Leading up to our NYC event, we’ve been lucky to interview key people from some of the NY LGBT organizations joining us. Jay Handy, the director of LGBT Expo, is one of those. Read on to learn more about how Jay got involved with LGBT Expo and the awesome work they are currently doing.
What is the mission of LGBT Expo?
Our mission is always forever changing and growing with the community. The LGBT Expo was founded in 1994, so as you can imagine, the landscape of the LGBT community has changed significantly since then. When the event was first founded, it was more of a meeting point for LGBT individuals. It’s hard to image now, but back then much of the promotional materials for the event were sent in covered packages and a large number of companies were very resistant, and some very vocal against participating. Of course times have changed and the acceptance of the event has grown right alongside the acceptance of the LGBT community. Currently our mission is to support the educational and political process to best serve LGBT members and as a melting pot for gay owned and operated businesses as well as those businesses catering their products and services to the LGBT community.
What inspired you to get involved with LGBT Expo?
I came on board to the LGBT Expo (Then called the Original Gay & Lesbian Business & Entertainment Expo) in 2001, fresh out of college. I had recently graduated with Journalism and English degrees out of the University of Rhode Island and was looking for a job. I found the RDP Group (the former producer of the event) in a small help wanted ad in the Hartford Current, applied, and got the job. The expo was my very first experience producing a trade show and needless to say, I was hooked. Little did I know, 14 years later I would own the management company taking over the show after the owners of the RDP Group retired, and I really couldn’t be happier to help service such a great community.
How has the climate around LGBT issues changed since gay marriage was legalized in the US?
It was a really interesting process. I am originally from Vermont, the first state in the country to legalize civil unions, so in a way, I’ve been exposed to the gay marriage issue since I was in high school. Fast forward nearly 2 decades, and we wake up one morning to find that SCOTUS had ruled in favor of gay marriage, and it now was the law of the land. And what an amazing day that was! Since the ruling, not only have we seen a boom in the LGBT wedding industry, but also now we’re seeing the same boom in the LGBT family planning and service industry. Adoption groups, fertility services, LGBT-friendly schools and summer camps are all coming out of the woodwork to participate in the LGBT Expo. So much so that on top of having a Wedding Pavilion within the show, we’ve also, this year, created a Family Pavilion catering to the family planning needs our attendees.
If you’re open to it, can you share a powerful moment that’s happened at an LGBT expo?
Last year we did our very first wedding on the show floor. It was amazing to see not only the lovely couple and their young daughter but also over a thousand LGBT community members there to share the moment. As a (relatively) young, progressive person, it still amazes me that only a year prior to the show floor wedding, this couple had no legal right to share their bond with each other. It was a really amazing moment for everyone involved.
What are the biggest roadblocks facing LGBT organizations like yours?
I think one of the major misconceptions is that the LGBT community has gotten the acceptance and protection that they’ve always been wanting, and now the battle has been won. We are constantly reminding businesses that are trying to get involved with our event that the LGBT community needs your support now more than ever.
How has the LGBT community in NY impacted you? How would you like to impact it?
Again, being a 23-year-old event, we wouldn’t be around today without the local support of the NY LGBT business owners, activists, non-profits, and pro LGBT corporations. I would like to think that the LGBT Expo has in many ways helped get the community to the level of acceptance that we’re seeing today. Moving forward, we are always pressing for greater acceptance of diversity and its necessity in business, politics, even within our own families. Thankfully we have a great platform to do so.
What have you learned through working at LGBT Expo?
Wow. What haven’t I learned?! As I said before, the LGBT Expo was the first event I ever produced, so in a way the event has given me my livelihood. Without it, who knows where I would be, but I can guess that wherever that is, it wouldn’t be nearly as rewarding as where I am now.
Why are you excited about this year’s LGBT Expo event?
Last year’s event was our first full year taking over from the previous ownership group, so we threw a lot of different ideas at the wall just to see what stuck. I’m most excited to take everything that we learned last year and implement what worked into a stronger and more successful event. All in all we have a huge opportunity to bring more dynamic speakers and special guests in, as well as continue to grow the expo’s social media platform so it will have a much larger and more resonant voice.
And let’s not forget, it’s also an election year, and we would love to hold our first-ever presidential rally! (I’m looking at you Bernie and Hillary)