The legacy of Harvey Milk ’51 endures at UAlbany through the lives and work of his fellow alumni. After graduating from the New York State College for Teachers, Milk went on to careers in education and politics, and distinguished himself as an advocate for human rights. As the first openly gay candidate elected to office in a major U.S. city, he briefly served as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors until his assassination in 1978. The following are profiles of three University at Albany alumni who exemplify his spirit.
Back in 1998, Joseph Valentino only expected to spend a year or two at Here Media, the world’s leading media company dedicated to the LGBTQ community. He assumed this would be another stepping stone in his burgeoning publishing career, but it soon became clear that this was more than a job – it became his mission.
Nineteen years later, he is now senior vice president, group publisher for Here Media. He oversees a team responsible for generating millions of dollars in ad revenue and sponsorships. Here Media’s reach has expanded exponentially in the last decade beyond flagship print publications such as The Advocate, OUT and Plus. The company launched Here TV in 2002, and its video, digital and social channels reach millions of people each day.
“My work sits at the intersection of my passion, my professional goals and so many causes I believe in,” explained Valentino. He is particularly proud of his company’s efforts to educate and support people with HIV/AIDS, and to reduce the stigma associated with the disease. “It’s all about love, education and understanding,” said Valentino.
Thinking back to his UAlbany days, the 2011 winner of UAlbany’s Harvey Milk Award felt free to be himself in a community that was “very accepting.” He credits faculty members with fostering his confidence and public-speaking skills.
“UAlbany gave me the opportunity to speak my mind,” Valentino said. “And that’s what I do every day.”
In the late 1970s, shortly after Gloria DeSole began working at UAlbany, the recently formed Gay Student Alliance met in an unmarked room on campus because of safety and anonymity concerns.
“What a different world that was,” remarked DeSole. “And how brave those students were.”
DeSole is a distinguished educator, author and activist who spent much of her career at UAlbany – and on the front lines for social justice. While teaching English at Skidmore College in 1976, she was offered a position at her alma mater in the Affirmative Action Office. DeSole seized the opportunity and would greatly expand the influence of her role as she became a senior adviser to the University’s president.
From 1982 to 2000, as senior adviser to the President for Affirmative Action and Employment Planning, DeSole helped guide profound change at UAlbany – recruiting more diverse faculty and students, while helping to broaden curricula.
“We made UAlbany a stronger and more welcoming community,” she said. “That’s good for everyone.”
DeSole has been recognized with numerous awards for her achievements, including UAlbany’s President’s Lifetime Justice Award and the Harvey Milk Award, which UAlbany presents to an alum who follows the late activist’s example in promoting the rights of all people.
In 2011, when New York State passed the Marriage Equality Act, DeSole was finally able to wed her longtime partner, Meredith Butler. The mother of two successful professional women and grandmother of five is retired now, but she remains active on boards and community organizations.
She is encouraged by the national groundswell of activism in recent months. “I’ve never seen more people engaged,” said DeSole. “But we must continue to advocate for equality for all. This is not a time to relax.”
As a child, Joseph Amodeo was in “a constant state of inquiry” – always curious about the people and things around him. This curiosity would later inspire him to pursue a B.A. in religious studies and an M.A. in political science at UAlbany.
Amodeo enjoyed learning about how different religions teach values and ethics, and finding the common ground between them. He said the experience would prove invaluable in his future pursuits.
“UAlbany taught me how to think critically about issues facing our communities and the need for high-impact solutions,” explained Amodeo, who turned his college internship at the New York State Dental Foundation into a full-time development position there. While in that role, he worked with various industry stakeholders to develop a multidisciplinary approach to diagnosing and preventing HIV/AIDS in the dental setting.
Amodeo is currently senior director of Development and Strategy for Quality Services for the Autism Community (QSAC), a New York-based non-profit that supports children and adults with autism. He also teaches political science at St. Francis College; his research has been published in World Medical & Health Policy; and he has appeared on BBC Radio, NPR and other media.
It all comes back to a foundation formed a decade ago. “UAlbany truly launched my career,” said Amodeo.