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Safety is a concern for one community in Rochester, survey shows

Nearly half (48 percent) of the LGBTQ+ community in the Rochester area feel unsafe, most commonly when shopping or in their neighborhoods, according to the Levine Center to End Hate at the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester’s State of Hate in Greater Rochester community survey.  

In addition, the survey found half of the area’s LGBTQ+ community fear a verbal attack and 44 percent worry they may be physically attacked. 

“We’ve seen a disturbing increase in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric recently,” said Karen Elam, executive director of the Levine Center to End Hate. “We are continuing to find that the responses to our survey underscore the fear that members of minority groups in our community are feeling.” 

Other survey data show that 63 percent of LGBTQ+ respondents have personally known someone from their community who experienced discrimination and 49 percent have witnessed it firsthand. 

However, there is encouraging news, said Elam, noting that 61 percent of survey respondents felt the Greater Rochester area is a mostly good place to live, while 10 percent said it was a bad place to live.  

This first State of Hate in Greater Rochester survey establishes a baseline of attitudes, perceptions and experiences of discrimination and bias in the area. The survey will be repeated in the future to evaluate local efforts at addressing hate. 

The full report can be accessed here.  

[email protected] / (585) 653-4021 

Fashion Week Rochester to highlight area landmarks as part of ‘Product Runway’

This year’s Fashion Week Rochester will not only feature political leaders and business executives modeling fashions from up-and-coming local designers, but it will also highlight Rochester-area buildings and landmarks, from the Eastman Theatre to the Roc City Skatepark.

One mainstay of the annual event is the support it receives from the local business community.  

Elaine Spaull

“Businesses have always embraced and supported this event, and this year is no different,” said Elaine Spaull, executive director of The Center for Youth and a Fashion Week organizer.

Fashion Week of Rochester launched in 2010 to engage the community in an event that would spotlight local designers, boutiques, businesses and artists while shining a light on youth homelessness.

In its thirteenth year, Fashion Week 2022 will include three nights of runway shows and continue to bring awareness and financial support to The Center for Youth’s homeless programs. 

The event kicks off on the evening of Oct. 13 at the Dome Arena in Henrietta. This is the second consecutive year the venue has hosted the event.

With an overall theme of Restore the Love, each night focuses on a different aspect of both fashion and the work that our community does to help vulnerable youth. 

A description of each night is below:  

  • Restore the Energy, starting at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 13, will be the most edgy, with urban and gritty designs.
  • Restore our Community, starting at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 14, will highlight the community, culture and diversity of Rochester. Several recognizable individuals will walk the runway this night, including Rochester Mayor Mailk Evans, Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Michael Mendoza, MD, Monroe County Commissioner of Public Health, and
  • Restore the Grace, starting at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 15, which closes the show and features wedding and lingerie designs.

One of the highlights on Friday will be a Product Runway show from AIA (American Institute of Architects) Rochester and the local chapter of IIDA (The International Interior Design Association).

The two organizations held a similar show in 2019.

Product Runway consists of teams from local interior design firms, architectural firms and design schools in a fashion design competition where each team creates handmade garments out of standard architectural finish materials.

Each fashion design will be based on an iconic Rochester building using materials offered by manufacturers/representatives assigned to them. 

Rendering of "Aqueduct Bridge" fashion design using iconic images that blend the historic with the new, as evidenced in the use of graffiti that now adorns the interior of the old aqueduct. (Rendering provided)
The “Aqueduct Bridge” concept fashion design incorporates iconic architectural images that blend the historic with the new, as evidenced by a nod to graffiti that now adorns the interior of the old aqueduct. (Rendering provided)

Danielle Lewis, interior designer at LaBella Associates D.P.C. and one of the organizers of the Product Runway show, said the event is a way to pay tribute to the city’s various landmarks, as well as support a worthy cause.

“It gives us a chance to be philanthropic and creative at the same time,” said Lewis, whose team is designing a piece inspired by the city’s historic aqueduct.

The designs will be on display after the event at The Metropolitan downtown and Lewis is hoping Product Runway can be held at future Fashion Weeks.

The annual fundraiser for The Center for Youth funds awareness for youth homelessness, youth shelters and emergency programs, organizers said. 

The Center for Youth’s services include support for families and children, including two crisis nursery locations, Chrysalis House for parenting and pregnant teens and their children, an LGBTQ and trafficked homeless residence, multiple youth shelters and more. 

The fundraising event brought in some $1 million in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic began and brought its own challenges.

Organizers anticipate this year’s event will raise at least $750,000 to support the agency and its programs.

It got an early boost this year with help from Career Start. Employees at the staffing and workforce management firm in Rochester raised funds through a walk and donations were matched by Career Start founder and CEO Lindsay McCutchen and her family. 

McCutchen is a long-time supporter of The Center for Youth, which she said provides an invaluable service to the community and should, in turn, be embraced and supported.

“I believe in our community and our social and personal responsibility to support it,” she said.

McCutchen – who is not only attending the shows with her family but will also walk the runway with her two daughters at Friday night’s show – said the relationship between businesses and nonprofits is imperative.  

“When we have that relationship, we can make a big impact,” she said. “There’s no better payback than giving back to the place where you live.”  

Go to for more information on the event.

[email protected] / (585) 653-4021 

Cooney honors workers’ rights activist Watts with Women of Distinction award

Bess Watts received the New York State Senate Woman of Distinction Award from Sen. Jeremy Cooney (D-Rochester)
Bess Watts received the New York State Senate Women of Distinction Award from Sen. Jeremy Cooney (D-Rochester) (provided photo).

Bess Watts, president of Rochester Pride at Work AFL-CIO Chapter, was the recipient of the New York State Senate Women of Distinction Award from Sen. Jeremy Cooney (D-Rochester).

Watts was chosen because of her advocacy and activism with the labor and LGBTQ+ communities. A veteran of the U.S. Army, she devoted her professional life to advocating for workers’ rights, especially as they pertain to the LGBTQ+ community.

“Bess is a tireless champion for equity among those who historically have faced discrimination, advocating for workers’ rights and rights for LGBTQ+ community members with kindness and strength,” Cooney said in a news release. “Her commitment to raising awareness of the intersectionality of workers’ rights and LGBTQ+ rights is worthy of this special state recognition, and I am honored to name her as a woman of distinction.”

Said Steve Healy, president of the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) Western Region: “Since she began her tenure at CSEA, Bess Watts has been a true advocate in every sense of the word,. She has been an integral part of not only the labor movement here in Western New York, but of establishing such a strong intersection between labor and LGBTQ+ rights. Watts is the quintessence of a leader. She has the strength, compassion and spirit to be an inspiration for those in the labor and LGBTQ+ communities.”

Each state senator may select one individual per year to honor with the award, recognizing fierce advocacy for change.

[email protected]/(585) 653-4020

BCBS funding opportunity addresses health disparities upstate  

Area nonprofits can now apply for Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s Health Equity awards, which help fund health and wellness programs that address racial and ethnic health disparities in upstate New York.  

BCBS funding opportunity addresses health disparities upstate  

The application period is now open and closes at 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 15. 

Application proposals must include clear, defined goals for reducing health disparities and improving health equity for people that face a higher burden of health inequities and social disadvantages.  

Organizations will be required to specify how funding will measurably assist in improving racial and ethnic health equity outcomes. 

Proposals that have detailed scope, goals, rationale for support and measures will receive the strongest consideration. Award winners will be announced in mid-November. 

Health Equity categories include, but are not limited to: 

  • Reducing health disparities in racial, ethnic, LGBTQ communities, people with disabilities, people living in rural or urban communities or other groups of people that may be at a higher health risk for: 
    • Medical issues and conditions (chronic or acute); 
    • Behavioral health or mental health conditions, or 
    • Negative outcomes from the above, including death or suicide. 

“At Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, the health of our communities is at the center of everything we do,” said Gina Cuyler, MD, vice president of Health Equity and Community Investments, Excellus BCBS, in a statement. “Together we can confront the crisis in health disparities, embrace and address long-standing gaps in care and bridge health equity gaps in our underserved communities.” 

Visit for more information.  

[email protected] / (585) 653-4021 

Searles to join Trillium Health leadership team

Joseph Searles has joined Trillium Health as its vice president and chief community engagement officer. He starts his new position on Oct. 25.

Searles previously served as corporate diversity relations director for Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield. He has been a member of Trillium Health’s board of directors since 2017.

“I’m thrilled that Joseph will be joining our executive leadership team at Trillium Health,” said Trillium President and CEO Andrea DeMeo. “Joseph brings a wealth of experience and dedication to fostering diversity, equity and inclusion; he is well acquainted with our mission, vision and values; and he shares our commitment to barrier- and stigma-free care. Joseph will serve as an important adviser to me and our entire executive and operational leadership teams as we work together to achieve diversity, equity and inclusion both within our culture at Trillium Health and in our efforts to address health equity within the community.”

Searles has nearly 15 years of experience in community relations; diversity, equity and inclusion; strategic planning; and organizational development. A native of Rochester, he has cultivated a broad network of influential leaders in the community, including government officials, municipalities, business leaders, higher education leaders and community-based health and human service organizations.

Joseph Searles

“It excites me that Trillium Health continues to evolve as a premier organization for healthcare, LGBTQ advocacy, diversity, equity, inclusion and access in our communities,” Searles said. “I am equally energized to be joining an organization that has a legacy of serving the LGBTQ community’s health and well-being.”

Searles has been a member of many boards and task forces for local professional organizations, including Trillium Health, the United Way of Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes, Common Ground Health, YWCA of Rochester Monroe County, Ibero American Action League, Out Alliance, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Rochester Gay Men’s Chorus.

In his new role, Searles will be responsible for strategic leadership, development and oversight of Trillium Health’s community engagement, DEI and LGBTQ health and education initiatives. Searles and his team will be responsible for building bridges with like-minded organizations and developing and facilitating the implementation of DEI strategies that are aligned with the organization’s mission and strategic plan, with a focus on addressing needs in underrepresented and marginalized communities to achieve health equity.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

St. John’s recognized for LGBTQ equality

Rochester’s St. John’s has been recognized by SAGE, the world’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ older people, and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation for its Long-Term Care Equality Index.

The initiative is aimed at promoting equitable and inclusive care for elderly LGBTQ individuals in residential long-term care communities. St. John’s is the only skilled nursing home in the area to have been named to the list and one of just 18 in the country.

“We are thrilled to have been named to the LEI Index,” said St. John’s Vice President of Skilled Services Nate Sweeney. “One of the most important decisions older adults make is where to live and for the LGBTQ population, and added stress is finding a place that’s friendly and accepting. From Pride Week to featuring real LGBTQ residents in our marketing efforts to the welcoming culture we’ve created, we are proud of the thoughtful and deliberate efforts we have made to ensure our LGBTQ residents are treated inclusively and that we have culturally competent policies and practices in place.”

The national benchmarking tool evaluates long-term care communities based on the equity and inclusion of their LGBTQ residents and patients. To be named to the LEI Index, St. John’s participated in a multi-step process which included completing a “Commitment to Caring” pledge, taking an LEI self-assessment and developing plans for long-term LGBTQ-inclusive goals after its customized needs-assessment report was received.

There are no current federal explicit anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, the agency noted. As such, half of all LGBTQ older adults in the U.S. live in a state where they can be legally denied access to housing and public accommodations.

A recent AARP study found that more than 60 percent of those surveyed were concerned about how they would be treated in a long-term care setting. St. John’s officials said that by participating in the LEI Index, the agency hopes that it will ensure current and prospective residents are aware that it is a full inclusive organization.

St. John’s has served the elderly for more than a century, having been founded in 1889. St. John’s has evolved into three innovative communities that deliver a full spectrum of services, from independent and enhanced assisted living to rehabilitation and skilled nursing care.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

Three local businesses rank high on LGBTQ measure

Three area businesses earned perfect scores in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s annual 2018 Corporate Equality Index.

Constellations Brands Inc., Eastman Kodak Co. and Excellus Health Plan Inc. joined more than 600 other businesses nationwide that earned the CEI’s top score of 100. Last year, 517 businesses earned perfect scores.

The index assesses lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer inclusion in major companies and law firms across the nation. HRC rated 947 companies, including 154 in New York State. The average score statewide was 95, and 113 businesses in New York earned scores of 100.

“At a time when the rights of LGBTQ people are under attack by the Trump-Pence administration and state legislatures across the country, hundreds of top American companies are driving progress toward equality in the workplace,” said HRC President Chad Griffin in a statement. “The top-scoring companies on this year’s CEI are not only establishing policies that affirm and include employees here in the United States, they are applying these policies to their operations around the globe and impacting millions of people beyond our shores.”

Griffin added: “In addition, many of these companies have also become vocal advocates for equality in the public square, including the dozens that have signed on to amicus briefs in vital Supreme Court cases and the 106 corporate supporters of the Equality Act. We are proud to have developed so many strong partnerships with corporate allies who see LGBTQ equality as a crucial issue for our country and for their businesses.”

The index found that gender identity is part of non-discrimination policies at 83 percent of Fortune 500 companies, up from 3 percent 15 years ago. More than 450 major employers have adopted supportive inclusion guidelines for transgender workers who are transitioning.

The CEI rates companies and law firms on detailed criteria that fall under five broad categories including: non-discrimination policies; employment benefits; demonstrated organizational competency and accountability around LGBTQ diversity and inclusion; public commitment to LGBTQ equality; and responsible citizenship.

Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer