Natan Pulido, Michelle Dech, Benedict Renkus, and Jocelyn Young span different genders, cultural identities and generations. They have different professional backgrounds, stories about what Reading’s LGBT community means to them, and visions for the queer community’s place in Reading and the world.
But, they all work together to serve the LGBTQA+ community; believe that doing so will improve the entire City; and think that the queer community can be a leader and role model of acceptance and collaboration.
“I think gays are going to change the country! The queer community is going to be an example for the rest of us,” said Natan, Director of the Reading Pride Celebration’s new #ThisIsUs social media campaign.
Originally from Mexico, Natan came to Reading for his former job and decided to stay. Now, he’s building up his fashion business “Pepita” and bringing his fresh ideas, perspective and energy to the Celebration and community, “We’re here, we’re queer…Ok. Now what? WHY are we here?…I want to make something happen!” he said.
When Reading Pride Celebration almost didn’t happen this year, due to lack of resources, Natan was among a group of Pride veterans and newbies who joined together to make sure the event continued.
In addition to the week-‐long lineup of pre-‐Pride events that featured diverse community partnerships, Natan hopes that the “This Is Us” campaign helped to demonstrate the diversity and presence of Reading’s queer community, “All the people in the campaign are real,” he added. Others pitched in to put together the campaign, including Kreative Corner, who did the photography for it.
Natan applied lessons he had learned from his professional life to his approach in suggesting new ideas to the Pride team, “Don’t just suggest an idea; do your research! Back it up,” he explained, “And, be willing to say ‘OK, maybe that idea won’t work right now, but we can try it later.’ Expect that if someone has been doing something one way for so long, they might resist your ideas at first. And don’t take it personally.”
Even while he was suggesting new ideas, he strove to strengthen connections between the team members of different generations, “The older guys have the wisdom…they just don’t necessarily have the apps to reach us!” he joked.
Past and current President of Reading Pride Celebration, Benedict (Ben) Renkus, might admittedly be one of the ‘older guys’ Natan joked about, but he is excited about the new energy coming into the Celebration from people like Natan, “There’s some new blood…it’s the new blood that will keep carrying this thing forward,” he said.
Natan recognizes that Pride is only a part of the crucial work being done by and for the queer community, “Pride Celebration has a lot of potential to reach people and make some change. But it’s the LGBT Center of Greater Reading that is really driving this community.”
“One of the differences [between Pride and the Center] is that Pride gets the whole community together, in a safe environment, one or a few days a year. We at the LGBT Center of Greater Reading focus on training and advocacy, year-‐found, 365 days per year,” said Center founder and President, Jocelyn Young.
Although the Center and Celebration take different approaches and meet different needs for the LGBT and wider community, the leaders of each recognize each other’s importance and support each other: Ben serves as Vice President of the Center’s Board of Directors, and Jocelyn likewise serves on the Celebration’s Board.
“We’re in this together. We have to focus on what we can do together. If we don’t fight for each other, nobody else will,” said Jocelyn, “The LGBT population is undeserved, and we’re both out working for and with the LGBT community and to improve our over all community,” she explained.
Since it’s birth two years ago, the Center has been rapidly growing. The small-‐but-‐ mighty team provides a variety of queer-‐affirming trainings and performs macro-‐ level and legislative advocacy, “It’s at the point where agencies are reaching out to partner with us,” Jocelyn said. The Center is quickly adding new services, like its own library, and will host a transgender clothing exchange, “So many trans people are reluctant to go out for new clothes alone, or they just don’t have the funds,” she said.
Joceyln recalled her own experiences pre-‐Center, “Originally there was nowhere for LGBT adults to go, which is why the Center is focused on adults – for now…I didn’t have the guts to transition until I came to Reading and I met some people in the trans community. One woman gave me the strength to be myself.”
For Michelle Dech, Assistant to the Executive Director, learning about and volunteering with the Center actually completely changed her viewpoint of Reading. She hesitatingly admitted that she was “one of those people” who didn’t want to come into the City, out of fear based on misconceptions. But, learning about the Center and the work of the LGBT community, changed that,
“I wanted to give back to the community and what a better way than the Center…I made a phone call and spoke with Jocelyn and I haven’t left since…I’ve met some extraordinary people who are doing some extraordinary things in the city,” she said.
Ben, Jocelyn, Michelle and Natan not only agree that serving and bringing together the queer community will result in positive change across the City, but also that their work is part of a larger effort to empower anyone who faces injustice,
“We’re not limiting [the work of Reading Pride Celebration] to the LGBT community. It’s for anyone who is disenfranchised…And that category is growing, especially in today’s political climate,” said Ben.
Natan agrees, “This isn’t only about gay people. It’s about women. It’s about Black Lives Matter. It’s about migrants…These are the issues of a City, and therefore, of Reading.”
Editors note: Since the original interview and print publishing, Jocelyn is no longer president of the LGBT Center of Greater Reading.