In 2020, Westchester County Executive George Latimer signed into law and formally created the Westchester County LGBTQ Advisory Board, ensuring its important work would continue through future administrations.

The Westchester County LGBTQ+ Advisory Board was founded in 2002 under County Executive Andrew Spano and then-LGBTQ+ Liaison Laura Newman as a citizens’ board to advise the County Executive. Anticipating the evolving needs of a diverse community, Newman formed the group to create a more direct means of communication with LGBTQ+ Westchester residents. County Executive Spano appointed board members at the recommendation of Newman. At the time of founding, board members’ responsibilities included providing the county with policy recommendations, surveying the community for needs assessment, organizing an annual town hall open to community comment, and producing an annual report to be presented at the town hall.

The Board’s early work included implementing sensitivity training for police and county employees, obtaining funding to expand health and human services programs for community members, and distributing information through both the county website and a series of informational brochures to assist those at all intersections of the LGBTQ+ community. At a time when marriage equality was far from reality, the Advisory Board strived to recognize LGBTQ+ couples and afford them the same protections as straight couples. These efforts included creating a countywide Domestic Partner Registry to allow unmarried LGBTQ+ couples to document their relationship, obtaining domestic partner benefits for county employees, advising the County Executive in creating an Executive Order that recognized same-gender marriages as legal in the jurisdiction where the marriages took place, and providing informational resources to couples to support their partnership and protect them from discrimination.

Similarly, the Board has worked continuously to support transgender and gender non-conforming Westchester residents, eliminate gender-based discrimination, and to affirm all gender identities. At the Board’s recommendation, the County revised its Human Rights Law in 2009 to expand the definition of gender to include gender identity and extend protections to transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. The law used similar language to the County’s 2008 Fair Housing Act, which had prohibited housing discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

The Board has met and worked closely with other Westchester LGBTQ+ community-based organizations to meaningfully engage with the community and connect them with necessary resources. In partnership with these groups, the Board has continued to supply the community with information through literature distribution and the County’s website. Over the years, the Board has coordinated with other groups to organize events for the community, such as town halls and awards ceremonies, Westchester Colleges and Universities Summits, and the PrideWorks conference for middle and high school students. Along with 13 LGBTQ+ nonprofit groups, the Board formed a coalition in 2009 to create Westchester Pride, an annual celebration during Pride Month.

In recent years, the Board has continued its active role in the lives of the Westchester County LGBTQ+ population. The Board was instrumental in creating a countywide ban on the destructive practice of conversion therapy in 2019, prohibiting the destructive practice months before a ban on the state level. In 2021, the Board, joined by County Executive Latimer, recognized the International Transgender Day of Visibility for the first time in county history. Continuing the previous successes of the Board in supporting transgender and gender non-conforming Westchester residents, the event encouraged county employees and other professionals to share their pronouns in email signatures and other introductory communications, making the workplace in Westchester more inclusive of all identities.

With the full support of the County, and a new role as a county board, the Advisory Board looks forward to continuing its service to the Westchester LGBTQ+ community.