Shoulders to Stand On

Shoulders to Stand On

Renowned as the city of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, Rochester, NY has a long-standing history of being at the forefront of social justice; a strong voice during the abolition movement, civil rights and women’s liberation.

With the spark of the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City, Rochester quickly rose to the challenge once again with the birth of the gay rights movement. Beginning with a small group of students and the formation of the Gay Liberation Front at the University of Rochester, Shoulders to Stand On reveals a largely unknown and undocumented history of Rochester’s LGBT community and its influences across the nation.

Audiences are engaged through very personal stories, a journey that celebrates New York’s oldest gay newspaper, the first openly gay candidate elected to public office in NY, a fight for federal funding, the first city in New York to pass a domestic partnership policy and more recently the passage of same sex marriage in New York.

Experience the stories of courage, sacrifice and accomplishments of those whose shoulders we stand on.


Click here to visit the Shoulders to Stand On blog!

If you are interested in holding a screening of Shoulders to Stand On, you must provide marketing for the screening, space to view the documentary, and either DVD or BluRay equipment. A presentation/panel is also required to introduce the documentary, give background and provide a discussion with Q&A.

Fee:  $250 for Not for Profit; $1,000 for Profit.  Both fees include a presentation/panel.

Contact:  Scott Fearing, Executive Director of the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley at or 585-244-8640.

Upcoming Screenings:

6/9/15, 6-8pm, Brighton Memorial Library (2300 Elmwood Ave, Brighton)

6/10/15, 6-8pm, Chili Public Library (333 Chili Ave, Chili)

6/16/15, 6:30-8:30, Pittsford Community Library (24 State St., Pittsford)

6/25/15, 6-8:30pm, Henrietta Public Library (455 Calkins Rd., Henrietta)

  • About the Project

    Throughout its history, Rochester, New York has been a powerful voice for dignity and civil rights. Even before the days of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, the region was built on the quest of people seeking to better their lives with opportunities to express free thought, innovation, education and worship.
    Today, we stand on the shoulders of many who have made Rochester a city that celebrates diversity and has often set benchmarks for civil liberties throughout the nation. At the forefront, Rochester’s gay community has also been there – making history – championing the cause of equality and freedom for all. But, even as history is made, our story remains fragile and can be quickly lost.The Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley has been engaged in a strategic effort to document and preserve the history of the LGBT Community in the Rochester region and its impact on New York State and the nation in advancing the cause for justice and equal rights.  This project gives credibility to our community and culture, and will be available to teach and inspire future generations.

    The Shoulders To Stand On Program has six initiatives:

    1.  Roots Chronology

    • The digitization of the Empty Closet Newspaper, the oldest continuously published monthly gay newspaper in New York State and the country, and the official paper of record which documents the Rochester gay community’s struggle for full civil rights.
    • Volunteer project to identify headlines, people, groups, events and gay friendly establishments through the Empty Closet Newspaper. Completed 1/2011.
    • Indexing and chronicling the New Women’s Times Newspaper, 1978 – 1984, which focused on the Lesbian community, the women’s peace movement in opposition to nuclear weapons storage in Upstate New York and the struggle for women’s rights.
    • Each year the next 11 issues of the Empty Closet are digitized and uploaded to the University of Rochester site. Every five years, the digitzed copies will be microfilmed by the University of Rochester for preservation.

    2. GAGV NYS Archives Documentation Project

    This project documented the history of the GLBT community in Rochester, New York and its influences locally and nationally.  The program will identify, survey, and make recommendations for the care, custody, and control of the records of 10 to 20 of the over 260+ gay organizations, agencies, groups and individuals who made history during 1969 to 2012 in Rochester, NY. The project was supported through grants awarded from the NYS Archives for 2009-2010, 2010-2011, and 2011-2012.

    3. Writing and Publishing the History of the Rochester LGBT Community

    The successful completion of the Roots Chronology and the Documentation Project will allow the research needed to write and publish the history of the Rochester LGBT Community. A rough outline for the book is in place.

    4. Documentary Film

    Shoulders To Stand On, a full length documentary film, captures the stories, struggles and achievements of our gay pioneers, highlights many events that put Rochester, NY in the local and national spotlight, and celebrates the spirit of a community that is bound together with a steadfast sense of pride.

    Production was completed in September, 2013. The digitized data from the Empty Closet provided a foundation for the documentary, but it was the personal stories and memorabilia that completed the picture.

    The Producer’s Premier was September 29, 2013.  The World Premier was at the ImageOut Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in October, 2014.  The Closed Caption Premier was at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) on April 17, 2014. The documentary was broadcast on New York PBS Station WXXI on June 3, 2014.

    5. Oral Histories

    The oral histories collected for the documentary will be shared online through the Interactive Website Educational Kit. The oral histories will also be shared with NPR’s StoryCorp. Oral histories will continue to be collected on an ongoing basis.

    6. Website Educational Kit

    In conjunction with the archival and documentary project, a website will be launched to engage the community into conversations about Rochester’s LGBT history. The website will allow people to submit their stories and/or materials that represent their own LGBT history. In addition, the Educational Kit will provide study guides and resources for educators wanting to include LGBT studies in their curriculums.

    Why is this project important?

    It is imperative to safeguard our Rochester LGBT history.  As many of our pioneers are passing on, stories and archival materials are quickly being lost. In order to celebrate and understand who we are, we need to be able to reflect back on where we have come from, the struggles we have faced, and the achievements of a community founded on the principles of equality and justice for all.

    For more information or questions, contact us at

  • Your Stories

    View some of the oral histories we have filmed so far about …

    The Gay Liberation Front at the University of Rochester
    The beginning of the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley

    Interviewed:  Patti Evans and Whitey LeBlanc

    The First Six Years of The Empty Closet
    Interviewed:  Jay Baker, Editor

    CETA (Comprehensive Employment & Training Act)
    Part 1:  Introduction to CETA

    Interviewed: Bob Sweeney, Betty Dwyer and John Noble

    CETA (Comprehensive Employment & Training Act)
    Part 2: What Was the Community Chest?

    Interviewed:  Bob Sweeney, Betty Dwyer and John Nobles

    CETA (Comprehensive Employment & Training Act)
    Part 3: City Council Approval of CETA Funding

    Interviewed:  Bob Sweeney, Betty Dwyer and John Nobles

    CETA (Comprehensive Employment & Training Act)
    Part 4: Impact of CETA on GAGV

    Interviewed:  Bob Sweeney, Betty Dwyer and John Nobles

    CETA (Comprehensive Employment & Training Act)
    Part 5: CETA Grant Renewal

    Interviewed:  Bob Sweeney, Betty Dwyer and John Nobles

    CETA (Comprehensive Employment & Training Act)
    Part 6: Personal Reflections on CETA Funding

    Interviewed:  Bob Sweeney, Betty Dwyer and John Nobles

    CETA (Comprehensive Employment & Training Act)
    Part 7: Political Impact of CETA on the Rochester, NY Community

    Interviewed:  Bob Sweeney, Betty Dwyer and John Nobles

    CETA (Comprehensive Employment & Training Act)
    Part 8:  1977 to Present

    Interviewed:  Bob Sweeney, Betty Dwyer and John Nobles

    Gay Pride – Rochester, NY, June 28, 1989

  • Share Your Stories

    We all have a story to tell. We all have a place in history. Now is the time to let your voice be heard.

    • What are your experiences with Rochester’s LGBT community?
    • How far back do your stories go?
    • Do you have any photos, home movies or memorabilia that chronicles your life or events in Rochester?

    Complete the form below and share your history with us.   All entries will remain confidential. If we decide to use your stories or materials as part of our documentary project, we will contact you directly to obtain permission before we proceed.   You many also choose to remain anonymous if you would like to send us information about a person or an event that you think would be important for this project.

    Provide us with as much information as you choose. If you would like your story to be considered for the documentary, please be sure to provide your name and a way of contacting you.

  • LGBT Documentation Project

    Help preserve Rochester’s LGBT History before it disappears.
    Shoulders to Stand On, a program of the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley, through a grant from the New York State Documentary Heritage Program is seeking records from organizations and individuals that help preserve the documents of the LGBT community in Rochester.

    Many records that document Rochester’s LGBT community are in risk of disappearing due to individuals dying; organizations, agencies, and groups relocating; and the lack of a central repository to preserve these records.

    If you have any knowledge of the following records, please contact the LGBT Documentation Project Archival Consultant, Julia Novakovic at or 585.244.8640 ext 32.

    We are looking for …

    Organizational Records: Financial, meeting minutes, formal and informal records – written and electronic, public relations materials, posters, informational brochures, event advertising flyers, correspondence, photographs, ephemera

    Individual Collections: Gay civil rights, HIV AIDS, religious response to GLBT community, political development at local, state, and federal level

    Publications: We have The Empty Closet but any other publications chronicling the Rochester LGBT community are welcome

    Currently we are looking for any information regarding pre-Stonewall.

  • Archives/ Documentary Heritage Project

    Documentation Project of the Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Community of Rochester, NY

    The Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley has been engaged in a strategic effort to document the history of the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender community in Rochester, NY.  The present LGBT community of Rochester, which is the product of the 1st generation of activism, has had no organized repository to gather its history and the struggle for equality.  Prior to the late 1960’s there were no records other than oral tradition.  To properly document the history of the LGBT community in Rochester and its influence locally and nationally, the Gay Alliance applied for and received a grant from the NYS Documentary Heritage Program to identify and locate the records of any local LGBT community organization that existed for more then 3 years.

    If you have any materials (posters, fliers, meeting minutes, photographs etc) related to any LGBT community events and organizations, please contact the Shoulders to Stand On Project.  Read more about the efforts to save LGBT historic items download the brochure below, and/or the flier to post and share with others.

    Shoulders To Stand On Program of the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley expresses its heartfelt gratitude to DataVault Storage for donating space for the temporary storage of archival material from various LGBT organizations in Rochester, New York.  If you or your company have record storage needs, we would encourage you to consider DataVault (585- 235-3380) to thank them for supporting our important work.