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   Date: 3/24/10 Bookmark and Share

Carmen Vazquez, gay rights advocate

Carmen Vazquez, the Executive Director of Empire State Pride Agenda, has never done anything the usual way. She quips that when she was born in Puerto Rico in 1949, she “came feet first—never did anything traditional, including my birth.”

This radical viewpoint is one of her defining features. A City College grad, class of 1972, Vazquez was part of major student protests there in 1969 to retain open admissions, create Black and Puerto Rican Studies departments, and require education majors to learn Spanish. Having come to New York City at age 5, these causes held a particular resonance with her and the protest was successful in creating the new departments and retaining the college’s open admissions program. Vazquez completed her masters in education at CUNY in 1973, and after a brief stint working for the Consortium for Bilingual Counselor Education, she left for California.

When she returned to New York in 1994 after years of working in California, she had a reputation. “It was fabulous to be able to come back to New York,” she said, “as an out queer and as a fairly notorious one, and be in the middle of all the queer stuff.” Arriving to work as the director of public policy for the Lesbian and Gay Community Center, she embarked on a seven-year project to make the center more inclusive. Vazquez fought for transgender inclusion as well as to include trans and bisexual people in the name and organizing of the group.

Another group Vazquez worked to include in the Community Center was LGBT families. She began a group called Center Kids, which gave queer families with children a place to create community. Such concerns would become even more central in her later work.

While working with the Lesbian and Gay Community Center, Vazquez also partnered with Empire State Pride Agenda, with whom she developed "The Network," a New York State LGBT Health and Human Services Network. The Network continues as a coalition of nonprofit organizations and support groups focused on the needs of LGBT people, ranging from basic healthcare to homeless youth services to substance abuse prevention.

One of Vazquez's most remarkable coalition projects is called Causes in Common. This initiative focused on the links between reproductive rights and LGBT liberation. Vazquez has also been involved in death sentence inequality policy and, during her tenure with the Community Center from 1994 to 2003, pushed for an increase in diversity and attention to issues of race.

While her work today with Pride Agenda has a focus on equality for families within the marriage debate, Vazquez’s other concerns have never been set aside. Of her work now, she says, “finally, I feel, you know, after 30-some years, I’m a bride and I’m a translator. I can move between communities and try and facilitate dialogue that hopefully moves us all forward.”

 

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