In Our Own Voices gives an outlet for LGBT people, people of color


In Our Own Voices, located on Lark Street in Albany, is one of the few organizations that specifically focuses on the needs of LGBT people of color.

IOOV provides a wide variety of services, from support groups and legal clinics to a pantry and health care seeking assistance.

“A lot of these services, we are the only organization providing them in the capital region and sometimes it’s a very low number nationwide,” said Shadey Mercado-Perez, director of health and services. social LGBT.

But more importantly, IOOV gives people a place where they feel comfortable with who they are.

“A lot of people, if they don’t feel comfortable in who they are and who they are, they won’t engage with their physical or sexual health,” said EL Evelyn, who is not binary and uses pronouns them. “And so having a space where they can assert themselves in their identity, I think that’s really important.”

Evelyn is the WSW (Women Who Have Sex With Women) Program Coordinator for Intervention Services, supporting LGBT women and people of non-binary color. It involves light case management – connecting people with services such as doctors, lawyers, and mental health providers – as well as running support groups.

Support groups are a key part of what IOOV offers, said Ria Sarkar, advocate for domestic violence and sexual assault.

“Feeling like you have support if you struggle with your sexuality, if you struggle with your gender, that someone has been there before and can kind of guide and support you through your process,” she declared. “I think that just having space and resources gives a sense of security to people who may have difficulty. “

Sarkar provides case management and emotional support to the people she serves, as well as training other agencies to provide accessible and inclusive services for LGBT people of color.

Mercado-Perez is responsible for everything health related and unrelated to HIV or hepatitis C, which falls under a different branch of the organization.

Its main focus, however, is community events like the annual Black and Latino Gay Pride, which allows community members to show off their talents and celebrate pride as well as access some of IOOV’s services.

She also runs the Pulse Check community survey, which asks respondents about their experience with medical providers in the Capital Region and whether they would recommend them to other LGBT people of color.

“It’s always like a little gem when we find a vendor that our community feels comfortable with,” said Mercado-Perez.

“A lot of traditional vendors are also very white-centric, and very cisgender and heterosexual in the work they do,” Evelyn said. “Our space exists as a more specialized space for people to get health care that is good for them, health care that makes them feel comfortable, that makes them feel assertive in their identity.”

An important part of IOOV’s mission derives from its name: to listen to the community it serves and enable it to lead the way for the organization.

“We want to be able to create spaces where we don’t attribute to people what is happening, we give them space to tell us what their needs are, what is happening in the community, how can we help”, Mercado- Perez mentioned. “So ‘In Our Own Voices’ is always that space for people to come and talk about their experiences or their needs or anything that might bother them.”

For example, when many people were struggling during the pandemic, IOOV gave people money directly, for electricity or rent or whatever they needed, Sarkar said.

Donations to the IOOV are, of course, welcome (and can be made on the organization’s website), but this is not what came to Mercado-Perez’s mind when it came to him. asked how the wider capital region could support his work.

“Partnerships, partnerships, partnerships,” she said. “The best way for us as an organization to work with the community is to provide services and resources to the community. So if I don’t know what other organizations are doing and other organizations don’t know what I am doing, how can we better serve the community? “

Sarkar emphasized the importance of empathy and understanding the identity of others.

In our own voices

245 Lark Street, Albany; open Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

518-432-4188 or [email protected]

“It is important that each individual is respected and understood even if you do not necessarily agree with who they are and their choices,” she said.

Evelyn, a graduate of the University of Albany, came into contact with IOOV during a school project. As a student, they were too busy to volunteer, but contacted the organization after graduation. Now, they said, they find the work incredibly rewarding.

Many Evelyn clients express reluctance to seek health care services due to past bad experiences.

“Someone that says to me, ‘I haven’t been to the doctor in years’ and I’m like,’ Oh, well, I can find you a doctor, ‘and they say,’ I don’t. go to the doctor because I’m a queer person, ”and I’m like,“ Well I know a lot of queer doctors, that’s my job, that’s what I do, ”Evelyn said. “And people can go to the doctor and be healthy!” And it’s good that we can not only bridge the gap for people in terms of health care, but also redefine their relationship with health care.

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