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Celebrating PRIDE 2024

Celebrating PRIDE 2024

June 25, 2024
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In observance of Pride Month, ICHS is conducting interviews with staff in the organization to get their thoughts on Pride month and share with you their own personal experiences and advice.

Meet Aly Cronce

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Aly Cronce (on left) and her wife (on right).

Aly Cronce (she/her) is the APP/FM Residency Coordinator. She has been with ICHS for 2 years. She is an openly proud lesbian of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Antonio Foles: What does pride mean to you?

Aly Cronce: Pride to me is a time to recognize our foremothers and forefathers. Without them pioneering a space for us, we would have nothing. I don't think there's ever a bad time to remember that our ability to peacefully exist was born from the blood, sweat, and tears of black trans women. But also personally for me it's a time to spend with my chosen family and an excuse to love on them even more than I already do.

Antonio Foles: Do you feel that pride has changed for you throughout the years?

Aly Cronce: Absolutely, and I know it sounds awful, but I never celebrated Pride before I met my wife. I used to say things like “I'm not really a rainbow lesbian,” like it was a bad thing. I feel like I didn't start living until I met my wife.

I met this beautiful trans woman, and she was navigating all of these huge physical and emotional changes, but she was also curating this group of people around her that were so loud and open and just outwardly themselves. For me I had to sit with myself and ask, “Why do I feel like I have to make myself so small and feel like I can't celebrate openly?” I think a lot of it was how queer people are portrayed in not only media but just in general. People mock it flamboyantly in your face. The stereotype. I didn't want to be a stereotype. It took a while to realize that it doesn’t really matter. They don’t. Caring about those things is just going to make you unhappy. So yeah, now I celebrate Pride.

“When you have your people, pride is a joy.” - Aly Cronce
Antonio Foles: How has being lesbian along with having other identities played a role in your career, life, etc.?

Aly Cronce: I think growing up poor and gay in Texas did a lot of the moral groundwork for me. Most of my life I lived in predominantly marginalized communities and I think that gave me a love and respect for people that I feel really lucky to have.

I grew up with a mother who would take in anybody who needed help. We didn’t have a lot but she found a way every single time to help anybody who needed it. She is compassion without question personified. I think growing up with her and also growing up in that community gave me a really good foundation. It made me seek out working with underserved populations because that's where I feel like I’m making a tangible change, but also I'm surrounded by people whose altruism drives their actions and that's all I wanted. Here you can choose what goes in.

Antonio Foles: What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a great ally to the LGBTQIA+ community?

Aly Cronce: I think the number one would be to educate yourself. Use whatever privilege that you have to amplify queer voices. Learn how to advocate for our community without centering yourself in the conversation. There's so many resources out there. There’s PFLAG, the Trevor Project, and the National Center for Transgender Equality.

There are many books that I love, such as, Lavender Scare by David K Johnson, which is a really good one to read since it gives some history about what it was like in the 1940’s and 50s and how queers were persecuted. It very much paralleled with the Red Scare and McCarthyism movement. It delves into how being homosexual was seen as a disease that could be spread. It gives some history and basis on why things are the way they are now. Let the Record Show by Sarah Schulman is a really good option. It's about how people of color and lesbians led HIV activism. It recenters the history of it away from white men and back to the people who were actual leaders in the movement. There’s so many books, so many resources.

“I think it's extremely important to know the history of our community before you think you can be an ally.” - Aly Cronce
Antonio Foles: What advice would you give to the younger generation of queer folk?

Aly Cronce: You don't have to out yourself until you're ready. There's no shame in doing things on your own timeline and on your own terms. Be a safe person for people who need a safe space. Think of the type of person you would want to be your mentor and be that for the people around you.

Meet John Marrin

John Marrin Scott Sato International Community Health Services
John Marrin (on left) and his partner Scott Sato (on right).

John Marrin (he/him) is a Nurse Practitioner at Bellevue and the Lead Provider for the Primary Care HIV Prevention (PCHP) grant. He has been with ICHS as a Nurse Practitioner since November 2021 and as a nurse since September 2017. He is an openly proud gay man of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Antonio Foles: What does Pride mean to you?

John Marrin: Pride is a chance to recognize and celebrate who we are. In the context of our broader community and our pride family, I think it's a chance to recognize and affirm who we are. For me, Pride is so meaningful because growing up in the Midwest in a small town, it was a place where I didn't always have a lot of other queer people in my life or didn't see other queer people. There can be a lot of pressure – whether external or internal – to feel like we need to tone down our queerness because we don't want to make others uncomfortable or sometimes just for our own safety.

For me, Pride means that we have this time and space where we can be with other people in our community and we get to be who we are, just as we are. No toning down and no feeling the need to fit in or kind of dampen things down. We get to be out, proud, and have fun. We’re able to be together with people like us who understand both our triumphs and our struggles. I think so many of us share a coming out journey and understanding of what it means to be in spaces that aren't always welcoming and affirming. And so suddenly to be in a space that is welcoming, that is just so wonderful. So, kind of like Big Gay Tuesdays.

“I think so many of us share a coming out journey and understanding of what it means to be in spaces that aren't always welcoming and affirming. And so suddenly to be in a space that is welcoming, that is just so wonderful.” John Marrin DNP, FNP-BC
Antonio Foles: For staff who aren’t familiar, could you explain what “Big Gay Tuesday” is?

John Marrin: When I started helping with the HIV prevention grant at ICHS last September, it was the first time I was on a team of all queer people doing something that we saw as directly helping our community and making ICHS a more welcoming, safe place. Tuesdays are the day I spend with the HIV prevention team, and I call it Big Gay Tuesdays. I really love that we can all have fun together and show a side of ourselves that we don’t always get to share in a professional setting, while also doing something that is deeply meaningful to all of us.

Antonio Foles: Has your experience or interpretation of Pride changed over the years?

John Marrin: Yeah, I think so. I remember as a young adult, I was still really afraid to take part in Pride. I grew up in Kansas City and I would go work as a volunteer at Pride. I would do HIV testing and counseling and part of it was my excuse for why I got to go to Pride. I'm sad when I look back on that, that I didn't feel like I could go to Pride just because I wanted to go to Pride. And I'm sad that I didn't feel confident enough in my own identity to just go to pride, be seen, participate, and just have fun. And so I think at this point in my life, I am really grateful and really excited that I have a supportive community and have a group of friends and live in a place where I do feel safe. I feel more confident about who I am and less afraid to live that identity out loud. And so for me Pride now feels like much more of a celebration and is so much more fun.

I think at the same time, like a lot of us are thinking differently this year about Pride. In particular this year and in recent years, we’re seeing how much queer hate there is out there in the world and in our country. Being in Seattle, it can be easy to get swept up in the fun and the celebration of Pride. But I think this year, a lot of people are going to have on their mind that it’s a scary place out there for lots of queer people.

And so it's not enough to just celebrate and have fun in the safe space that we've carved out for ourselves but we also have to think, “How can we expand that to other people who need it?” I think about young trans and non-binary people in our community or people who don't live in a state like Washington. How can we bring pride to them? I'm grateful that Pride is an opportunity for us to think about and talk about that together. This is our community coming together to celebrate and address that, and also to honor people who paved the way for us as well.

Antonio Foles: How has being gay along with having other identities played a role in your career, life, etc.?

John Marrin: I honestly think that I work in healthcare and that I’m a nurse practitioner because of my gay identity. As a young adult, I felt a calling for working with communities who are not at the center. Some of my very earliest work after college was as a Spanish interpreter and a social worker for migrant workers and their families, most of whom didn't speak English or were undocumented.

In a sense, we are creating the healthcare experience for queer people that is for queer people, by queer people. I think that it is really special to be part of a team that is doing that because we are aiming to create an open, accepting, non-judgmental, and positive experience for queer people who didn't always experience this. And so for me, it's really special to be in a place where I get to do that with a team of people that celebrates our queerness every Tuesday.

Antonio Foles: What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a great ally to the queer community?

John Marrin: I think some of the straight allies in my life who I've appreciated the most are people who have made me feel like my queerness is normalized and accepted. When I think about people in the hospital where I used to work as a nurse, or when I think about the team that I get to work with at Bellevue now, it's the MAs, it's the nurses, it's the providers who when they ask what I did this weekend, I can share that I did something with my boyfriend, or my partner, and that is accepted and celebrated. People ask me about my partner, the same way that I asked them about their life, and I don't feel like I have to hide any part of that.

Also too, I have really appreciated sincere open-hearted questions that people have asked, either about my experience or even just like “What does this word mean? Like Cisgender?” That has really meant a lot to me…because I think people can be so afraid to ask those questions because it makes it seem like they don't know or care. But for me, that willingness to want to know, to want to engage with that part of our experience is like, “What more can you ask for from a great ally?”

Antonio Foles: What advice would you give to the younger generation of queer folk?

John Marrin: For me, it's “find your community" because I think with any kind of growing up experience, we have our families, our friends, and the adults or mentors in our life. Those are the people who teach us how to be the people who we are or they lead the way for us. For so many of us, we didn't always have a queer role model or queer friends early on in our life. I think we find those people later in life and they become our chosen family.

They also give us the tools and the affirmation to find that love and acceptance internally, which I think is often much harder. I think about my own experience growing up as a gay man and about the community that I had, and what a huge role they played in my life. Both queer friends and allies, those are the people who shape us into the core people that we are. We live in a culture that can make us feel like we’re broken or “less than”, but when we find our community, they help us love ourselves as we are because we get to see ourselves through their eyes.. And so, find those people in whatever way you can.

Emily Pacunski International Community Health Services
Emily Pacunski at the Shoreline Farmers Market.

Meet Emily Pacunski

Emily Pacunski (she/they) is a Social Worker for the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE). She is an openly proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Antonio Foles: What does Pride mean to you?

Emily Pacunski: I have spent a lot of time really thinking about this since it is my first Pride out and I started to self-identify as queer during the last pride month when I was starting to dig deep into who I am and who I always have been. I think Pride is a way to showcase self-love and not just self-love but also the love that community can bring together. I think it's kind of this dual piece of individual self-love and self-care while also providing ourselves a space to exist. Pride is a protest and it was started by women who don't look like me and we should honor their legacy in whatever way we can.

Antonio Foles: You mentioned that this is your first Pride out. What changed for you since your last Pride and how do you view Pride now?

Emily Pacunski: I think what really changed is I got out of a relationship where there were a lot of times where my queerness was not being affirmed. Also, my youngest sibling actually came out as non-binary a couple of years ago, so it's really been a journey for my whole family. So when they came out I was so excited to be the full big sister ally. Afterward, I started to notice things in my relationship where I was like, “This is not affirming for my sibling or to myself.”

So I really started to dig deep into what different identities were out there and how those really aligned well with me and it just happened to be during pride month. I think it was really, just kind of a weird coincidence at the time just because I was going through so much transition at the time. In this last year, I have slowly started coming out to the people who are closest to me and to my community at large, and I have been met with nothing but support from my parents, my siblings, my partner, and from all of the people who surround me. The other part of it is I came out as genderqueer. I still haven't decided what kind of word affirms my gender identity yet, but I also came out as ace and panromantic.

I feel like there's a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding of the Ace community and that the “A: in “LGBTQIA+” is not for allies but that it’s actually for “asexual” or “ace.” I have really leaned into that and been so well received and loved by the people around me that it felt like the right time to really speak my truth. 

“I have really leaned into that and been so well received and loved by the people around me that it felt like the right time to really speak my truth.” - Emily Pacunski, MSW, LSWAIC
Antonio Foles: So for readers who are not familiar with this terminology, how would you explain “ace” and “genderqueer?”

Emily Pacunski: I'll start with ace because that's the one I feel very confident in. So asexual, also known as “ace,” basically means that you don't experience sexual attraction and there is a spectrum of it. Some people experience sexual attraction if they're emotionally attracted to somebody but there's a spectrum of attraction. I experience no sexual attraction, but I'm still able to make romantic connections with partners and what not. So that's the ace piece and then the other side if that is aromantic, which is for folks who don't experience romantic attraction. For those two things, you can be both, just one or the other. That’s what the “A” in the acronym stands for.

Genderqueer is when you don't necessarily identify in general with the gender that you were assigned at birth. Genderqueer is also a way of trying to break down those social cultural gender norms. For me, gender is a little bit fluid and even though I present as very feminine most of the time, that's not always how I feel and that's okay.

Antonio Foles: How has being queer along with having other identities played a role in your career, life, etc.?

Emily Pacunski: Yeah. Oh, that's such a big question. I grew up Catholic and so there was a lot of anti-queerness. I think this experience is very true for a lot of queer folks. In general, we grew up in a church, whether it's the Catholic Church or something else, and so I heard a lot of homophobic and transphobic messaging growing up. I was fortunate that my church wasn't so in your face about it all the time, but it still was consistent messaging like “pray the gay away.” Things changed when I went to school to become a social worker.

During my freshman year, I learned about Stonewall and social work really grounded me in the idea of protests, riots, and fostering community growth. I learned more about myself and the community around me, just in general. Once I graduated and began working in the ‘real world’, I continued to try to learn these things. I spent time self-reflecting and began to identify and label myself as queer last year. Being a queer femme, there are a lot of people who won’t take me seriously or who don’t understand my experience. It’s somewhat similar to being a social worker in the medical field - sometimes you just don’t get taken as seriously as male doctors,

I love the work of Kimberlé Crenshaw and what she has written about intersectionality. I was first introduced to it when I was in school and I have really carried that with me throughout my life and I know that it will continue to move with me. I just remember that there are privileges I have that can be leveraged. I am educated. I am white. I'm able to use those things to help elevate the voices of those around me and advocate for them. Even though I am queer and I’m a woman, I’m also still learning how to take a step back to figure out how to give space for others who are in the BIPOC community, who are in historically marginalized communities, and who deserve the space. If I can just help open a door and give them the room, that's great. My job here is not done, but at least we're moving in the right direction.

Antonio Foles: What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a great ally to the queer community?

Emily Pacunski: There's so much, but I think the very first thing is to educate yourself. It is okay to ask me about my identities. It's okay to ask me specifically, not necessarily everybody, “What my identities mean to me?” If you're really curious about something, do your research and try to learn. It's the same in that we’re not expecting black people to do all of the work in terms of anti-racist education, like white people have to take a step up and so do our cisgender heterosexual counterparts.

Antonio Foles: What do you think are some great first steps or resources for someone who's wanting to educate themselves? What would you recommend?

I think the Trevor Project is a great place to start. Their whole website is geared towards children and teens so it's really easy to understand language. They have a whole dictionary with different terms and you can start to learn. I also recommend that people start at the beginning, look up Stonewall, figure out what the roots of this movement are, and find educators online. There are so many that I can think of off the top of my head: Blair Imani is a Black Muslim, queer educator Dylan Mulvany, who was in the recent ‘Bud Light scandal’, and Rose Montoya. There are tons of queer educators out there who do put their content out into the world. I’d also suggest scrolling through Instagram pages of people who are known queer activists like Jonathan Van Ness of Queer Eye. For my fellow aces, Yasmin Benoit is a great activist and resource.

There are so many things in culture that we are inundated with and if the easiest way for you to get into it is by googling something then great. If it's easier for you to go on Instagram and follow somebody and read their content, great. If you're a student and have access to a research database, google something, go search something, and read an article. Find the avenue that works best for you because I promise there's info out there.

Antonio Foles: What advice would you give to the younger generation of queer folk?

Emily Pacunski: I still feel like I am kind of part of that younger generation of queer folk, but for the people who I see younger than me who are still in elementary, middle, high school, or college. Find your family. Whether it's people who raised you or people who you are biologically or adopted related to, find the people who affirm you, who love you no matter what, and make you feel safe. Also, do your research on who you think you are and it's okay if your labels change over time. If you think you're one thing and in two months or two years, you feel like you have a different label then that’s okay. Labels are just there to help you. It's not for anybody else, you can identify however you want and that's okay.


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