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C Romeo '17 (left) with attendees at A Big Gay Market in July 2023.

C Romeo ’17 (they/them)
Education: B.A., English, Saint Rose; M.A., political science, Rockefeller College of Public Policy and Public Affairs, University at Albany
Hometown: Farmingville, N.Y.
Current residence: Albany
Career: Director of Communications and Member Engagement, New York Library Association; Youth Advisory Council Director, Equality New York; founder, A Big Gay Market

“Suburban Long Island isn’t the best place for a closeted queer and non-binary youth,” understates C Romeo ‘17. “Heck, I didn’t even know why I felt so different from my peers because you never talked about the LGBTQ+ community there.”

During a college fair, however, Romeo, 28, gained hope that life after high school would improve, thanks to an open and warm-hearted conversation with a representative from Saint Rose. The College ultimately helped Romeo build strong community ties and strong writing skills that morphed into their activism and entrepreneurship.

“I am very grateful for having my formative years, where I came into my identity, at Saint Rose,” they say, a decade after starting at the College and six years after graduating.

In 2022, they started A Big Gay Market to provide a safe and social place for members of their community to sell and buy goods. It has now taken place 4 times across New York, drawing locals and vendors from Vermont, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. The next Market is set for December 10 in Albany’s Washington Park Lake House.

Here, Romeo talks about community, identity, and the politics of shopping:

What impact did your time at Saint Rose have on you?

The English faculty took me in during a time that was truly traumatic – from losing my father to starting to ex-communicate my mother since she joined a Christian cult. I learned how to speak truth to power. I was also encouraged to study beyond the core curriculum. The faculty knew I was fascinated by the intersections of literary theory, political theory, sociology, and philosophy. They encouraged me to be an interdisciplinary writer and thinker. That has translated into my advocacy work, my writing, and my organizing.

The most memorable classes were literary theory with Dr. Vaneeta Palecanda and Melville seminar with Dr. Brian Sweeney. And I still have a plethora of friends from the English program!

How do you apply what you learned to your work today?

I learned that we are nothing without our community [at Saint Rose]. We learn by listening to those around us and acting on their needs. Also, I learned how to truly speak truth to power, which has resonated in my professional and advocacy work.

Libraries are under attack, from book bans and intellectual freedom challenges. In  New York Library Association, we discuss how we seek knowledge without bounds and how libraries are a guiding light in a frayed democracy. At Equality NY I teach youth to use their experiences as expertise and to demand that their perspectives are heard by legislators. All that I do can be traced back to the lessons Saint Rose taught me.

Why are you committed to organizing and advocacy?

We all need to be the adults our childhood selves needed. That is what really drives me – in my case advocacy for queer and trans youth liberation. When you listen to those you advocate on behalf of, you naturally become an organizer.

For Camp Unirondack’s Queer Youth Advocacy Retreat, where I am a mentor and teach, young people say that all they want are spaces in this world where they can be their authentic selves. It’s that simple. But our world makes everything much more complicated because of power and ego. So my passion is driven by my incessant persistence to create the world we need to be truly free.

Tell us about A Big Gay Market.

Since I was eight, I worked for my mom’s art business. It was born out of necessity since my dad was a victim of the predatory credit lending crisis in the early 2000s, which put us a million dollars in debt. I spent weekends working 12-hour shifts at art shows in Connecticut, New Jersey, downstate New York, and Long Island. I learned a LOT about the creative economy until I “retired” to go to college.

I also learned how gatherings are made inaccessible for marginalized makers, bakers, and everything in between. I decided to create safe, intentional, and affirmative spaces for marginalized vendors. Queer and trans joy are the greatest tools towards liberation. Our vendors have donated close to $10,000 to Camp Unirondack to help keep it free for queer and trans youth.

This market was also a direct response to what I always heard: LGBTQ+ people are only represented if it is Pride Month, when we exist everywhere, every day.

How are shopping and buying a political act?

Society commodifies those who are marginalized by making our differences palatable. Our society is so comfortable slapping a rainbow on merchandise and changing their social media icons to [a] rainbow during Pride Month, but no one truly sticks their necks out when we are being murdered for simply existing.

Even in New York, over 90 percent of gender-expansive youth have been verbally harassed in school. So, it is a political act to cater to a market solely showcasing queer and trans makers – and it is a SUCCESS.

But, my safety team is always on standby if we, God forbid, ever have to deal with harassment or attack.

What has the impact of A Big Gay Market been so far?

I would love to use some quotes to answer this:

“It was so lively and welcoming. I was amazed by the large scale of the event and the wide variety of art. It is so nice to have these opportunities outside of Pride Month to just be with, and support, the LGBTQIA+ community.” – Customer

“Being a loud, colorful, and queer maker, I’m definitely not accepted in every space. Not just was I accepted and supported completely as I am but I also met SO many AMAZING queer creators/makers on the same wavelength as me.” – Baker

“My partner and I had a great time; lots of intersectional representation from the vendors and the products. The biggest issue is that there weren’t more cool stalls to spend my money in!” – Customer