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Archive for the ‘community centers’ Category

Photo by Fred MacDarrah

New York, N.Y.

GAA Firehouse

99 Wooster Street

Gay Manhattan’s first social and community center was the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) Firehouse, which opened in 1970 during the blossoming of gay liberation activity following the Stonewall riots. GAA was one of the leading groups of the early movement, and initiated the infamous “zap,” a short, quick political action, usually the disruption of an event or a confrontation with a gay-unfriendly politician. When it wasn’t engaged in zaps, GAA held meetings and dances at this abandoned firehouse. Vito Russo, who would later author The Celluloid Closet, ran “movie nights,” screening such gay faves as The Wizard of Oz. Arson ended activities at the firehouse in 1974, although GAA continued its work until the early 1980s.

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Lambda Rising Bookstore at its original location


For fans and friends of our nation’s capital, there’s an amazing online history project that attempts to pinpoint and chronicle the social spaces frequented by LGBT people in Washington, D.C., from 1920 to 2000. You’ll have to squint to read the map, but if you click on the database link, you’ll find an exhaustive list of places where queers congregated in the 20th century. Many, of course, were bars, which served as informal queer community centers (and in many places in the country they still serve that function today); but there were also bathhouses, social clubs, parks, churches, bookstores – see the photo above of Lambda Rising Bookstore at its first location in 1974; sadly, the store closed last month after 35 years – and other queer spaces. The author of the project is Mark Meinke, who did a wonderful job of documenting our physical past.

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RU12

Burlington, Vt.

RU12? Community Center
34 Elmwood Avenue

The LGBT community center which would perhaps win the “most unique name” contest celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, founded in 1999 by University of Vermont students who “believed that Vermont needed a multi-generational, substance-free queer space open to people of all ages, races and genders,” to quote its mission statement. The first location for RU12 was “on the waterfront,” but the center moved to this charming building downtown in 2003 (see photo above by Travis Dubreuil, who travels the country photographing queer community centers; visit him at www.thecentersproject.org). Over the years, RU12  merged with the Anti-Violence Project and Equality Vermont, making it a powerful agent for change in the Green Mountain State.

You’ll find an array of programs at the center, such as social and support groups, lesbian health care, a cyber center, a lending library, the Vermont Queer Archives, Vermont TransAction, and the LGBTQ Elder Project. They also sponsor an annual queer community dinner; the Run Against Rape; and the Transgender Day of Remembrance.  Don’t miss it if you travel to scenic little Vermont: it’s the only queer center in the state!

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Albany, N.Y.

Capital District Gay and Lesbian Community Center
332 Hudson Avenue

One of the two LGBT community centers founded in 1971, Capital District Gay and Lesbian Community Center has a unique distinction: it has been in this same location for all of its 38 years. (See photo above.) Executive Director Norah Yates wrote to me that:

We’ve been in this building since 1971; we were started in 1970 and had a storefront at one point, but then started meeting at our address when it was the home of one of our founders.

CDGLCC provides numerous services, including youth programs, cultural events, a café, an art gallery named after lesbian painter Romaine Brooks, an LGBT library, confidential AIDS testing, and a newspaper, commUNITY. The center also sponsors Albany’s annual Capital Pride celebration in June.

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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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