In some respects, the past few years have seen immense strides in advocacy and equality in the United States for the LGBTQ+ community, including the 2015 Supreme Court ruling declaring same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. While there has undoubtedly been progress, this large and diverse community continues to experience discrimination and hate in one form or another.
To confront this ongoing challenge, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Services Center, Inc. in New York City works to “empower people to lead healthy and successful lives, celebrate diversity, and advocate for justice and opportunity.” Welcoming more than 6,000 weekly visitors and hosting more than 300 groups each month in its Greenwich Village headquarters, the Center provides a safe space from which to build a powerful movement for equality. In 2019, CAF America donors funded general operating services at the Center to sustain the momentum.
Over time, the Center has established itself as a community foundation, with The New York Times calling it the “closest thing to a communal living room” for LGBTQ+ New Yorkers. The Center provides a wide array of services for its members, including introducing LGBTQ+ youth to skill-building opportunities to help them succeed academically and professionally; offering substance abuse treatment; hosting an annual LGBTQ+ Immigration Fair/Cultural Event; and delivering services to LGBTQ+ immigrants such as support groups, legal clinics, HIV testing, and programming that explores the intersection of arts, advocacy, and social justice. The Center also created StonewallForever.org, a “living monument to 50 years of Pride,” in honor of those who stood against oppression following a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in 1969.
One of the more unique programs the Center implements gives LGBTQ+ youth an internship opportunity with the organization. The Youth Voices internship program engages LGBTQ+ youth members who have been through the foster care system to share their stories and raise awareness of the challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community. Throughout the process, participants develop research, storytelling, and filmmaking skills, providing a foundation for possible future careers.
A similar program run by the Center is the LEAP (Leadership, Education, Advancement & Placement) program, which focuses on LGBTQ+ youth who are homeless or have an unstable housing situation. The LEAP program provides various educational, vocational, and workforce development services for participants as well as invaluable support for LGBTQ+ community members, who face higher rates and longer periods of homelessness than other groups in the United States.
The organization and its iconic headquarters have become a vital hub in the thriving LGBTQ+ community in New York, representing a safe place for members to come together and, for many, the opportunity to have a better life.