Congratulations! A Conversation with Adelaide

Monday, June 30, 2014

Congratulations! A Conversation with Adelaide

Last week, we celebrated with The Fortune Society’s founder David Rothenberg, who was honored at the New York City Council’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBTQ) Pride Celebration on June 18, 2014. On June 25, 2014, Adelaide Connaughton, Senior Entitlements Specialist at Fortune, was honored at the thirteenth annual Queens LGBTQ Pride month celebration. Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, New York City council members Daniel Dromm and Jimmy Van Bramer, Fortune community members, plus many other honored guests, were on hand to honor openly gay community leaders for their contributions to achieve full equality. The Queens Borough President, Assistant District Attorney Dick Brown, Assembly member Andrew Hevesi, and members of Congress as well as the City Council awarded seven citations of honor to Adelaide for her positive contributions to the Queens community. Congratulations Adelaide!

We include excerpts from our conversation with Adelaide where we learn more about her experiences working in various NYC communities and her hopes for the city.Adelaide discussed growing up in Queens and how she worked with various political campaigns and elected officials from a very early age. While in high school, she worked with Assistant Queens District Attorney Geraldine Ferraro, who oversaw New York City’s first special victims unit. Adelaide started out as an Emergency Medical Specialist in 1993 and retired in 2013 after numerous promotions. Her history of advocacy and political work, including her current position as vice president of the Jim Owles Liberal Democrat Club, has informed her contributions to two local non-profit agencies, Safe Space and The Fortune Society. The conversation highlights include Adelaide’s views regarding key criminal justice and LGBTQ concerns and the types of social and political progress that contribute to a more just city.

How does it feel to receive such public recognition and so many awards?

I did not expect the two representatives from Congress to send proclamations. I also did not expect anything from Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi’s office. They declared it Adelaide Connaughton day. June 25th. It is at the bottom of every proclamation. It is pretty fun!

What were some of your earliest experiences with advocacy or community service?

This is something that has been instilled in me since I was ten years old. Back then, my mother and father were very gracious and always doing things for people. We were raised that way…

Would you please share what it was like to work at Safe Space before coming to Fortune?

I worked for Safe Space for two years as their LGBTQ outreach person. It was my job to engage the youth and to go to the piers on the west side on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights. They had no place to sleep all day and then they were up all night. So we had a drop in center where youth could crash during the daytime and then off they went in the evening to the piers. More or less, like what the name means, it was a safe space for all the youth to come to—especially homeless and runaway youth.

I was a little surprised about how matter of fact it was to the youth that they would eventually get in trouble…for dancing on the pier or soliciting people…things they were doing back then. The sixth precinct would come to the pier and round people up…detain them if they had no ID on them.

It was trial by error. Learning as I went along. And I was a lot older than these youth. But they didn’t see an age; they just saw somebody that was coming to help them.

What are some of your views regarding how these related social concerns were addressed in the past?

I think at one time, the attitude was to arrest every homeless person there was and to put them away.  My perception of Bloomberg’s attitude is that funding is what they needed for special programs…but funding isn’t what Bloomberg gave.  The 30% rule before HASA just came up before DeBlasio and he voted it in.  So there is a progressive versus an independent perspective.  A lot of Bloomberg’s positives were outshined by the negatives.

I think Bloomberg and Ray Kelly’s attitudes toward stop and frisk went too far and they did not know how to reign it back in.  Their attitude was that the percentage of crime was dropping so stop and frisk must be working.  This was not really the truth.  For twenty years, I worked with the NYPD.  There was often a lack of oversight and accountability around police brutality.

How hopeful do you feel regarding the possibility of adequately addressing such pressing social concerns now and in the future?

I think DeBlasio and his administration, including Commissioner Bratton, see things differently. I think they are in line to see that LGBTQ youth are not harassed. Bratton came back and things have changed since he has been gone. Bratton is older and wiser. I think with someone like DeBlasio, Bratton is going to have to see that people should not be harassed walking down the street. I think this mayor living in Park Slope does not have blinders on. He clearly sees what is going on around him. I think all of this will help create housing and also enable young people to grow up and be happier. Most children may meet resistance when they tell their parents they are gay or lesbian. Some parents might throw the child out. There are many runaway youth in different shelters and on the street. They are looking for their identity and at the same time, something that was their identity, such as their family, is taken away from them.

Are there any particularly noteworthy changes that you have seen over time?

Over time, there were many gay people in the City Council and the mayor was accepting of gay men and women. When a hate crime went down, it was not just something that was dealt with on the precinct level and that was it. They actually gathered people and went to the site and protested. Many elected officials now come out and take the platform that this is unacceptable. Everyone has the right to walk down the street and identify any way they feel. Twenty years ago we had a Latino gay man killed in Jackson Heights outside the post office. When we have the gay pride parade in Queens, we always stop for a moment of silence for Eduardo. It has been twenty years and his parents march with us. Daniel Dromm takes it very seriously that this crime happened when he was living in the area. I think when you say this is not acceptable; the more people will start to agree with you. Maybe quietly, but they agree. It takes education…

What are some thoughts or concerns that come to mind when considering LGBTQ concerns and criminal justice concerns in relation to one another?

I think those running our prison system need to be given regular cultural trainings to remind them that these people, who are incarcerated and LGBTQ, need to be given the same rights as straight people. Some people say that whatever happens in prison stays in prison. That needs to be extracted. They need to be able to go in there and educate from the top down and make staff accountable for their actions. If staff are going to beat up a transgender woman because she is transgender, there needs to be consequences, such as suspension. The staff sets the tone for what is going on in the prison or jail. The correctional officers walking around the cellblocks should be held responsible and then they might think about what they did. Perhaps if suspended, when they come back they may have a different attitude.

Mental health is at the forefront. How many people are mentally challenged and do not have medicines or care? People not given support or medications come out and then go back in the system. This issue is especially important given what has been reported in the recent newspapers. For example, a story focused on someone with mental challenges, yet without his medication, dying inside a Rikers cell.

Mental health challenges affect the LGBTQ community. For instance, it is traumatizing to be sixteen years old in a normal household, as normal as normal can be, and then all of a sudden because your parents caught you doing something, read your diary, overheard a phone call…you are then ostracized from the family. You may get depressed, become suicidal, start cutting yourself, or try to hurt yourself somehow. That may lead to a path of less healthy behavior and relationships and then eventually into the blackness of something like depression. If you were LGBTQ and young, it might be hard to find a sensitive mental health professional. You may get with a therapist that has their own biases and stigmatizing behaviors that may lead to them over-medicating and not helping you. Bad choices might be made that then lead to detainment, jail, and then the cycle begins. You may never have a happy pride month.

Earlier you spoke about increasing levels of sensitivity and safety in relation to the experiences of justice-involved transgender individuals. Would you please say more?

I believe it is wrong that if you are transgender and in transition towards whatever sex/gender you would like to identify with, you may get locked up with people of the same gender that you had from birth. It puts them at risk for violence and stigma when interacting with the correctional officers, wardens, and deputies. It has gotten better. They are not called transvestites any more. But I think society has to learn the language. So downstairs in admissions [at Fortune], we always ask clients: What do you want to be called or how do you identify? I have a very culturally sensitive director. Harmony, the information system we use for data management, does not have a category for transgender listed along with the categories for lesbian, gay, or bisexual. This morning, I picked up a transgender woman with four other straight-identified guys from Rikers and none of them appeared to be homophobic or insensitive about her gender identity at all. When she came in for the intake session with my Fortune colleague, he asked her what she would like him to call her and how she identified.

Any thoughts about the best possible way forward?

I have seen a lot of changes. Now the freedom that youth are asking for, they are somewhat getting. There are more community organizations and churches. I am Catholic and I think the Pope is wonderful.   He has opened so many doors that were shut by the Catholic Church. I think that is wonderful and it shows the changing times. The marriage act passed two or three years ago…it showed to the youth that there is some sort of happiness that comes into this when you get older. You can find someone who is legally recognized as your lifelong mate. The Stonewall riots were 45 years ago. Then it was against the law for two men to dance together. They could get arrested. Then the riots happened that June of 1969 and it has changed a lot from there. We have progressed very far but there is still more to be done. A very important question for me here at Fortune is: How do we make every client feel very comfortable so that they can tell us anything that they want to tell us?

Thank you so very much Adelaide. Congratulations again!

Categories: Community, News

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