LGBT Community Center Final paper and slides

The LGBT Community Center:

The foundation of a community

Jason McLeod

Queer America

Prof. J. Gieseking

May 10, 2017

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center at 208 West 13th street in New York City is an amazing resource for the community’s LGBT population and their loved ones and it has been that way since its inception in 1983 by a group of gay men who felt that organizers and activists needed a place where they could brainstorm, hold regular meetings, set up for protests and create content.[1] The building was originally the food and maritime trade high school and was sold to the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center Incorporated on December 1st of 1983.[2] At this time there was a high demand for a safe space as this was still in the wake of the Stonewall riots. Throughout its year many well know queer artists and writers graced its hallways and rooms with readings, murals, gifts, talks and regular conversation. The center should not just be considered a historical site for the impact that it directly had on the community. But it should also be considered a historical site for its indirect impact, the murals by famous artists that cover its walls, the historical events that took place in its halls, the historical figures who walked its floors and the amount of “firsts” and “only” that are associated with The Center. The center was and continues to be a safe space for the LGBT community of New York and continues to shed light and hope for those who have been affected by its organizations across the United States.

The LGBT Community Center, or as it was known originally “The Gay and Lesbian Community Center,” was originally founded for the purpose of combatting the growing HIV/ AIDS crisis that was spreading through the gay community. They wanted to organize against the government for withholding medicine, blocking legislations and ignoring their constituents with AIDS while treating them like second-class citizens. However, the first president of The Center, Irving Cooperberg, felt that The Center should be more than combatting AIDS and that there should be an uplifting side to The Center therefore he brought it up in a general meeting and the group decided to start the dance committee.[3] They created all of the dances and events that went on in The Center that did a lot to rebrand it from the headquarters for organizing around HIV and AIDS, which it still was, to a more multi-purpose facility that could be used for combatting AIDS and raising awareness but also dances, black tie events and book clubs. This also highlights how the center was run. In general meeting people would raise ideas for conversation and people would deliberate then decide on what to do it was very democratic. Many parts of the center and many influential organizations were created like this. For example, when activist and playwright Larry Kramer gave a speech on March 10th of 1987 at the center he called for the formation of a protest group that would combat the government directly for their mistreatment of people with AIDS.[4] Two days later 300 people came together to form ACT-UP the legendary activist group that is now international. [5] Many other groups were formed like this including Queer Nation, The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), The Lesbian avengers and many others.[6]

Because of how democratically run The Center was, they were able to meet many needs. They expanded their activism to encompass many LGBT rights issues and in turn create many political landscape-changing organizations. The Center became the main defense of LGBT rights in New York as The Center became ground zero for some of the most influential LGBT activist groups in the world. ACTUP began combatting AIDS as soon as it was formed. In the spring of 1987 ACTUP successfully marched on Wall Street to protest the lack of availability of treatment for AIDS and the high cost of effective medicines. From there, ACTUP participated in the march on Washington for lesbian and gay rights, picketed the catholic church, the CDC, the FDA, Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani, Mario Cuomo, George Bush Sr.[7] [8]The national institute of health and many others. Before ACTUP there was The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation or GLAAD. GLAAD was formed in The Center in 1985 with their first meeting falling on November 11th of that year. GLAAD was formed to combat negative portrayals of LGBT people in the media. In 1985 The New York Post covered the HIV/ AIDS crisis with very inflammatory and defamatory language that bought into the sensationalism and bigotry that dominated the conversation about the AIDS crisis at that time. Later in the year GLAAD organized a 1,000 person strong protest in front of the New York post. In 1987 GLAAD focused on changing the wording of news agency when talking about LGBT issues. They persuaded News agencies to use the word “gay” instead of “homosexual” as use of the word gay was way more common at this point. By early 1988 GLAAD had reached the west coast and was now operating two chapters in California. GLAAD achieved many firsts for the LGBT community including successfully convincing the post office to make a stamp commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall riots and setting up the first LGBT focused media awards. Today GLAAD is an international organization that monitors the portrayal of LGBT people in the media, works on representation and works to change the culture of homophobia around the world.[9]

These groups would not have been able to do as much as they have and probably would not have existed without The Center offering a safe space for Larry Kramer to call for the inception of ACTUP or a space for open dialogue. The Center was able to foster creative ideas and incubate them, creating strong change across America. The Center successfully attacks all LGBT issues not just through protest but also through information and education. The Center offers hundreds of community oriented group programs like Center talks, Center Song, Book Club, Second Tuesday and many more. These fun events bring people together through literature, theater, music or intellectual conversation and discussion. People meet here share their ideas with one another and collaborate to create a project or event or group. This environment has proven successful with the inception of legendary groups like the Lesbian Avengers and Queer Nation. This is just one of the many ways that the center fosters education and understanding.

The Center also takes in evicted or bankrupt organizations until they have grown sufficiently and are able to move on. A perfect example of this was when the Harvey Milk High School of the Institute for the Protection of Lesbian and Gay Youth, or Hetrick- Martin Institute as it was more commonly known today, was evicted from its original place in the fall of 1885. The Hetrick- Martin Institute provided a space for disadvantaged LGBT youth to go to school. Many of the children who take advantage of their services are abused, sexually, physically and mentally. Upon eviction they made The Center their home until June of 1986 when they found a new property and were able to move out.[10]

Another benefit The Center provides is a selection of hundreds of support groups for LGBT people of all ages and their loved ones. There are groups that are geared toward the partners of transgender people and people trying to figure out where they land on the gender spectrum. These groups help people with problems they may encounter on the road to understanding or self love and they provide a safe space for people to ask questions about their partners or to foster a healthy discussion that will help educate those who have not had the chance to understand their loved one’s situation. This is an important and very overlooked part of The Center. Even more overlooked is the fact that it is not just open to LGBT people but it is open to all people. There are support groups for survivors of sexual assault, Alcoholism and Meth addiction, there are support groups for people with various eating disorders, and various addictions. This selection of support groups and 12 step programs was first brought to the center in 1988 when The LGBT Community Center received its first New York State Social services grant.[11] This undertaking was named project connect. In addition to these support groups and 12 step programs, project connect also provides substance and alcohol abuse prevention services. The Center even hosts the Empire City Motorcycle Club, which is known for being the oldest gay motorcycle club in America and an Anti- Fascist book club. (MC) The Center reaches farther than just New Yorks LGBT population. The Center aims to help all people and through that fostering understanding.

While these groups will always meet at The Center groups like ACTUP continue to meet at The Center to this day. This is a testament to the effectiveness of The LGBT Community Center. Even though ACTUP is an international organization they continue to use The Center as their main meeting place. The Center has hosted many amazing meetings and events that are historically significant. For example, The Center’s first cultural program “Second Tuesdays” brought prominent artists, writers, performers, academics and politicians who may or may not have been queer and allowed them to speak directly to the LGBT community.[12] These prominent figures included Audre Lorde (Writer), Larry Kramer (founder of ACTUP and playwright), Allen Ginsberg (Poet), Al Sharpton (Political figure) and David Dinkins (Mayor of NYC) among many others.[13] Some of these Second Tuesday events were historic. For example when Inspector Charles Campisi gave his speech in October of 1990 an audience member asked if there were any gay or lesbian police officers which prompted Officer Edgar Rodriguez to introduce himself and come forward as gay making him the first openly gay police officer to make a speech to the community.[14] During Larry Kramer’s speech he called for the formation of ACTUP and that speech is considered the founding meeting.[15] These moments are what constitute a historic site. This program brought so many historically important figures and brought about so many firsts that it should be commemorated for that.

The center offers LGBT youth a place to meet and hangout after school and on the weekends. The Center has a lot of programs geared towards LGBT youth like their safe sex initiative. The center provides free condoms to everyone no questions asked. Most importantly they provide a safe space for LGBT youth to meet people who identify in similar ways as they do and people who can help guide them through the process of coming out to their loved ones or the process of discovering who they are. The center has staff available to talk to people who may have issues at home and need to understand what the available steps would be to better their situation. Empowering the youth is a big part of the mission of the center. Since 1983 they have offered a safe space to kids who are looking to figure out who they are and for those who have, a safe space to be themselves and meet people in a similar situation. In 1989 The Center began the YES program or the Youth Enrichment Services program with grant money from the State of New York.[16] It was the first of its kind because the staff developed programming that groundbreaking in how it helped LGBT youth in an enriching, healthy and positive community environment.[17] Today they offer substance treatment for LGBT youth ages 13 and older and is the first program to do so while also teaching them how to make the right decisions when it comes to drugs and alcohol. Along with their outpatient treatment they provide time with mentors, give kids access to internships and support. This program is a complete rehabilitation of the child. They work to rehabilitate the person so that they are able to quit using but they also rehabilitate their situation with access to internships and mentors. The treatment is a combination of individual and group counseling three to five times a week and they provide Metrocards for those who cannot afford to get there. The best part is that services are provided to anyone who needs them regardless of whether they have insurance or not and pricing is on a sliding scale.[18]

YES also offers leadership programs which gives LGBTQ youth access to Mentors, internships, personal guidance, career support, college prep, summer camps and leadership training.[19] These programs can help with community involvement and service learning or work and education and is in place to help LGBTQ youth build self-confidence, leadership skills and set goals for life. In addition to this they offer coming out support groups and counseling, family counseling, crisis intervention and many other programs. Their comprehensive YES program also includes Performing arts workshops, creative arts workshops and social events and activities. The programs range from the Youth Pride Chorus to dances and gaming groups. These programs work to build a strong support network of LGBTQ youth who can help each other and bring other LGBTQ youth into the fold who might need help. This groundbreaking work that is repeated at so many other LGBT Community Centers across America and the rest of the world began at The LGBT Community Center in New York City.

Their programs do extend to adults. They have comprehensive drug rehabilitation programs for adults affected by drugs or alcohol. The Center boasts the only New York State Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services certified and licensed outpatient treatment program specifically designed for members of the LGBT community. For adults their program includes psychiatric evaluations and management of medication among many other things like one on one counseling. In 1991 The Center created CenterBridge which was considered New York City’s first bereavement service centered on AIDS and those who’s loved ones had been taken by AIDS. It worked with GIP, the Gender Identity Project to bring help to those that needed it.[20]

Also taking place in 1989 was the “Imagining Stonewall” exhibition to honor the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall riots and The Center show.[21] The center show was a selection of installations by 41 well-known and new painters, photographers, videographers and sculptors who created their installations specifically for The Center.[22] This served to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Stonewall and was an attempt to beautify The Center and make it more palatable for visitors. George Whitman created his piece “Adam and Eve” for The Center Show, Kenny Scharf also created an installation but by far the most notable installation of The Center Show was Keith Haring’s mural entitled “Once upon a time.” Once upon a time was created as a celebration of male sexual liberation in the years before AIDS took hold of so many lives.[23] This is also important because this was one of Keith Haring’s final murals before his untimely death due to AIDS. This piece is the black sheep of its family as its explicit nature is a far cry from the Keith Haring work that the public is used to. You can see that this is something that he struggled with until his death, remembering how life used to be. This piece and most of the other installations are still preserved to this day in The Center even though The Center has gone through a huge remodeling project recently. These historic art installations that are still on display have very important significance not only in history from a cataloging standpoint but also culture. These pieces all speak to realities of gay people and their culture in the late 80’s. The preservation of these works of art is vital to future understanding of the Gay and Lesbian landscape of America at that time. These pieces articulate the pain of being queer in the 80’s while showing the solace of memory and how memories helped those suffering from AIDS and those whose loved ones had passed on. When looking at these pieces you can see all of that in the installations and seeing them in person is way more powerful. Seeing them in person shows how alive these pieces actually are.

In 1991 The Center opened the Pat Parker and Vito Russo Center Library for the first time. On opening day it held 500 volumes and was located in the hall it was not located in an actual room at the time. The Pat Parker and Vito Russo Center Library went from 500 volumes in 1991 to now being the largest LGBT lending library in New York. This library is connected with others around the city that collaborate on bringing literary events of note to the attention of the LGBT community, share materials and also sponsor a monthly reading group. [24]

The Center Library was originally designed to encourage people to study and dissect LGBT literature it included literature by the likes of Audre Lorde, James Saslow, Richard Plant and many others. Today the library has expanded its portfolio to include video and the media ranges in purpose, some of it is for enjoyment, some is historical reference material and some of it is for educational purposes. The library is important because it is a part of the preservation of history that The Center has taken on. This library, the largest of its kind, keeps some of the most influential pieces of LGBT literature that has ever been written and the library employs people who are dedicated to preserving that history.

The Center is also home to the only LGBT bookstore in New York, which brings in literature and video from all around the world. There are books, magazines and digital media from Europe, All over North America, South America and many other places with their range of authors representing even more places.

In 1994, LGBT Community Centers from all over the United States gathered at the center to form the National Association of Lesbian and Gay Community Centers now called Centerlink. Centerlink had the goal of strengthening the LGBT rights movement and strengthening the connections between LGBT Community Centers around the United States. It works to help LGBT Community Centers meet increasing need as far as organization capacity and meeting the needs of grassroots LGBT movements in their areas. [25]

The Center started the LGBT archive in order to preserve not only the history of the center but also the history of gay culture in New York and notable events that took place. The LGBT archive is a catalog of the most influential moments in queer history and features artifacts and writing from as far back as 1920.[26] The archive holds video broadcasts like the complete emerald city tapes, which was a show on public access television that was created by 3 gay men in San Francisco and dealt with a lot of the issues facing gay communities in the late 70’s. There is also a large collection of photographs from LGBT events, bars, beaches, vacations and many other situations. The archive also holds records of all the quilt squares that are apart of the AIDS quilt that are in memory of LGBT people from New York.[27] There are posters and signs from protests and marches, buttons, recordings of and original copies of radio sound bytes, important news clippings, personal correspondence between LGBT partners and friends, personal journals, and in some cases tax returns.[28] All of this is very important to the preservation of LGBT history because it highlights the lifestyle of Gay men and women who had to live in different ways than LGBT people do today.[29] It highlights the cultural significance of a show on public access television that many people do not usually think of when it comes to representation in the media. It serves to remind all New Yorkers and visitors of those who passed away during the AIDS epidemic. This archive so many artifacts that are meant to show us how LGBT people met new people, socialized with friends and, when appropriate, hid. It gives us the queer experience of the past so that the community can learn from those experiences and grow.

All of these programs and organizations that were born in The Center all contribute to the community development strategies and community betterment strategies of The Center. The Center and those who founded it saw the need for a community hub in New York city where LGBT youth and adults could go to get assistance meet people in a safe and welcoming environment without being constantly being afraid of the possibility of being persecuted based on their sexuality. The center created a tight community that could help and not just sparse clusters of LGBT people in bars and other small spaces. The Center actually connected all of those small clusters of people and actually served as a mecca that called other LGBT people who would have otherwise been to afraid to go out and meet people. The work that the center did eventually ended up showing LGBT people that there were more LGBT people than those in their immediate groups and gave them a space to learn and grow together instead of apart. It also help people collaborate and made it easier for them to organize because now they had a place where 300 people could meet to for ACTUP or a place were hundreds of people could go to see Larry Kramer give a speech and additionally a place for people like Larry Kramer to voice their ideas and opinions. To have a hub where a boy who identifies as gay, but is afraid to come out to his parents, can go and know that a community of people who have been in his position can help him and support him through the whole process is a beautiful thing. The Center is the first place in New York City to do that and it was the first place in America to do it on such a comprehensive and groundbreaking level and that is historic.

In 1996 The Center began “Promote the vote” which was a non-partisan voter registration campaign. This became the largest LGBT registration and mobilization movement in America. [30]

In 1995 at the annual garden party fundraiser Judeth Turkel, the board president at that time, announced that The Center would begin raising money for renovations to their aging building, which was already 153 years old at this time. The Center had recently won two awards from the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1992 for the restoration work that was done to the front of the building but now they wanted to bring the building into the present day. These renovations were going to bring the building up to code and would modernize its tired interior. In 1998 roughly a year after founding president Irving Cooperberg died from complications with AIDS The Center closed its doors and moved to One Little West 12th Street in the meatpacking district to allow for renovations to start on their full time location at 208 West 13th Street in Greenwich Village. A video posted by the center in 2014 showing the 1998 renovation of the building shows that the building was completely redone to allow for modern heating and cooling systems and new piping systems.[31] During the time of the renovation The Center continued to make history creating their organization “speakOUT” which was a community building and policy program for LGBT people who where recently recovered or were in the process of recovery from drug or alcohol abuse in 1999. Then in 2000 The Center at its Meatpacking district location The Center hosted a few Notable “Times Talks” events including the “Broadway Divas as Gay Icons” lecture series that included talks by Eartha Kitt, Audra McDonald and Bernadette Peters. The New York Times and the center also worked to bring Al Gore, who was the vice president to Bill Clinton and was now looking to take the Presidency, and Bill Bradley, a former United States Senator from New Jersey who was running for the Democratic Presidential Nomination, to the center on separate occasions to speak to the LGBT community.[32] Another notable figure to visit and speak at the Times Talks event was Hillary Rodham Clinton who was running for the United States Senate seat in New York, a position she would later win. This signals the growing political currency that the LGBT population and The Center had.[33] Politicians running for president were going to the center to campaign and win key votes from the LGBT demographic, which politicians had started taking into account. With ACTUP up and GLAAD being so politically relevant and working to better the image of LGBT people in the media and working to pass LGBT legislation the climate of politics had changed. On top of that the work that The Center did in order to make sure that hundreds of LGBT activist groups had a place to meet, rent-free, the LGBT demographic became too prominent for politicians to ignore. The historic programs that The Center put in place were the catalyst for all of the political clout that the LGBT community was now experiencing.

In the summer of 2001 The Gay and Lesbian Community Center moved back into its original home at 208 West 13th Street in Greenwich Village. The renovation of its ancient structure had been completed to the tune of 14 million dollars and its interior reflected that expensive price tag. The building was dedicated to Shelley Kaplan, a founding member who donated the first one million dollars to the renovation project. The Center was also renamed to include more identities; it was now called The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center. On September 11th of that year, the staff of the Meatpacking district location of The Center set up a water station for people running from the attacks on the World Trade Center. Following the attacks, The Center held a vigil on October first in remembrance of those who were victims and affected by the attacks. Over one thousand community members gathered at the center.

In 2002 with the help of a grant from the Ford Foundation, The Center creates a program that will provide the necessary tools for cross movement building between LGBT activist movements and the growing Reproductive rights movement; the program is called Causes in Common.[34] That same year the center decided to combine all of its standalone mental health and social services programs to create Center CARE, a more comprehensive all-encompassing health and social service program. The center also added a community Cyber Center for people without computers who needed to take online classes, sign up for services or just surf the web.

In November of 2007 CenterCARE become the first treatment program specifically for LGBT people to be licensed to accept Medicaid and insurance in New York State.[35] That same year a multi-million dollar pledge by the City of New York was given to The Center for further renovations. Those renovations were started in 2013 and finished in 2015. The Keith Haring mural was restored to its original glory and much of the original art from the Center Show in 1989 was incorporated into the renovation and plans.

Today the center continues to do the work that it has always done. The Center provides space for new and old groups to connect. Preserves the history of queer culture and helping those who haven’t found themselves. Jen Jack Gieseking was correct in saying, “No other location was as evident in participants’ stories or maps, making the Center the perpetual North Star of lesbian-queer life in New York City.”[36] I would venture to ad that The Center acted as the North Star for all LGBTQ people in and around New York City. Without the center many historic LGBT organizations and events would never have existed or taken place. The Center as a stand-alone organization is historic because while it was not the first LGBT Community Center, it was the first Community Center to offer such comprehensive programs in one place. The fact that The Center brought together a whole community in order to start numerous movements is historical in-and-of itself.

[1] Staff. “ABOUT THE CENTER.” History of the NYC LGBT Community Center. 2017. Accessed May 08, 2017.


[2] Ibid.

[3] “History of The Center.” Google Arts & Culture. Accessed May 08, 2017.



[4] Staff. “Past Second Tuesday Presentations.” Second Tuesday Lecture Series. Accessed May 08, 2017.


[5] “ACT UP Accomplishments and Partial Chronology.” ACT UP New York – 25 Yr Chronology. March 05, 2009. Accessed May 08, 2017.


[6] Staff. “ABOUT THE CENTER.” History of the NYC LGBT Community Center. 2017. Accessed May 08, 2017.



“ACT UP Accomplishments and Partial Chronology.” ACT UP New York – 25 Yr Chronology. March 05, 2009. Accessed May 08, 2017.


[8] Ephemera, Flyers, Handbills by ACT UP, CLGR (Coalition for Lesbian & Gay Rights). 1991-1994. MS Box 196, Folder 24, ACT UP: The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power: Series XI. Ephemera, Flyers, Handbills by Act Up. New York Public Library. Archives of Sexuality & Gender (accessed April 2, 2017).


[9] Staff. “GLAAD History and Highlights.” GLAAD History and Highlights, 1985-Present. October, 03/2013 Accessed 2017-05-06 14:53:44


[10] “History of The Center.” Google Arts & Culture. Accessed May 08, 2017.


[11] Staff. “ABOUT THE CENTER.” History of the NYC LGBT Community Center. 2017. Accessed May 08, 2017.


[12] Staff. “Past Second Tuesday Presentations.” Second Tuesday Lecture Series. Accessed May 08, 2017.



[13] Ibid.



[14] Staff. “Past Second Tuesday Presentations.” Second Tuesday Lecture Series. Accessed May 08, 2017.



[15] Ibid.

[16] Staff. “ABOUT THE CENTER.” History of the NYC LGBT Community Center. 2017. Accessed May 08, 2017.


[17] Ibid.


[18] Staff. “Recovery and Health.” Recovery and Health at The Center. 2017. Accessed May 08, 2017.


[19] Ibid.

[20] Staff. “Recovery and Health.” Recovery and Health at The Center. 2017. Accessed May 08, 2017.



[21] Staff. “ABOUT THE CENTER.” History of the NYC LGBT Community Center. 2017. Accessed May 08, 2017.



[22] “Artworks at The Center.” Google Arts & Culture. Accessed May 08, 2017.



[23] Ibid.

[24] Staff. “ABOUT THE CENTER.” History of the NYC LGBT Community Center. 2017. Accessed May 08, 2017.


[25] CenterLink. “THE LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL & TRANSGENDER COMMUNITY CENTER – NYC.” The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center – NYC in New York, New York :: CenterLink Community Center Directory Listing. Accessed May 08, 2017.


[26] “LGBT Center Archives.” The Center. 2017. Accessed May 08, 2017.


[27] “LGBT Center Archives.” The Center. 2017. Accessed May 08, 2017.


[28] Ibid.

[29] “New York Lesbian & Gay Community Center Creates National Museum of Lesbian & Gay History.” Equal Times: The Community’s Best Friend, June 1, 1989, 13. Archives of Sexuality & Gender (accessed April 2, 2017).


[30] Staff. “ABOUT THE CENTER.” History of the NYC LGBT Community Center. 2017. Accessed May 08, 2017.


[31] The Center 1998 Renovation Tour. Directed by Mike Walter. LGBTCenterNYC. February 07, 2014. Accessed May 08, 2017. The Center 1998 Renovation Tour.



[32] Staff. “ABOUT THE CENTER.” History of the NYC LGBT Community Center. 2017. Accessed May 08, 2017.


[33] Offen, N., E. A. Smith, and R. E. Malone. “From Adversary to Target Market: The ACT-UP Boycott of Philip Morris.” Tobacco Control 12, no. 2 (2003): 203-07.



[34] Staff. “ABOUT THE CENTER.” History of the NYC LGBT Community Center. 2017. Accessed May 08, 2017.


[35] Ibid.

[36] Gieseking, Jen Jack. A Queer New York: Geographies of Lesbians, Dykes, & Queer Women

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