In Hudson Valley Magazine’s January 2018 issue, reporter Steve Fowler sat down with Big Gay Hudson Valley’s Stephan Hengst – and a host of other local LGBTQ+ advocates & leaders – to discuss the current state of life for our regional community. From the story:

Ten years ago, Michael Phelps broke Mark Spitz’s record in Beijing, the U.S. economy collapsed, Heath Ledger gave his iconic performance as The Joker, the first black U.S. president was elected, and Stephan Hengst and Patrick Decker founded Big Gay Hudson Valley.

After growing frustrated by poor coordination in the LGBTQ+ community, Hengst and Decker created a Facebook group to increase communication and reduce overlap in event planning. As their side project grew from a Facebook group into a blog into a website, the couple realized they had bridged a gap in local culture. Now, thousands of residents attend Big Gay Hudson Valley’s (BGHV) events each year.

Hengst, who attended the Culinary Institute of America in the 1990s, has witnessed a great deal of change in the Hudson Valley’s LGBTQ+ community. Some developments are universal, such as the advent of social networking sites, to which he attributes the disappearance of gay bars and gay bookstores in the region. Other changes, such as the diversification of the LGBTQ+ community, are unique and have even been fostered by Big Gay Hudson Valley.

As Big Gay Hudson Valley grew, so did its strategies for connecting the community. Last October they partnered with the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center for Out On The Farm, an evening where families can play with animals, eat, drink, listen to live music, socialize, and connect. Nearly 300 people came out for the event at Sprout Creek Farm.

“The region’s always had a very robust LGBTQ community,” says Hengst. However, he emphasizes that Out On The Farm is a black sheep in terms of social gatherings. “That event — there aren’t many like it in the gay and lesbian community anywhere.”

Hengst and Decker have worked to fill this void. “I think for too long people have gotten used to gay and lesbian events only being nightlife events that happen in a bar,” Hengst says, “and there’s a lot more community that exists outside the confines of a bar.”

Pick up a copy of Hudson Valley Magazine’s January 2018 issue or head over to their website to read the rest of the story, which includes interviews with Jeff Rindler (Executive Director of the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center), Ali Ofca and Arik Sansivero (Leaders of the Allies Club at Mount Saint Mary), Angelina V. Bouros (transgender resident) and more.