Pride in the Valley: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning in the Hudson Valley, NY

Our region has proven to be a welcoming place for members of the gay and lesbian community. This series of articles includes profiles of local gay couples raising families, a look at the LGBTQ Center in Kingston, and how a Poughkeepsie student helped to form a gay-straight alliance at his school



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patrick decker and stephan hengstSpreading the word: Patrick Decker (left) and husband Stephan Hengst are the brains behind the Web site Big Gay Hudson Valley. “What we see now is a lot of queries coming in about gay tourism,” says Decker. “We get many, many inquiries from people who want to come up for the weekend”

Photograph courtesy of Big Gay Hudson Valley

Social Scene: One Web site Brings the Community Together

Spreading the word Patrick Decker (left) and husband Stephan Hengst are the brains behind the Web site Big Gay Hudson Valley. “What we see now is a lot of queries coming in about gay tourism,” says Decker. “We get many, many inquiries from people who want to come up for the weekend”

Patrick Decker, now 28, left his small, upstate farming community 10 years ago to study at the CIA in Hyde Park. He’s never left the region, partly because — as a gay man — he’s found the Hudson Valley to be very welcoming. “I don’t feel that where I grew up I could have lived as out and as openly as I do here,” he says. “We’re in a really unique position where we get such a great infusion of education and arts and culture from places like New York City, but also from the Berkshires and Boston and Philadelphia. They’ve helped give this area a refined urban progressiveness.”

Decker had long wanted to share his love of this region with others from the LGBTQ community. So, four years ago, he and his husband Stephan Hengst (the duo wed in Amsterdam in 2009) launched the Big Gay Hudson Valley (BGHV) Web site. “We had a lot of overlapping friends’ networks, and we’d find out about a lot of things that were happening here and there. So we thought we should get all the information out there in one place. At first it was a free blog and very grassroots. But it grew into something that people really responded to. This was coming at a time when a lot of businesses around here were trying to appeal to the LGBT market and they were calling it ‘alternative.’ But we said, ‘No, let’s call it what it is — this is gay.’ ”

Decker admits that before launching their business they were concerned about negative backlash, “but I can count on two fingers how many pieces of hate mail we’ve gotten in four years,” he says. Decker attributes this to a general cultural “evolution” toward embracing the LGBTQ community at all levels of society, from businesses up to government officials. Decker singles out Ulster County Executive Mike Hein as being particularly supportive. He also gives a nod to Republican State Senator Steven Saland, who ultimately switched his position to become the deciding vote in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage last June. 

Whether organizing large events or offering recommendations of gay-friendly businesses, connecting people and helping the community are the ultimate goals of Big Gay Hudson Valley

Today, Big Gay Hudson Valley is a growing community resource. The Web site provides an extensive list of gay-friendly things to do, places to eat and stay, and other local services. Last September the company also held the region’s first wedding expo for same-sex couples at Terrapin in Rhinebeck. The expo brought together approximately 40 local vendors — from jewelers and deejays to ministers — that can help couples plan a memorable wedding. “We’re moving very much in the tourism direction right now,” says Decker, noting that they’ve recently launched a partnership with Hudson Valley Tourism and will be holding a gay-centered tourism conference in November. “We get many inquiries from people who want to come up for the weekend and want to know where they can take their husbands for dinner or where to shop for a wedding ring. They’re looking for a trusted recommendation; that’s what we provide — a Big Gay Hudson Valley seal of approval.” 

Decker points out that many establishments — not just gay-owned businesses — are courting the LGBTQ community. “Businesses are being opened by younger people who don’t come with minds that exclude,” he says. “Look at the Stockade Tavern in Kingston and Brasserie 292 and Bull & Buddha in Poughkeepsie — none of them are gay-owned, but they are embracing of everyone. We’ve worked with them on events and they appreciate having a different mix of people in their space.”

The social scene has gotten a boost from the recent opening of the Out Bar on Poughkeepsie’s Main Street. “It’s a big deal because there hasn’t been a gay bar here for a long time,” says Decker. Prior to the opening of the Out Bar (“more of a lounge, less of a dance place,” says Decker), the only other gay bars were “up in Albany, down in Westchester, and of course in New York City. There is also one in Danbury. You had to drive at least an hour to go somewhere, so this is very exciting.”

The center of the summer social season remains BGHV’s annual “pride kickoff party,” which is held on Memorial Day weekend at Locust Grove in Poughkeepsie. “It’s been a great way to get people to engage with each other and to participate in the community,” says Decker. “People bring dogs and kids and picnics and blankets and just hang out on the lawn or play drag bingo,” says Decker. “Then when the sun goes down it evolves into more of an adult dance party.”

This year the celebration has expanded to an entire weekend. The kickoff is a sports-themed fete at the Out Bar on Friday night (May 25), followed by a sunset cruise on the Empire Line’s Mystére on Saturday (May 26) and wrapped up with the Locust Grove shindig on Sunday (May 27). This year, Beacon’s Crumb Bakery & Café will be on-site selling sandwiches, salads, and desserts. The $10 entrance fee collected at the Locust Grove party is donated to other community organizations. “For instance,” says Decker, “when AIDS-Related Community Services (ARCS) does their AIDS walk over the Hudson, we help underwrite the cost. We do a lot of fund-raisers.”

Whether organizing large events or offering recommendations of gay-friendly businesses, connecting people and helping the community are the ultimate goals of Big Gay Hudson Valley. “One of the reasons we decided to go digital is that with the Internet you’re really able to have that one-on-one conversation with someone, no matter where they may be,” says Decker. “We can help provide a network for kids who may feel they are alone or isolated. Or send someone to a B&B where they won’t be made to feel awkward asking for one bed. It’s all about connections.”  Visit www.biggayhudsonvalley.com for more information.