamryn Jerrel is the co-founder of LEGION, the League for Equity of Gender In Our Neighborhoods. The organization is dedicated to employment equality, housing equality, and rapid response for Trans and Gender Expansive people in the Rochester area. Jerrel has worked with at risk homeless youth and specifically with trans youth for years and is a longtime worker and volunteer at the St. Joseph Neighborhood Center. As a public speaker and activist, she is constantly calling out the local and global community for its abandonment of trans people, describing herself as a defender of true intersectionality. “I stand when I am told to sit. I speak when expected to sit in silence. If the masses would look past us, then we will fight on our own, for our own. We are LEGION.”