After the rain, a rainbow

These past few weeks have been acutely challenging for members of our region’s LGBTQ-plus community. But as this community knows, there is hope, joy and belonging to be found even in horrible circumstances.

Just over two weeks ago, a transgender pride flag at the Saranac Lake home of Adirondack North Country Gender Alliance Executive Director Kelly Metzgar was vandalized for the third time in three years.

Taken by itself, a flag being torn down may seem harmless. But this isn’t just about a flag — and we all know that.

Metzgar is, by far, the most visible and most vocal advocate for LGBTQ-plus rights in the North Country. She is an out, proud transgender woman who — through the ANCGA — has spearheaded the creation of multiple queer events, support groups and Pride festivals in a region where those things were once nonexistent.

Anyone who has grown up queer in the Adirondacks likely knows this: There has been a culture of quiet for many years, an unspoken belief that if you are not visible, not too outwardly queer, that no harm — whether that be harassment or outright violence — will come to you. Globally, LGBTQ-plus people have been unjustly demonized and ostracized for generations, their rights and existence politicized. That treatment has, and continues to, trickle down to the local level. A survey released this year by the Trevor Project, a nonprofit with a focus on LGBTQ-plus suicide prevention, found that among 28,524 LGBTQ-plus people between the ages of 13 and 24, 15% of those who lived in the northeast were physically threatened or harmed because of their sexual orientation, 25% because of their gender identity. At least 46% were discriminated against because of their sexual orientation and 63% because of their gender identity.

Metzgar, just by being herself, has become a community-maker, a beacon of resilience and hope for meaningful change. The vandalism was an attempt to intimidate this woman, but moreso seems like an attempt to provoke fear in the community that holds her dear, a signal that to be LGBTQ-plus is to be in danger.

This was the latest in a string of other anti-LGBTQ-plus incidents in Saranac Lake alone: Last year, a Pride flag at Saranac Lake resident John Stack’s home was vandalized — twice in one month — and a balloon arch at the Saranac Lake Pride festival was destroyed.

These are not isolated acts. This comes as LGBTQ-plus rights are under fire throughout the country, with a record 70 anti-LGBTQ-plus laws adopted in state Legislatures across the U.S. in 2023, according to the Human Rights Campaign. A majority of those target transgender and gender non-conforming people. So far this year, 489 anti-LGBTQ-plus bills have been proposed in state Legislatures. Lest we believe that this is really about “protecting” children: Many of these bills target the healthcare, nondiscrimination protections and rights of LGBTQ-plus adults.

To belittle the vandalism at Metzgar’s home is to ignore this broader context.

Last week brought another blow with the untimely death of Robbi Mecus, an advocate for the local LGBTQ-plus community. Mecus, of Keene Valley, was a beloved transgender woman, a trailblazer who literally saved lives through her work as a forest ranger with the state Department of Environmental Conservation. She, too, was a community-maker: She helped organize a space for queer ice climbers — the Queer Ice Fest, a free climbing event in Keene Valley.

It is difficult to find words for the enormity of this loss. This was a person who, as Metzgar told the Enterprise this week, “was the face of what it was to be a positive transgender person.” We would argue that she exemplified what we should all aspire to become: By all reports, she was a leader and a team player, a mentor, kind, smart, highly-skilled and loved.

It was heartening to see more than 90 residents co-sign a letter to the editor to the Enterprise condemning the vandalism at Metzgar’s home last week and to see the outpouring of love and support for Mecus’ family and her climbing partner, former North Country School teacher and local outdoors enthusiast Melissa Orzechowski. Despite these horrible events, the response points to this region’s broad support for LGBTQ-plus individuals.

If you are mourning, know that you are not alone. If you are afraid, know that you are not alone. If you feel alone, know that there are resources that you can access.

To name a few: There is a weekly LGBTQ-plus peer group over Zoom every Wednesday from 7 to 8:15 p.m. through the ANCGA. (Contact ancga@outlook.com for more information.) There is a monthly LGBTQ-plus mixer, the next one is May 28 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Bitters and Bones, 65 Broadway, Saranac Lake. The Trevor Project offers help from counselors 24/7, either by chat at www.thetrevorproject.org, by text –text “start” to 678-678 — or by phone at 1-866-488-7386. The New York state Office of Mental Health also has resources: omh.ny.gov/omhweb/lgbtqia.

Know that there is hope and community to be found, even if they have to created from scratch.


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