THU JUN 13

Found Family Spotlight:
Stacy Lentz

NEWS

Found Family Spotlight:
Stacy Lentz

We’re proud to be from Brooklyn, a borough teeming with the vibrant and diverse energies of its people. This patchwork of identities is what makes our neighborhood special, but the journey to authentic self-expression isn’t the same for everyone. For some folks in the queer community, embracing their individuality means finding a sense of belonging and acceptance outside of the family they were born into.

To mark this year’s Pride Month, we’re celebrating connections that run deeper than DNA: the found families LGBTQ+ folks form within their communities that offer unconditional love and support. We’re taking a closer look at how the bonds forged in these chosen networks have empowered our neighbors in New York to thrive, inspire, and amplify queer joy.

We couldn’t think of a better person to open with than Stacy Lentz, our partner at The Stonewall Inn, where the modern fight for LGBTQ+ rights started back in 1969. Stacy began her career in activism over two decades ago, and has since organized hundreds of events and fundraisers to support prominent organizations such as GLAAD, Marriage Equality USA, The Hetrick-Martin Institute, HRC, The New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP), Sylvia Rivera’s Place, Lambda Legal, SAGE, and Heritage of Pride.

Stacy is also the co-founder and CEO of The Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative (SIGBI), a non-profit dedicated to funding grassroots LGBTQ+ organizations worldwide. Earlier this year, she helped launch SIGBI’s Safe Spaces Certification Program. This initiative helps bars, restaurants, venues, and workplaces foster an inclusive environment for their LGBTQ+ guests, employees, and neighbors. Safe Spaces-certified spots demonstrate that they’re a trusted place for queer people to gather in party and in protest. Stacy’s dedication to exporting Stonewall’s legacy around the world ensures that queer folks – no matter where they are – will have places to connect with their found families.

She chatted with us about her experience moving from a rural enclave of Kansas to New York City, and how the kinship she’s found here has fostered a passion for creating safe spaces for LGBTQ+ folks without geographical privilege.

Stacy discusses how the ability to choose her found family continues to enrich her experience of the city in ways she never thought possible. She reflects on her first encounters with three of its members – DJ Mary Mac, Elina Street, and Angelica Christina – across different decades, and how their intergenerational bond allows for an exchange of perspectives that helps them bring empathy and consideration into their personal and shared projects.

Brooklyn Brewery: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Stacy Lentz: My name is Stacy Lentz, and I am a co-owner of The Stonewall Inn, and the CEO of the Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative. I’ve been an LGBTQ+ activist and advocate for the past 25 years.

BB: When you were growing up in a small town without a visible queer presence, what was your view of New York? What did it symbolize, from the perspective of the queer community?

SL: I grew up in a small Christian conservative town in the middle of nowhere in Kansas. Realizing I was a lesbian at a very young age, I felt isolated and alone. When I’d watch movies about New York City, I was like, “Oh my God, I want to live there one day. There are other people that might be like me there.” I was excited to move to New York and find people from different backgrounds and cultures. In Kansas, everyone looked like me. Everyone was kind of the same. The only difference was I was gay, and most of them weren’t.

BB: What does found family mean to you?

SL: My found family is the people that I turn to to appreciate and celebrate queer joy. They’re the people I know I can rely on to help me with my activism and uplift the community. We raise all of our voices together.

BB: How did you find them?

SL: The first time I met Angelica Christina, I was attending a screening of a film that she was in. She was a student at the Harvey Milk High School, which is an LGBTQ+ high school here in New York. We immediately clicked, and I remember her having such a presence, and a wisdom beyond her years about how to use her voice as a trans activist.

Elina Street and I met at Cubbyhole. She was sitting at the bar by herself, and I immediately went up and started talking to her, because I never want anyone to feel like they’re alone in one of our sacred safe spaces. We bonded over film, and she’s been in my life for the past 10 years. She works tirelessly for our community as a filmmaker, and most notably known for The Lesbian Bar Project.

Mary Mac and I instantly became friends when I walked into a bar and I heard her DJing. She was so passionate about her music and making sure that everyone in that space felt welcome to dance. Any chance I’ve had to throw an event or a party for all of my found family, I always want her to DJ. She uses her music as an expression of queer joy. Mary has been a DJ for the LGBTQ+ community here in New York for years, and almost every single generation has danced to her music. She’s a legendary and iconic DJ. She’s even toured with Madonna.

BB: Is there a particular moment or experience with your found family that deeply impacted you, or strengthened your bond with them?

SL: Being able to raise funds for The Lesbian Bar Project. I helped save 22 lesbian bars across the country with my found family – particularly Elina – by bringing awareness to how queer spaces are disappearing. It was an incredible experience.

BB: In your opinion, how do intergenerational friendships play a role in the queer community?

SL: In the queer community, it’s important that we pass down our history. My found family has folks that are from all different age ranges, gender identities, and gender expressions. I’m fortunate to be able to share my wealth of knowledge with them, and for them to share their wealth of knowledge with me. It’s important within the queer community that we have those intergenerational friendships where we’re both coming from a different perspective and viewpoint. In my case, being able to share queer history with folks, and for them be able to share with me what’s going on with a different generation, is an exchange that keeps progress going.

BB: Why do you think New York in particular fosters these kinds of alliances?

SL: I like to say that here in New York we have geographic privilege. We’re very fortunate that we have a found family of diverse folks, and live in a liberal city. We’re able to take all those voices, come together and spread The Stonewall Inn legacy to the places, faces, and spaces that need it the most.

At SIGBI, we’re doing a lot of work with places where it’s still very, very tough to be LGBTQ+ in 2024. Places like Uganda, where they just recently re-passed the death penalty for queer people. We’ve been fortunate enough to fund an organization called SMUG (Sexual Minorities Uganda) that helps build safe houses there, where walking down the street with your partner could put you at risk of being arrested, charged, and potentially killed. We’re also doing work in places like Tennessee – which has some of the worst laws, especially against our trans and non-binary siblings – around gender-affirming care and same-sex adoption. In Iraq, we work with an organization called IraQueer, which is the only LGBTQ+ organization in the country.

BB: Have you had the chance to meet any of these folks from around the world in person?

SL: We were very fortunate to host the first ever Stonewall Inn Brick Awards Gala this past year. I got to work with Angelica and Elina, members of my found family, to make it happen. At the ceremony, we welcomed one of our global activist winners, Dr. Frank Mugisha, who is an activist on the ground in Uganda.

Dr. Mugisha helps build safe houses there for those in the LGBTQ+ community, and he’s worked to try and get visas taken away from the people who passed this horrific death penalty law recently. He’s been nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize. It was really cool to have that conversation with him, and have him be a part of something that my found family participated with me in.

BB: What advice would you give to someone who is seeking to build their own found family within the LGBTQ+ community?

SL: If you’re looking for your own found family, I think it’s important that you make sure you find folks out there that have the same kind of moral code, and who share common interests. But I think it’s really key that you also find people who aren’t like you. It’s important to have found family members that don’t have the same background, race, or identity as you. That’s the diversity that makes your found family more interesting and fun.

BB: How do you envision the future of your found family evolving and growing over time?

SL: My found family is always changing and evolving. I get to grow older with folks that I’ve known in the queer community for decades, and then have new folks coming into my found family that are much younger that I just met. It’s an amazing experience when you can share life, you can share being an LGBTQ+ member, and you can share everyday moments (as well as grand celebrations) all while being out there fighting for change together.

Found family has been my lifeline to everything that I do for and with the community, and I wouldn’t be able to be where I am, or who I am, without them.

Want to know more about Stacy’s found family? Read on and be sure to follow them on socials to stay up to date with the incredible work they’re doing every day. Check back in here next week for another installment of our Found Family spotlights.

Hailing from Queens, DJ Mary Mac disrupted the male-dominated music scene in the early 90s. She’s since become an icon in LGBTQ+ venues throughout the city and celebrity parties across the nation, renowned for bringing an energy of unity and celebration to any room with a turntable.

Elina Street is an Emmy and GLAAD award-winning writer and director. Her work focuses on female and non-binary visibility. She is the co-creator of the critically-acclaimed documentary campaign The Lesbian Bar Project. Her recent lesbian narrative short film My Best Friend premiered at Tribeca film festival 2024. Elina’s recent directing credits include Chanel’s Women’s Literary Rendez-Vous and Vogue’s Life In Looks with Celine Dion.

New York native and multi-hyphenate Angelica Christina is an alumni of the United States’ first fully accredited LGBTQAI+ high school, The Harvey Milk High School. In addition to her philanthropic work on the Board of Directors of SIGBI, she’s an activist, producer, trans consultant, and media personality, and has appeared on shows like America’s Next Top Model and Pose.