GLENS FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – On Friday evening, vegan deli and bakery Birch Bark Eatery will host the newest iteration of a longtime LGBTQ+ alliance with members from Glens Falls, Lake George, and into Saratoga and Washington counties. It’s a new chapter for The Bridge – or, as it has now rebranded, Lower Adirondack PRIDE.

Members of – and allies to – the local LGBTQ+ community are invited to visit Birch Bark Eatery from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Friday, to join in on the group’s first meeting as Lower Adirondack PRIDE. The goal is to gather a new generation of queer community members together, and figure out what type of work will come to define them. They won’t be the first.

“I remember being involved in issues like kids wanting to bring same-sex dates to prom, and schools not understanding why that was important,” described Mark Pietre, outgoing president of Lower Adirondack PRIDE. “We got involved in talking to schools about why those things were important.”

Pietre took over The Bridge in 2010, preceded by founder Andrea Adams. When she was in charge, Adams treated the group as a resource center, with a lot of focus then placed on securing HIV tests and bridging gaps within the greater Glens Falls community. Adams stepped down after suffering a stroke in 2010 and later passed away.

When Pietre took his turn, he and the group at large recalibrated, pivoting to work with school districts to create Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) groups to help LGBTQ+ youth trying to find a place of their own. The group also became more public than it ever had been previously. From 2015-17, The Bridge hosted LGBTQ+ Pride events at City Park in Glens Falls.

Pietre recalls the 2016 and 2017 events in particular as having thousands in attendance. And, just like GSAs at schools, Pride events out in downtown Glens Falls made a world of difference for many.

“The best thing that ever happened was that at each of the Prides, teenagers would visit and bring families, and feel the support,” Pietre recalled. “Some came to me and said they had just come out to their parents for the first time.”

The group’s rebrand comes after a hiatus. Pietre left the area in 2017. He returned to Glens Falls in 2018, and when he did, he found that many of The Bridge’s core members had split off – many living in distant areas, like Lake George, Whitehall, and Cambridge. Talk of getting the gang back together was had but then halted in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pietre is ready to hand over the baton. He isn’t sure exactly what form the group’s next generation will take, but hopes to nurture whatever the new faces of the group see as the biggest tasks at hand. There’s also nonprofit paperwork to unearth, to figure out exactly how far Lower Adirondack PRIDE can go. He and the other board members of Lower Adirondack PRIDE agree about what makes the mission important.

“Board members have really wanted to follow through on this. One, it’s a necessary thing, and two, it’s a promise we made to Andrea,” said Kate Austin-Avon, founder of Advokate, LLC, and a member of the current Lower Adirondack PRIDE board.

Austin-Avon also pointed to an employee of hers, Cam Cardinale, who has also taken a critical role in rebuilding the community. Cardinale is assembling statistics on teenage suicide rates, and specifically how many young LGBTQ+ people are within those statistics. Those numbers echo what motivated Pietre when he took his turn at the helm.

“We were losing so many young kids to suicide. So many gay and transgender kids,” Pietre said.

Those planning to attend Friday’s meeting can RSVP on Facebook. Birch Bark Eatery will provide complimentary appetizers, as well as a special menu for those who want to order a meal during the meeting. Birch Bark Eatery is located at 21 Ridge St. in downtown Glens Falls.