In December 1983, the New York City Board of Estimates approved the sale of the former Food and Maritime Trades High School, located at 208 West 13th Street, to the Lesbian & Gay Community Services Center, Inc., for $1.5 million. In its first year, 60 groups met regularly at the Center. Today more than 300 groups call the Center home. From the beginning, the Center has served to fortify and enrich the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Since the historic 1969 Stonewall Riots, our community has grown and changed dramatically. We have built an infrastructure where none existed before— institutions that serve those in crisis: the young, the elderly, people living with HIV and AIDS, survivors of anti-gay or anti-lesbian violence, people struggling with substance abuse, and gay people and their friends and families overwhelmed by the devastating toll of the AIDS epidemic.
Our community is infused with an activist spirit that other progressive communities envy, and, as a result, we continue to support many political and legal organizations and cultural institutions. Our community often suffers a barrage of attacks from the religious right that is dedicated to our annihilation and exploits our lives as political scapegoats for its gain. The Center provides a secure place to come together and plan, advocate, ACT UP, share our knowledge and expertise, and shape our future.
Programs produced by the Center include Center CARE Wellness, our Adult Services Department working with people with AIDS, struggling with substance abuse issues, mental health challenges and much more; Youth Enrichment Services (YES), an activities-based program for LGBT youth; Center Cultural Programs, presenting established and emerging artists, writers, and activitists to the community; Center Families, the Center’s family project; and the Pat Parker/Vito Russo Center Library, New York City’s largest LGBT lending library.
In addition, one of the Center’s prime functions is to provide affordable meeting space for LGBT organizations, many of which would otherwise have no place to go. The lack of affordable, safe space in this city has pushed several organizations to the brink of extinction. Stepping forward more than once, the Center has kept doors open and ensured the delivery of much needed services and programs. In 1985, the Center became temporary home to the Harvey Milk High School, a program of the Hetrick-Martin Institute. The Lesbian Switchboard became a permanent tenant after it was evicted from its former home, and Dignity, a Catholic gay and lesbian religious organization, sought refuge when it was expelled from Catholic churches.
The availability of meeting space has been a major organizing tool for our community. Since we opened our doors, the number of LGBT organizations in New York City has multiplied many times. Groups that have expanded throughout the nation, such as the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), Queer Nation, Lesbian Avengers and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), were born at the Center. The Center’s website receives more than 45,000 monthly visitors and is an excellent tool for social change.
Our physical space has been expanded and improved through the renovation of many individual meeting rooms, the renovation of the the third floor Cultural Programs room, the restoration of the facade, and the construction of a ramp entrance for wheelchair accessibility. All of these changes have made the Center more livable, more workable, and more accessible to everyone.
We have the opportunity to leave the next LGBT generation a legacy on which to build.The Center is certain to play a part in our community’s future: to give shelter to our struggle and to participate in the shaping of our destiny, while memorializing and honoring our past. We look forward to providing a heart and home deserving of New York’s LGBT community, as well as confronting the political challenges presented to our communities in this and coming years.
The Center offers numerous courses for LGBTQ individuals of all ages. For more information on upcoming sessions visit their calendar of events.