Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Nonprofit Spotlight: Alice Austen House

The first time Victoria Munro visited the Alice Austen House, nearly two decades ago for a self-guided tour, she left the museum not knowing that Alice Austen was a lesbian. The museum was a charming building, set with antique furniture, but the appeal ended there. Fast forward to present day, Victoria Munro now serves as the Executive Director, the first lesbian woman to do so, ensuring that the history of Alice Austen is an accurate one, with a narrative that is representative of Austen’s work and her life.

Alice Austen was a Victorian woman born in 1866. Abandoned by her father at an early age, Austen soon moved into her grandparents’ house, which is the house we now know as the Alice Austen House located in Staten Island, New York. Austen lived in the house with several adult relatives, including her mother and uncles, allowing her the autonomy to pursue whatever interests came her way. An early photographer, she was given her first camera at the age of ten by her Uncle Oswald, and taught the chemistry of developing photographs by her Uncle Peter. Over the course of her life, Alice Austen left us with over 8,000 images of a changing and evolving landscape of New York City society.

Like many artists, Austen infused activism into her artwork. “I refer to Alice as an accidental activist,” Munro reflects. “She broke the boundaries of what was acceptable for a Victorian woman and also lived her life as a lesbian.” In addition to her photography, Austen was a founding member of the Staten Island Garden Club. “She was involved in movements that gave women much greater freedoms of dress, expression, and ways of society where women didn’t have to be chaperoned by men.”

Despite the legacy of Austen’s life, her story takes a somber turn towards the end. After living with her partner, Gertrude Tate, for over 30 years, they were eventually separated by poverty and homophobia. Austen lost most of her fortune in the stock market crash of 1929 and was eventually evicted from the House in 1945. Tate’s family allowed her to live with them in Brooklyn, but would not permit Austen to join. Austen was then admitted to the Staten Island Poor House. Austen’s works would later be rediscovered in 1951, when a man named Oliver Jensen found Austen’s photographs for a book he was writing, “The Revolt of the American Woman,” which captured visual imagery of women of different eras. With this rebirth of Austen’s work in the 1960s, the ownership of the Austen home (which was then privately owned) was transferred to the City of New York and the New York Parks Department.

“The dream was to open the house as a museum to represent the life and work of Austen, but also as a platform for photographers, both historic and contemporary, which is what we have today,” Munro shares. Although the Alice Austen House formally opened its doors in 1985, the original narrative represented by the museum excluded Tate’s name, and their relationship was never acknowledged. “The reason why many people don’t know about Alice Austen,” Munro explains, “is because of this lie, or closeting, of Alice. It’s essential to understanding her work and her approach.” 

In 2017, through efforts from the LGBT Historic Sites Project and the National Parks Service, the original 1970 National Register of Historic Places listing was updated to include the LGBT context and significance of the House. After a major renovation, there is now a permanent exhibition to center Austen’s work, as well as her relationship with Tate. “Lesbian woman will revisit the House after the renovation,” Munro states, “and will get emotional because they are now welcomed and have an open acknowledgment of this pre-Stonewall queer history. There’s also active programming with youth, with the hope of inspiring and empowering them through photographic storytelling.” 

Munro also acknowledges the importance of the LGBTQ+ community who supported and fought for this space, and shares how museums can increase access to LGBTQ+ history. “We’re in a very unique position where we’re not a Pride Center, we’re a museum. There’s access there for all ages, all people. We have this ability to educate and be inclusive in a way where we can almost be sneaky, because I can work with teenagers who aren’t out to their family, to their community, and it’s a safe space for them, and to do that through art, it’s very powerful.” 

As the first lesbian Executive Director of the Alice Austen House, Munro recognizes the importance of the LGBTQ+ business community. Although the House is a nonprofit organization, Munro expressed the significance of working with all fields within LGBTQ+ business to understand trends in effectively engaging with the community. “Memberships, like those with nglccNY, are very important. It’s my hope that the membership of the chamber can find out about Alice Austen and know that they have a space that’s for them.”

Victoria Munro

The Alice Austen House provides continuous public programming and multiple physical and digital exhibitions. To learn more, visit www.aliceausten.org.


Written by Michael Venturiello, the founder of Christopher Street Tours, an LGBTQ history organization. Michael is a proud member and Ambassador of nglccNY and sits on the Media and Communications Committee. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

He Is “The Gay Leadership Dude®”

Whether you know him as Steven R. Yacovelli, Ed.D., Dr. Steve, “The Gay Leadership Dude®,” or just Steve, if you’ve ever met him, you’ll remember him for a long time to come. Steve has that kind of positive energy, coupled with incredible experience and wisdom that he wants to share with you and with the world. 

Photo Credit: Steven Yacovelli

Steve began his career in software training with adults back in the pre-Windows days of DOS. This was the beginning of his learning how to communicate with adults. After earning a Master’s in Educational Policy and Leadership Development, he joined Disney Cruise Line, working in the areas of leadership, diversity, and inclusion. While at Disney, Steve also started a “side hustle,” TopDog Learning Group in 2002. TopDog remained in the background until shortly after he was laid off. In 2008, Steve went full-time with TopDog and has never looked back. Today, he and his “TopDoggers” (Steve’s affiliates) serve a global marketplace in the areas of leadership and organizational development, change management and resilience, and inclusion and belonging.

Introducing himself as “The Gay Leadership Dude®” on his website, LinkedIn, and everywhere that he appears, Steve takes being out and proud to a level few others do. His business prospects, his clients, and those who walk away from doing business with TopDog have no question about who Steve is. So, it was not surprising to him when one of his clients approached him in 2017 and asked if TopDog would become a Certified LGBT Business Enterprise; simply put, the client wanted to be able to include their spending with TopDog in their overall Supplier Diversity numbers. Steve attributes his ongoing certification as continuing to help support and grow his business. 

When asked how being so clearly out resonates in the marketplace, Steve replied, “Very well. It’s a way to find like-valued clients. I don’t want to fight clients to help them be more inclusive. I want to work with clients who want to do this but don’t know how. I’ve had people ask, ‘Why do the gay thing?’ I don’t do the gay thing. I just happen to be the gay thing.”

In addition to consulting, coaching, training, giving keynote speeches, advocacy, and serving as a “professional podcast guest,” Steve is an author. His most recent book had its genesis at his first National NGLCC conference; he had a chance encounter with Jenn T. Grace (Publish Your Purpose Press). Jenn started talking about her passion as a publisher and Steve began to share the leadership book that was germinating in his mind. 

While it started as “one of thousands of similar leadership books,” as he began to craft the book, “the little Carrie Bradshaw in me popped up. I couldn’t help but wonder whether there is anything in our collective queer experience that has us look at leadership in a different way or have different opportunities than our straight counterparts.” With some research, Steve came to understand that for many of us, our experience growing up has resulted in the development of six critical leadership competencies: Authenticity, Courage, Empathy, Communication, Relationships, and Shaping Culture. He identifies these as competencies that make a leader different. When interviewed for this article, Steve said, “When you look through a rainbow lens, for example, at authenticity, if I am an out professional or trans person being my authentic self, how much more authentic can I be? That can be used to show what an awesome leader you are, foster trust, all that good stuff. We out ourselves constantly to our colleagues, to others, and that takes courage. If we channel that courage into leadership, we can really do magic.” In the book Pride Leadership: Strategies for the LGBTQ+ Leader to be King or Queen of Their Jungle, Steve takes a deep dive into how the reader (or listener; Steve chose to narrate the book himself, ironically done in the quietest place in his home: the closet!) can apply each of these competencies to make a significant difference in the world around them. 

At the end of the day, Steve is (and describes himself as) a catalyst. “If we are going to foster change, we have to be that catalyst. Whether it is someone reading Pride Leadership or someone hearing something I am saying on stage, hopefully whatever I do fosters meaningful, lasting change.” There is no doubt, Steve Yacovelli, “The Gay Leadership Dude®”, is a catalyst on behalf of the entire LGBTQ+ community.

Written by Brian Gorman, an NGLCC member and an International Coach Federation (ICF) certified professional coach. He brings five decades of change experience and study into every coaching conversation. He has served clients as large as Merck Manufacturing, as well as startups and individual leaders. Brian taps into the core of the matter, helping each person maximize their professional and personal potential. Brian works both one-on-one and with teams. In addition to his writing for nglccNY, Brian is a frequent contributor to Forbes online (https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/people/briangorman/#741ca8535c20) and serves as Managing Editor of Change Management Review. Website: www.TransformingLives.Coach Brian@TransformingLives.Coach


Dr. Steve Yacovelli (a.k.a. “The Gay Leadership DudeTM”) is Owner & Principal of TopDog Learning Group, LLC, a leadership, change management, and diversity and inclusion consulting firm based in Orlando, Florida, USA but with affiliates (“TopDoggers”) throughout the globe. Steve and TopDog provide guidance and solutions in leadership and organizational development, change management, diversity and inclusion consulting, instructional design, and custom e-learning creation. Whether it be through providing keynotes and facilitating leadership development programs for Fortune 500 companies like The Walt Disney Company, Bayer AG, or accenture, to providing one-on-one coaching experiences for groups like IBM, Covestro, and The Public Library Association, or creating engaging, effective training solutions for various delivery formats for folks like Tupperware Brands Corporation, The Ohio State University, and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Steve is passionate about helping others be their best selves, in and out of the workplace

Monday, March 29, 2021

Member Spotlight: Mary Blanchett, Registered Representative/Agent, New York Life Insurance Company, offering securities through NYLIFE Securities LLC

By Carolyn M. Brown

Mary Blanchett has always been driven by a passion and purpose in life to help other people. Right out of high school, during college and beyond she went to work in the long-term care industry where she eventually became a nursing home administrator. 

“I really loved what I did, but the rules kept on changing, making it harder to do good work,” she recalls. “The nursing homes and home care were less and less not-for-profit and more and more for-profit. So, it was a good time to leave back in ’09.”

After spending 27 years in the field, she shifted gears for a career in financial services at the urging of an acquaintance who suggested she help people towards their retirement, so that they don't have to end up in nursing homes. That advice resonated with Blanchett, who had been telling elderly residents to talk to lawyers and advisors about trusts and other financial matters to best secure their money. 

It was through the NGLCC that Blanchett set her sights on New York Life. It was back in 2010 at a chamber mixer where she met Angela Daniels-Lewis, who specialized in recruiting and developing for both the LGBTQ and the Women’s Market at New York Life (now a retired Corporate Vice President after 33 years of service). 

“New York Life has always been very involved with the NGLCC and is a long standing corporate member. They have been inclusive in their supply chain diversity by looking at LGBT certified businesses,” says Blanchett. She credits Joy Wong, Corporate Vice President Supplier Diversity/Procurement, with such outreach.

“New York Life does a lot of outreach to women and people of color in hiring, in recruitment,” Blanchett adds. “When you think about insurance, when you think about finance, when you think about IRAs and investments, most people go right to white men for those products and services.” Blanchett saw New York Life as a great fit to operate an enterprise that expressed her purpose of empowering LGBT adults to plan for their future. 

New York Life Insurance Company—standing 175 years strong—is the third-largest life insurance company and the largest mutual life insurance company in the United States with $702 billion in assets under management, $1.1 trillion in individual life insurance, and $12.5 billion in total dividends and benefits paid to policy owners and their beneficiaries as of 2020. Today, women make up 53 percent of New York Life’s workforce. In the field, 33 percent of agents are women, as are 20 percent of the company’s managing partners. In honor of Women’s History Month, a series of posts on the company’s website spotlighted some of the milestones and notable achievements of women at New York Life throughout its history.

As a nglccNY ambassador, Blanchett’s efforts extend to diversifying the chamber by bringing onboard new members in terms of women and women of color. 

“I want to help people in our community. That's what the chamber is about. Helping each other so that all boats float higher in the water,” she explains. “Everything is about networking, right? In order for everyone to do better we really need that referral pipeline. It's important that we all have a list of names so that if someone needs someone we can refer that person. It doesn't matter if it's a contractor, a real estate person, a banker or insurance person, whatever the profession is, it's good to be able to offer that referral to your clients.” 

She acknowledges that the majority of her clients are women, noting that women have a different action plan for their finances, savings, retirement, and insurance. 

“We're socialized differently,” she adds. “It's important that women know what their options are and understand what the consequences are before making financial decisions.”

Studies show women are facing a retirement crisis. They are likely to earn less during their working lives, and then to live longer after they retire in comparison to their male counterparts. While everyone is facing unprecedented challenges, women are bearing the brunt of the economic fallout of COVID-19.  Four times as many women as men dropped out of the labor force due mostly to caring for children who were home schooling but also family members affected by the coronavirus who were sheltering in place. 

Blanchett is quick to point out that even before the pandemic, women bore the burden of caregiver and decision-maker over household finances. Research reveals that nearly 9 in 10 women who are married or live with a partner are involved in spending and investing decisions in their household. Even when men are in charge, odds are that women will outlive their male spouses and will have to deal with financial decisions after his death, notes Blanchett.

“The most important thing that I offer is making sure people are educated in whatever areas are important to them so that they can make informed decisions about their finances and their futures,” she says. Underscoring a commitment to women are women sponsored events and study groups through the Women's Market, a supportive and educational service for New York Life agents helping women make solid financial choices.

Admittedly the coronavirus pandemic has been particularly challenging for Blanchett because meeting new people is her lifeline. But she manages to get her message across to new and existing clients. 

“What I tell everybody is it might not be the perfect time to enact the plan but now is the perfect time to have a plan. Because financial planning is all about a plan… what I'm going to do today, what I'm going to do a year from now, what I'm going to do 10 years from now. And it all comes down to the goal of retirement because we want to make sure that we're going to be safe and secure later on. So that's the big thing. Not running out of money before we run out of life.”

Written by Carolyn M. Brown, a journalist, author, playwright, producer, and founder of True Colors Project, a social enterprise that produces LGBTQIAGNC+ themed content via theater, film, digital platforms, and events, which includes My True Colors Excel Pride Awards and My True Colors Festival: Fighting For Social Justice and Cultural Diversity Through The Arts, She is a member of the nglccNY Media and Communications Committee. @cmbrown_7

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Long Island Spotlight: WAVES Hair Salon

Long Island nglccNY members had just begun to build networking momentum when the COVID crisis came along and halted in-person M3s. 

nglccNY Chair of Media and Communications Cindi Creager recently caught up with one of those members, Freddy Mattera, owner of WAVES Hair Salon to see how his business is doing and ask about his future plans to collaborate with the Chamber.


Cindi: How long have you been in business?

Freddy:  Fourteen years as the owner. I moved twice.  I had a small salon with eight stations in Smithtown. And then, I decided to make it larger and built a 4,000 square foot salon with 26 stations, a full spa, eight color stations, eight hair sinks and eleven color bar stations. 5 years ago I purchased another Salon in Sayville with hopes of making a chain. 

Photo credit: WAVES Salon

Then COVID hit while I was paying $16,000 a month in rent for that second space. When you're a hair salon and there are no weddings, there’s no traveling, and nothing going on, you really can't sustain that. So, instead of closing my salon, I sold the Sayville location in November. And then I built a small salon in Hauppauge with thirteen stations and I opened up on December 3rd.

I sold my other smaller Sayville salon to my manager, so we’re now sharing a website. It's technically my website, but I wanted to help her stay afloat because you have to take care of each other.

Cindi: How is it going now?

Freddy: We're doing well overall, considering the economic climate. With vaccines rolling out and the news getting a little more upbeat (restaurants opening at some capacity) people here on Long Island are going to want to get their hair done to go out for dinner here and in the city. And then a month later they're opening up for weddings. So once weddings open, we're going to be busy again, because people going to a wedding want to  make sure their hair looks good. So I have a feeling that we're going to get a nice big surge in the next few months.

Photo credit: WAVES Salon

: That's great. Best of luck with that. Now let’s switch gears slightly and talk about how you ended up getting involved with nglccNY and why.

Freddy: I'm pretty new to it. Joseph Milizio and his husband Kevin Claus invited me to a meeting and I went and then I opened up my space to hold gatherings because it was a big space. I hosted one, which was wonderful. Great people. Great networking. I only attended a few Long Island M3’s and then it kind of fell off because of COVID.

Cindi: Why do you think it's important to have organizations like nglccNY?

Freddy: Owning a business is personal. When you actually see people face to face and talk to them, I think it's more powerful than just putting out  ads. Ads are great and social media is great, but there's something to be said for actually talking to people face-to-face. It’s important.  You learn from each other and you get more inspired.

Cindi: Do you think it can help your bottom line? Word of mouth?

Freddy: Absolutely.

Cindi: As you look ahead I’m sure you're working to build your business back up after a crazy time in our world. What message would you like to get out to fellow nglccNY members?

Freddy: Support small businesses. Supporting small businesses is going to help everybody.

Cindi: What is your hope for collaborating with ngccNY in 2021?

Freddy: I would like to meet with fellow business owners virtually just to keep it going. And then of course I would definitely be happy to use my salon again as a hosting place when we can all meet in person again.

Cindi: What advice would you give other small businesses who have gone through something similar to you and are working to reinvent themselves after COVID disruptions? 

Freddy:  No matter how many times you get knocked down, I believe things happen for a reason. Reinvent yourself. Sometimes you have to take a couple of steps back to go forward. So for small business people out there, I just say keep going, hang on, stay strong, use all your resources and don't be afraid.

Photo credit: Freddy Mattera

: That’s great advice. Thank you, Freddy. We wish you every success as you move forward in 2021!

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Supplier Spotlight: Cinnamon Shtick

Not everyone has the courage to follow their dream. Rob Finkelstein did. The attorney and former nglccNY Chair of Supplier Diversity and former NGLCC Co-Chair of the Legal Industry Council recently launched Cinnamon Shtick, a recipe blog that offers his scrumptious dessert, bread and pastry recipes, including, but definitely not limited to, cinnamon infused delectables.  

Photo credit: Cinnamon Shtick

nglccNY Chair of Media & Communications Cindi Creager recently had a chance to check in with Rob about this inspiring pursuit. Read the Q & A below. 


Cindi: How does it feel to have this labor of love up and running? 

Rob:  It's fabulous. To be able to take a hobby that you are passionate about and turn it into a side-business … it's been super fun. 

Cindi: How did your blog come about? 

Rob: I always wanted to go to culinary school, specifically for pastry arts. In 2017, I decided it was time, so I just went for it! The program was 9 months long, 3 nights per week, and each class was 5 hours long. Even though I was also working full-time, running my law firm, I loved every second of it. After I graduated in early 2018, I spent the next year and a half baking and baking while considering how I could put my culinary education to use. 

In an ideal world, I probably would have gone to culinary school instead of law school and ultimately opened a bakery of some sort. (That said, I have no regrets.) However, at this stage in my life, I am not looking to start a new career. So, thinking outside the box about what I could do with my culinary education, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to spend time creating recipes. I've always been baking other people's recipes. While I had a few of my own, I wanted to start developing more and more of them.

So that's when I decided to create a recipe blog, figuring I’d just see where it goes. Of course, I had no idea what I was doing or that a recipe blog could actually be a full-blown business. I knew people were making money from their blogs, but I didn't really understand how it all worked. Fortunately, I was in a position where I could invest a little money to hire people to help me and teach me. I would never have been able to do this on my own because I have no website experience and, before I started, had no idea how to work a camera. 

Photo credit: Amy Mayes Photography

Cindi: How do you decide what recipes to post and when? 

Rob: Once I got my site up and running, I just kept baking. I still need to get more organized on what I want to publish, when and what recipes I plan to work on. Running this as a side-gig, I haven't had time to even make a list of all the kinks I need to work out.

It's been more like, "Oh, what am I craving now?" So, I will work on a recipe that will satisfy that craving. If it comes out amazingly delish, then I post it. 

Cindi: Who photographs your food for your blog? 

Rob: Actually, I do, although there are a few photos on my blog that the amazingly fabulous Amy Mayes took for me. 

The first recipe I posted was a Cinnamon Toasted Pecan Babka, which was truly a labor of love. I just took pictures from my iPhone and used those in the post. That's all I knew how to do, and at that point I didn't want to invest in anything else. I intentionally have not updated the photos in that post so I can use them as a comparison as my photography continues to grow.

Within a few weeks, I realized that, if I want my recipes to be found on the internet, my photographic content had to be much better. I saw a ton of food content from other recipe bloggers on Instagram and Pinterest. I was amazed that they all took such gorgeous photos of their food. I thought, I’m no photographer, and I will never be able to take such stunning photos. Then I quickly realized from their posts that they all took the same online food photography course. 

Cindi: Tell me about that course and how it brought you to the next level?

Rob: Another recipe blogger, who was a photographer before anything else, quickly realized that food photography is very different from other kinds of photography and began an online Foodtography School.

Since I started my blog only three weeks before the pandemic hit, I suddenly found myself with more downtime (not running around the City or going to the gym), so I decided to buy a real camera and a couple lenses and dive into her course. Her food photography course taught me so much, from how to use my camera, to proper lighting for food, to editing and styling photos. She throws in so much more to her lessons, like how to pitch to brands. Since it’s online, I watch it over and over and continue to learn. I still have much to learn! 

Then, in November -- just nine months into this -- a protein powder company, Isopure, reached out to me and ultimately hired me to develop a Hanukkah inspired cookie that uses their protein powder. (I have a non-protein powder version of the cookie on my blog.) It was a super fun project, and the best part is that they paid me to develop a recipe with a photo that they used on Instagram and their website. That’s when it really clicked for me that this is more than a hobby and truly a business. As I said before, I'm not looking to make this a full-time career, but it’s great to have some income to offset the expenses I have incurred to pursue this hobby-turned side-business. 

Cindi: Very inspiring, Rob! And as you have been working on your food photography skills, you also recently got Cinnamon Shtick certified. What led you to apply for certification from NGLCC?

Rob: Since partnering with Isopure, I hope to partner with more brands to develop recipes and photograph the end results for them. Most recipe bloggers out there are women, which is wonderful, but I suspect none of them are certified. So, I thought that, assuming I can get my photography skills up to their level, one of the ways I could set myself apart is by being certified. And, even though I stepped down in 2019 from a five year run as Supplier Diversity Chair for nglccNY, I hope to use my certification as a means to help educate social media marketing people representing big brands about the importance of supplier diversity.

Cindi: Do you have any favorites of your recipes so far?

Rob: Like any papa, I’m proud of all my babies. That said, anyone who knows me knows that I have no shame in playing favorites! 

I am super into breads and bread related treats and mildly obsessed with babka. Being Jewish, babka was a staple in our house. I have been having lots of fun developing innovative babka flavors. My favorite so far is my Blueberry Lemon Crumb Babka, and I am currently working on a fig babka. Two of my other favorite things to make are Cinnamon Raisin Bagels and Kichel, which are traditional Jewish bow-tie cookies. And, lately, I have made way too many batches of M&M Cookies. I can’t get enough of those!

Photo credit: Amy Mayes Photography

: Any advice for other nglccNY members about pursuing their dream entrepreneurial endeavors?

Rob: The typical response to this question is “follow your passion”. I never liked that response because it takes much more than passion to pursue a dream. So, building on that generic response, I will say this: follow your passion in a smart, strategic way that works for you. 

Cindi: Congratulations, Rob! We wish you much success as you continue down this recipe blog path! Keep us posted on your progress!

To keep up with Rob’s latest recipes, follow him on Instagram @cinnamonshtick and sign up directly at www.cinnamonshtick.com for his email alerts. 

nglccNY Spotlight: Carolyn M. Brown, Founder, True Colors Project & My True Colors Festival

This month we are thrilled to amplify nglccNY member, Carolyn M. Brown, who is an award-winning journalist, author, playwright, producer and founder of True Colors Project LLC, a social enterprise that produces and presents BIPOC and LGBTQIAGNC+ themed content through theater, digital, film and live events. She is also the Co-Founder/Executive Director of My True Colors Festival, a multidisciplinary arts event (including theater, film, dance, original web series, etc.) dedicated to bringing together multicultural, multinational LGBTQIAGNC+ artists and allies to showcase their works. 

Carolyn is also a cherished member of nglccNY’s communications committee. In that role she regularly volunteers her time to write feature stories about other Chamber members that are showcased on this very blog and in our monthly newsletter.

nglccNY’s Chair of Media & Communications Cindi Creager interviewed Carolyn about her impactful work. Read the Q & A below.


Cindi: Tell me a little bit about the True Colors Project and My True Colors Festival.

Carolyn:  True Colors Project came about in 2012. It is a social enterprise that is dedicated to bringing together innovative storytellers. It is really about helping artists to create and present work that represents underserved communities and resonates with marginalized groups. My True Colors Festival was launched in 2015, and that was through a collective of artists, filmmakers, playwrights, and event planners. Our mission is fighting for social justice and cultural diversity through the arts.

My True Colors Festival is a multi-disciplinary arts event that originally took place every June in conjunction with national Pride Month and as an Official NYC Pride Event Partner. Since that time, we've showcased more than 200 documentaries, film shorts, stage plays, musicals, original web series, dancers, singers, spoken word artists, and other artistic works, in addition to talkbacks, fireside chats and panel discussions. 

Then in 2020, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to shift gears, so we weren't able to host the festival in the summer as we usually do. We ended up doing a very streamlined version in October in conjunction with national LGBTQ+ history month. We actually did a virtual event where we presented a play called “The Man with the Floppy Ears,” a gay love story set in the 1930’s that also speaks of a pandemic, police brutality, the Depression and authoritarianism. We also presented the film “Spencer” about a young bisexual man and his relationships. That story was brought to us by a producer out of Australia who co-wrote and stars in this film which also is based on his personal experiences.

In 2017, True Colors Project also co-founded “My True Colors Excel Pride Awards,” which is an annual awards ceremony that pays homage to community, civic and business leaders, as well as artists who champion social justice. 

Past award winners have been Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Destination Tomorrow founder Sean Coleman, and spoken-word performing artist Staceyann Chin. Eric Adams has been very supportive of My True Colors Festival since its inception. Also, we've received a grant and support from the Brooklyn Arts Council in the past.

My True Colors Festival is fiscally sponsored through Fractured Atlas, a 501C3 nonprofit that empowers artists and arts organizations through various resources. This allows us to receive grants, sponsorships, and tax-deductible donations. 

My True Colors Festival

: Why are these two entities so important to our world? 

Carolyn:  I've always been supportive of the arts and artists. My background is as a journalist, author, playwright, and a producer. That's been my experience for decades and also in connection to my activism. Also, artists are often truth-tellers and recorders of history, elevating their voice to reflect the world around us. They're also healers, often bringing solace to the weary and strength to the downtrodden. There's always been an interconnection between arts and activism; we have artists who have always given rise to social awareness and community activism. My True Colors Festival has always been about providing a safe and affirming space for BIPOC and LGBTQIAGNC+ people as well as giving voice to marginalized communities through the power of the arts.

The goal is to create a more inclusive arts scene for artists of all disciplines by eliminating barriers to participation related to age, race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, identity, disability, nationality, and religion.

For the 2022 season we're going to be launching the “Rise Up” series of social justice films, plays and other artistic works, exploring history from a lens of oppression. That will include then and now stories of the oppression of marginalized communities, the intersection of oppressed groups, and the social movements that arose from marginalized groups in the fight against oppression and discrimination. 

I'm actually working on two plays, one dedicated to Stormé DeLarverie and another about Bayard Rustin and his relationship with Martin Luther King, Jr. Bayard is an unsung hero of the Civil Rights Movement. He was really the chief architect of the iconic March on Washington in 1963, but because he was an openly gay man, Bayard was kept in the shadows by other civil rights leaders and pushed to the margins of Black History. He preached his entire life that “we need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers.” I try to live by that mantra. True Colors Project will dedicate its efforts going forward to highlight the intersection between the Civil Rights Movement, LGBT+ Rights Movement, Women's Rights Movement, Black Power Movement, and Black Lives Matter Movement.

MTCF Festabill and Excel Pride Awards Programs

: May I ask you to reflect on the importance Black History Month?

Carolyn: It’s important to be aware of the contributions of African Americans to our nation. We must do our part to ensure that those who fight for our rights to thrive—and be alive— in America receive the recognition they so justly deserve. Like I said with Bayard, his contribution to the Civil Rights Movement; with Stormé, her contribution to Stonewall; and with Marsha P. Johnson, her contribution to transgender activism. And even with respect to artists and their contributions to our communities, our nation, and the world around us. Just think of the social impact of a play—and film adaptation—like “A Raisin In The Sun” by Loraine Hansberry. 

Cindi: Recognizing these icons and their contributions is not only important during Black History Month. Their legacies should be remembered and revered every single day of the year.

Carolyn: Right. Then hopefully we'll get to a point where everybody's culture and history is celebrated and appreciated.

Cindi: Indeed. I’d like to shift topics for a moment to ask how you got involved with NGLCC and nglccNY and how has that evolved over time?

Carolyn: I first became involved on a national level when I met NGLCC Co-Founder and President Justin Nelson in 2012 during the early formation of the Many Faces One Dream LGBT Economic Empowerment Tour hosted by the National Black Justice Coalition in partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration, NGLCC and other organizations. I served as an ambassador and that came about from the cover story I wrote for Black Enterprise. It was called "Black and Gay in Corporate America," and it actually ended up winning the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Magazine Article in 2012. Justin was very nice, very welcoming, and very supportive of that article. And then I was present in 2013 when the Chamber invited the National Business Inclusion Consortium to ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange as a precursor to the Financial Services Diversity Leadership Awards dinner.

I attended other Chamber events, but I really didn't become a member or get involved with the local chapter until 2018. I did so to network and to ensure representation, because I thought that it was important for people of color who are business owners to be visible in the local chapter. Being African-American, a woman, and a lesbian, I felt that representation was very important, so I wanted to create that awareness. I met some really great people like Nathan Manske of “I’m From Driftwood.”  I've been following his organization since then. I also had the pleasure of writing about him for the newsletter

Cindi: That’s wonderful. Nathan is amazing. Is there anything else you’d like to add about the benefits of nglccNY membership?

Carolyn: Writing for the newsletter has been a really great experience for me because it's provided the opportunity for me to connect with and interview a lot of the members to find out more about their businesses and  to share their stories with the other members. I think it's great for us to be aware of each others' journeys and to support each other in any way that we can, because it's important to uplift one another as entrepreneurs and individuals.

That’s even more vital now in an environment where marginalized people are under vicious attack. It's important for us to stick together and stand up for each other.

Cindi: Absolutely. We truly appreciate the volunteer work you've done and the beautiful articles that you've written. We've all been lucky to have that as a part of our newsletters and our social media.

May I ask you to share a bit more about how your organization addresses the issues we're all still grappling with in this nation, racial justice, LGBTQ + social justice, etc.?

Carolyn: We've always had a focus on social justice so a lot of the artists, filmmakers, and playwrights whose works we showcased have dealt with social, political, and human issues as well as mental health issues. One of our Excel Pride Award recipients, documentary filmmaker Yoruba Richen, recently had a PBS special called "How it Feels to be Free," where she profiled six Back women entertainers: Diahann Carol, Abbey Lincoln, Cicely Tyson, Lena Horne, Pam Grier, and Nina Simone. She talked about them as artists and also as activists. 

We’re very excited that one of the films we screened in 2019, “Ripples of Water,” directed by A.J. Ciccotelli, was recently picked up by Amazon, AppleTV and iTunes. It deals with ageism and mental health disability. 

MTCF Co-Founder Tai Chunn, Hollywood Director Nathan Hales Williams and Actress Jennifer Lewis, Dirty Laundry anniversary film screening

We care about supporting artists and giving them a platform for self-expression and to be their authentic selves. One of the things that came out of our 2019 season, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, was bringing attention to how whitewashed the narrative had become. A lot of people of color, particularly Black and Latina trans women, were historically left out of the annals of the Stonewall Uprising. Media outlets and advocacy organizations are starting to do a better job now in telling a truer story of Stonewall. 

That's one of the reasons why we’re starting to show the correlation between history and present day in regards to police brutality. That's something that’s often overlooked. That's really what Stonewall was birthed out of—it was five days of civil rights disobedience and rebellion against police harassment, brutality, and discrimination by the New York State York Liquor Authority and NYPD. And the PRIDE parades that were to follow were born out of protest marches.

When you think about what happened with George Floyd, and we see that horrific event take place of him dying at the hands of a police officer having his knee on his neck, unfortunately this is not something new. It's an issue that a lot of marginalized communities have been dealing with for decades, centuries. Last summer was a watershed moment with worldwide uprising and protest in support of Black Lives Matter, Justice for George Floyd and Police Reform. It also speaks to the intersectionality of movements and historical moments.  

That's why I think it's important for us to know each other's history and to recognize the intersections of our stories and our experiences, so that we can have a better world where we all feel respected and appreciated. It's about awareness, understanding, and empathy so that we can start to heal the wounds between us.

This year, one thing we're focusing on that came out of our 2020 production of "The Man With the Floppy Ears,” is using it as a springboard to create an Education Series that will serve as a teaching tool on the impact of oppression and marginalization; the consequences of forcing particular social groups to live on the fringes rather than in the mainstream.

We're writing a curriculum for high school and college students. We have put together a team of advisors in the arts, academia, and activism to help develop that curriculum. We'll be using video footage of “The Man With The Floppy Ears” in conjunction with the curriculum so that educators can use that as a platform to teach about LGBTQIAGNC+ history and the intersection of the different social movements. Education on oppression and marginalization is essential for everyone, but especially for the next-generation of young people.

Cindi: Thank you for sharing that historical perspective and explaining how you’re using it to teach us important lessons about the correlations to our present day circumstances.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our nglccNY audience?

Carolyn: I’d like to touch briefly on mental health. That’s a topic we’d like to bring awareness to this year. May is Mental Health Awareness month, so we'll be doing some virtual programming including a panel discussion.

People of color have been hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic physically, especially in terms of being frontline workers, and also mentally pertaining to the isolation, social distancing, and all the different measures that you have to take to make sure that you and your loved ones are safe and healthy.

It's really important to take care of one another, to look out for each other, and to protect our mental health. There’s also been a rise in substance abuse, so it's really important to take care of ourselves as it relates to our emotional and physical wellbeing.

Cindi: Absolutely. It’s crucial. Thank you, Carolyn! We appreciate you taking the time to share your incredible work! The Chamber is very lucky to have your contributions!

MTCF Co-Founder Tai Chunn, Filmmaker Yoruba Richen, and MTCF Co-Founder Carolyn M. Brown, Excel Pride Awards

Friday, December 18, 2020

Long Island Spotlight: Vishnick McGovern Milizio LLP

 Long Island nglccNY membership is growing. Prior to the pandemic, more and more individuals and business owners attended the Chamber’s special M3’s in the area to build connections and bolster economic opportunities.

One of those businesses is Vishnick McGovern Milizio LLP, a multi-practice law firm located in Nassau County, with additional offices in Manhattan and New Jersey. The firm has been in operation for 51 years.

nglccNY Media & Communications Chair Cindi Creager spoke with the firm’s managing partner Joseph Milizio to learn more about the business and its involvement with nglccNY. Read the Q & A below:

Cindi: Tell me about your firm.

Joseph: We are a full-service firm with a number of different departments. Our major area involves estate and trust work. That includes estate and trust planning, administration, and litigation.

We also have a commercial litigation and employment practice, which includes employment discrimination. We have a transactional business area, which I lead, and that includes business representation from startups through exit planning. We have a real estate area, both commercial and residential. We have a marital and family law area. We have a personal injury area.

Of course, we have a robust LGBTQ representation practice, which I also lead. We provide members of the community with various legal services, from matrimonial & family law to employment discrimination matters to estate planning documents like wills, powers of attorney, and health care proxies.

We’ve also recently launched a surrogacy, adoption, and assisted reproduction practice.

Cindi: Why do you think it's so important that nglccNY has a presence on Long Island?

Joseph: As we all know, Long Island is a suburb of New York City and New York City has a vibrant membership and participation in the Chamber. It's a little bit more difficult for Long Islanders to make it to meetings in Manhattan on a frequent basis. There is a large LGBTQ community involved in business in one aspect or another on Long Island. It gives people on the Island the ability to act as a group and work with each other and network without having to go into Manhattan for all meetings.

Cindi: How has this engagement been going, both pre-COVID when you could meet in person, and now?

Joseph: It was going very well when we were having in-person meetings.  People had a significant interest in participating and joining. We had a lot of people that were willing to volunteer, and that sort of fell by the wayside since COVID. We certainly anticipate that we will get back to that as soon as we possibly can. For now, we are working to stay involved virtually.

Cindi: Your firm has a very vibrant LGBTQ representation group. Tell me more about that.

Joseph: About 20 years ago my partners and I said, ‘there is no law firm on Long Island working with the LGBT community. We need representation for estate planning, litigation, business operations, real estate and employment discrimination, and most importantly, family law, including adoptions and agreements between partners,’ because it was pre-marriage equality.

Prior to that all these areas did not really serve the LGBTQ community and its needs. Now, not only are we doing the maximum that we can for the community, people also feel very comfortable knowing that we are an accepting firm. That's been a real accomplishment for me, to know that I started that. And that it's been a very vibrant part of our firm.

Cindi: It sounds very rewarding and it relates to my next question. When it comes to your work, what gets you up in the morning?

Joseph: Knowing that I'm going to have something to do throughout the day that is going to benefit a client in one way or another. I look forward to helping people and making their lives more positive every day. It gives me a very great sense of accomplishment to know that, as a firm, we act as a cohesive family and we respect each other as family members do. That's another reason why it's very good to get up in the morning and get to work.

Cindi: You're also very active in the community. You're on the HRC Board of Governors and you're obviously very involved with nglccNY. Why is it so important to you to be that involved in the community?

Joseph: When I first came out, there was a real dearth of people that I could communicate with on a professional basis. I really didn't know where to turn when I needed legal representation. It makes me feel very good knowing that I serve a particular purpose for the community and that they can feel comfortable and secure knowing that they can come to my firm.

Cindi: That's wonderful, Joseph. Is there anything else you'd like to share with me about your firm or your involvement in nglccNY?

Joseph: With respect to the Chamber, I would like to say that it gives all members and guests the opportunity to network with each other in a positive environment and to do good for the community. That's a very special thing.

Cindi: Thank you so much, Joseph.