Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Meet Kevin Uhrin and William Self: Chamber Champions & LGBT Activists

Kevin Uhrin and William Self are a fine example of two LGBT activist in NYC. Never did they imagine that a chance meeting at Saks Fifth Avenue would turn into a love story of a life time. They have since filled their lives with many first, ups and downs and live a life full of adventure. One inspiring action about this couple is the readiness of lending a hand and helping out the community. Kevin attributes their success as a couple to the 50/50 split on communication. He believes they have struck the right balance of complimenting each other at every turn.

Since first arriving in NYC in 1980 they have been fully engaged in the LGBT Community. The level of commitment to each other is only rivaled by their commitment to the betterment of the community. Their motto is “If you want something done; you HAVE to get involved.”

Upon moving to New York, Kevin knew he found where he was supposed to be and could give back. As a certified nurse’s aide he joined GMHC as a screener, testing patients for STDs. That was an eye opening experience as he met people from all walks of life with varying perspectives on their circumstances. The biggest eye opening experience of the importance of being involved was the first time this young man from Olyphant, Pennsylvania met an I.V. drug user. The I.V. drug user went on to share that he thought he was HIV positive, he didn’t know who infected him and he did not care whom, he would infect. It was at that moment Kevin realized the importance in getting involved to help educate the community and prevent this disease. He sits on the Health Department and Police Department Boards and is very proud that he has no affiliation to either organization as this keeps him objective about the missions at hand.

Bill arrived from Corpus Christi, TX in 1980 and quickly joined the Medical Library Center of New York as a library Assistant. He never imagined returning a cologne to Saks Fifth Avenue would be the best decision he ever made. Together over the last 28 years Bill and Kevin have supported grassroots organizations such as Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Anti-violence Project, Callen-Lorde, God’s Love We Deliver, HRC, Tyler Clementi Foundation, Toys for Tots, Stonewall Democrats, Queens Pride, NYC Pride, Live Out Loud and I’m From Driftwood. To name a few.

Kevin and Bill were kind enough to chat about their journey in NYC leading up to finding the nglccNY. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed learning about these fine gentlemen.

What does community mean to you?
Bill: The complete organisms that we are. From our family to our friends and all the sub circle of friends. You just have everybody worldwide. We have our LGBT community and we certainly focus on our LGBT community. It is certainly the broader community of man.

Kevin: Community means all in one, inclusive, all together, not separated. Gay life should be a fun life! I wanted to be part of my community. When I got here I found I could be gay here, embrace who I was and nobody cared.

What non-profit are you currently working with the closest?
Kevin: I think Live Out Loud, because it is all about education. Getting the young generation to do things within their schools is where we have to start. With the younger generations, in the schools, we can educate them and from there they can start doing things on their own and taking it to the next level, which is why I love Live Out Loud. It really does start in the schools. You get these kids who think they have nothing in the world but through determination they end up creating programs and changing the curriculum in their schools. Then getting a scholarship to do bigger and better things. It is great to follow the kids that have gone through the program and see what they have been able to accomplish once they graduate from college.

I think education is a very powerful thing in the world. Unfortunately, not everyone has the opportunity to get it. It’s sad to see, especially minorities, not getting the schooling they should be getting or to have someone there to say “no, you really need to stay in school.”

That is why I’m so focused on the Trans-empowerment and equality. The trans community has the right to be who they were meant to be. Their struggle has always resonated with me. As I have struggled with my gender identity. My point would be that those in the Black and Latino Trans community, many of whom are poor, are being harassed in schools for who they are and they drop out.

Two of my friends who are Trans shared with me that they knew who they wanted to be and the main focus was to get educated... Because, once they got educated they could be anybody they wanted to be in this world. At that point, they started to look at their transitioning. I want to teach these kids that there is a place for them and it begins with education.

How do you feel about the use of the word lifestyle?
Kevin: Life is life and style is what you wear.

How do you like to inspire others?
Bill: I don’t think that I do, I just go out and do. I’m just myself. You live your life and find a cause, or things you like doing, to be helpful to others. You just go through life and, you end up doing things that mean something to you.

How did you find your way to the nglccNY?
Bill: We were introduced by a chamber member. Coming into the group we just met so many great people and it was very comfortable. Meeting so many people from Texas it was very warm and welcoming group of people. We were welcomed with open arms even though we did not have our own business. It was unlike what we had experienced in other organizations.

How do you reconcile being members of the nglccNY when you are not business owners and are not the traditional LGBT professionals working at one of our corporate partners?
Bill: We like being links to encourage others to participate. Just as we encourage others to participate in other charities or other things that go on. As a Librarian, I’m very comfortable giving information.

At Lenox Hill Hospital, As the Director of the Library, I am responsible for managing the health science knowledge based information that is being made available to the medical and clinical staff at the hospital. I work to provide support in the continuing education and I give them access to the information they need.

Kevin: I like to support our own community and that is what I like about the nglccNY – it's all inclusive. It is not just LGBT, it is also the straight community. It is everyone coming to together to help one another.

Sounds as if you have always been in a position to share information, is that a fair statement?
Bill: Yes, that’s what I like to do. After 30 some years of running around you accumulate quite a reference library of where to go for specific things, or at least you know where to find something out. I think it’s important to be a resource of information to others. 

What is it about nglccNY that inspires you to recommend it to your business owning friends?
Kevin: I was just impressed at how well put together the events were. I thought it was a great idea that you had all these LGBT business owners to learn from one another. I think if people learn about what the nglccNY is all about is that – It’s an open door to everything! There is nothing that you cannot learn or do by becoming part of it and of course I believe we should take care of each other.

Bill: It is a great resource for business and social growth. We are meeting so many people who have their own businesses and it offers us an opportunity to recommend an organization that they can connect with the community.

What has been the biggest benefit of joining the nglccNY?
Kevin: I like the idea that I can help to educate the community that this organization is more than just gay men. It truly is the entire community. When I believe in something I go wholeheartedly into something. It is a great organization and I really do like it. It is one I can truly say I can I stand behind 100% and that is why I recommend people to it. 

Bill: I hate to keep saying the same answer but it is having this new community that I’m part of. It’s the theme going through the chamber; it’s a fraternity of business people with varied businesses, that can get together and share information and resources. Being able to make these connections that bind you as a group. You get out of it what you bring to it. There is always something businesswise going on. The first time we attended a mixer we were surprised that people were readily introducing themselves to us and were very inviting. All of a sudden you realize you have 500 new friends.

What is your message to the universe?
Kevin: We all bleed the same color therefore we are all the same.

Bill: I always fall back on the old Rocky Horror thing of “Don’t dream it; be it”. Go out and do and be the best person you can be. You can do that by connecting with other people and by doing good. Always bring a hostess gift, always hand write a thank you note.

Written by Ingrid Galvez,
Chair, Diversity & Inclusion, NGLCCNY
Organizational Development Consultant, Strategic Remedy Group

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