Los Angeles, Calif.
Gay Community Services Center
1614 Wilshire Boulevard
With news that the Billy DeFrank LGBT Community Center in San Jose, Calif., which was founded in 1981, may be forced to close its doors unless it can raise $50,000 by September, I decided this was an apt time to start a series of blog entries on LGBT community centers around the country and why they are so important to our people. Thanks to Richard Burns (former ED of the NYC LGBT Community Services Center) for the idea, and Terry Stone of CenterLink for sending me some terrific photos of centers, which you’ll see in upcoming posts.
The gay community center movement got its start just a couple of years after the Stonewall Riots. As noted by CenterLink, the national association of LGBT centers, the idea was “revolutionary”: “that lesbian and gay people deserve to live open, fulfilling and honest lives free of discrimination and bigotry, with access to culturally appropriate social services, as equal partners in the cultural and civic life of the community.” Prior to the founding of centers, many gay people had no organized meeting places in which to find support, friendship, lovers, and services, other than bars and ad-hoc meeting spots, like the early gay bookstores. Now, many LGBT people will tell you how local community centers saved their lives.
The Los Angeles, Calif., and Albany, N.Y., LGBT centers both claim the distinction of being the first in the country. Since the founding of those two organizations in 1971, the community center movement has grown exponentially, with 181 now listed in the CenterLink directory.
This address on Wilshire Boulevard was the first location of what was then called the L.A. Gay Community Services Center (they added “lesbian” nine years later, and dropped the word “Services” along the way). The physical space changed locations several times over the next three decades; its main building is now at 1625 North Shrader Boulevard (there are four additional buildings). From humble origins, the L.A. center grew to be the largest in the country, with a $43 million budget, serving a quarter of a million people annually. The center provides mental health services, legal help, a cyber center, recovery services, youth programs, an HIV/AIDS clinic, a lesbian health clinic, senior services, and much more.
(Next in the series: the Capital District Gay and Lesbian Community Center, Albany, N.Y.)
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