Monday, August 8, 2016

Non-Profit Spotlight: The LGBT Center

The Center. Two small words that have inspired many to stand up, stand out and live proud. The greatest thing The Center ever did was open its doors and welcome everybody. The mission is simple, empower LGBT people; build a strong community.

The Center has been an LGBT Activist incubator since 1983. The Center has fostered the LGBTQI community when no one else would and definitely before it was “cool." The Center is a hero and a shining example of what it means to be a community leader. In the early days it was home to HMI, GMHC, GLAAD and The Anti-Violence Project to name a few of the great organizations that have found their way to the mainstream and push for access to healthcare, proper visibility, education, safety and protection for all in the LGBTQI community.

Their early existence and cultivation would not have been possible without The Center. They are a small sample of the equality warriors The Center has been inspiring and fostering since 1983.

Today The Center welcomes more than 300,000 visitors each year not to mention the innumerable folks that reach out to the center on a daily basis to connect with either the programs at The Center or connect with one of the hundreds of resource partners across the country.

Over the years The Center has become the go-to expert for resources both personal and professional. On the personal side whether you are a local member of the community or visiting from afar and want to support local LGBT or LGBT friendly businesses. The Center can provide with a list to get you started.

Professionally speaking The Center offers Professional Development Programs. Most recent additions to their roster of offerings include The Transgender Economic Empowerment Program and The Women’s Economic Empowerment Program. Both offer specific support and resources to these underserved demographics in the community. Many find it hard to believe with all the progress being made there are folks that are way behind in terms of access to opportunities and that is exactly where The Center has always stepped in. The Center has been the platform by which we light the corners of oppression and inequality for all members of the community and then do something about it. If there is a need, they are strategic in planning and lay the foundation for scalability in programming. They have demonstrated this by the ways in which the core services at The Center have come to fruition. Offering a clean, safe space was certainly a place to start. As the community has found its personal and collective voice, The Center has heard us. Whether it is connecting us to shelter and self-care the Resource Center helps anyone find their way to the appropriate services.

As the community needs evolved so have the services provided. A fine example is the Family & Youth Programs; the offerings support a young person’s journey from self-acceptance to planning for their future while navigating the world in these uncertain times. The family component offers relationship and family support as well as parenthood and family resources.

Understanding that each individual is on their personal journey and is forging their own path. The Center offers Recovery & Wellness Programs, to those who are in need of additional support regarding their Health, Wellness, as well as offering a comprehensive substance abuse treatment for both the youth and adults in the community.

The most recently enhanced program is the Arts & Culture Programming. Here is where The Center gives us even more of which we can all be proud. The Center, by archiving our history, creating a library that offers access to LGBT Literature and research LGBTQI history, provides us with a glimpse of all the challenges, battles -won and lost, and overall contributions of the LGBTQI community. The Arts & Culture Programs also includes the Bureau of General Services – Queer Division. The Bureau is the City’s only LGBT bookstore and it doubles as an event space and cultural center. 

Glennda Testone
Executive Director, The Center

I was honored to speak with Glennda Testone, Executive Director of The Center and learn from her about the extraordinary ways The Center is taking it to the next level. Her vision of a fully engaged community is clear as she warmly shared the key focus for The Center and how we at the nglccNY can participate. I hope you enjoy reading the interview as much as I enjoyed learning about this incredible new addition to the nglccNY family. 

As the second ED in the history of The Center, you’ve been at the helm the last seven years, would you share how much things have changed since you first came on board?

In some ways things have changed a lot in a positive direction. We have seen public opinion and federal law shift dramatically to support Marriage Equality for our community. So that’s been incredibly positive. We’ve also seen an increase in visibility and conversations around the transgender Community. With people like Laverne Cox and Orange is the New Black and Janet Mock. As well as the success of the pentagon ending the transgender military ban. These events are really hopeful. President Obama has been particularly supportive of our community. For example, making Stonewall a National Monument has been a big win.

In other ways we have also seen an amplified picture of violence against members of our community, economic struggles for many members of our community and people just, still, trying to live their lives and build their families and not getting the support and resources that they need.

For the Center we’ve gone through a lot of changes as well. We’ve gone through a big renovation to make the building more welcoming and really reflect the home we want to provide for our community. Making sure people can do a lot of different things in all the rooms and making sure we can accommodate that, as The Center is home so to speak.

You mentioned 3 specific things since taking the helm. Starting with Transgender needs; what have you seen become more of the needs in the Transgender Community?

We have been servicing the Trans and Gender Non-Conforming Community for 25 years. I would say that this is a part of our community that is incredibly resilient and incredibly inspiring and faces some tremendous challenges. We have been running a Gender Identity Project that helps Trans and Gender Non-Conforming people really solidify their identity, exist in the world, and build social support and have a community.

Last year we launched a Transgender Empowerment Program and that program seeks to address the economic inequalities that the Trans community faces. Transgender individuals are up to 4 times more likely to live in poverty. One third of Trans People of Color have incomes of less than $10,000 annually. There is really a tremendous amount of challenge there. Both around social challenges, economic challenges, health challenges. Our program really speaks to empower Trans folks to get to the economic stability they want and need. When it comes to getting a job and being able to advance their career. What I have seen is there is more visibility of this community and there still need to be a lot of support, programs and resources. That is still lagging behind the level of visibility.

I heard of a program called “House of Code” would you share a bit about that?

That is a workshop we do for the Trans Economic Empowerment Program I just mentioned. We’ve done sessions with folks who want to learn. Trans folks in particular who want to learn how to become web developers. So that is one area where we know that people, if they can get in to this industry, can create a livelihood for themselves.

The other key topic you mentioned was the violence against the community?

When something like Orlando happens, and our community is targeted in such a horrific way, both the LGBT community and the LatinX communities still have more work to do. We have to do what we can to ensure that people can’t be lawfully discriminated against, targeted, harassed, or denied their rights. That is something that needs to be true regardless the city or state you happen to reside in this country. We work really hard at The Center to make sure we’re open as much as possible and that there are always people here 7 days a week, 9am – 10pm.

We can connect folks with resources and support. Whether it’s us and a program we provide or somewhere else in the city. We often serve as a referral network. We’re the first stop for a lot of the LGBTQ folks who are looking for resources.

Understanding that youth are seemingly coming out at much younger ages and the Youth Enrichment Services (Y.E.S.) has been a staple for as long as I can recall. Have you seen the needs of the youth participating in Y.E.S. program change?

I would say yes, certainly, the folks participating in the Youth Program I would say 2 things. Number one, we have certainly seen a lot of young people who not only want to be supported as individual LGBTQ people and find a community. Number two, they are also, trying to figure out how to build a life and support themselves. While we have been addressing the social and community needs for over 25 years, a few years ago, we started providing Leadership and Opportunities Services. This enables us to help young people figure out what do they want to do when they grow up, and how do they make sure they are taking steps now, to be able to do that. The Center offers planning and college prep, workforce readiness, internships.

The other thing we have, sadly seen over the years is that there are tremendously high rates of substance abuse among LGBT Youth and we currently run the City’s only LGBT Adult Out-Patient Treatment Program. About 2 years ago we started developing a program that would specifically help LGBT Youth around addiction and recovery. We got private funding from foundations and now have gotten some funding from the City and the State to be able to launch a youth substance abuse recovery and treatment program. That is something that is sad, that we are dealing with and something that is important we focus resources on so we make sure the young folks in our community really have a chance to grow up and lead healthy and successful lives.

We at the Chamber have some licensed Mental Health Professionals. Is there an opportunity for them to assist by volunteering their expertise with the Center around this endeavor?

Sure! We are always looking for volunteers and people who can help connect on these programs. The workshop you mentioned around web development. That was started by a volunteer, who is a professional web developer who volunteered his time to teach Trans folks to code. The easiest way to connect is just to email us at We have various opportunities and we can really create something because people have different skills and availability. We like to have a look to see where people fit and find the right match.

If we can switch gears a bit, I’d to talk about women. How are young LBT women being engaged to participate in Y.E.S or other programs at the Center?
A year ago, we made the decision to really focus on engaging with women in our community and offering something exclusively for women. For a long time, we have had a high number of women participate in the youth program, the wellness and health programs, the family programs, and the Lesbian Cancer Initiative. We realized that it wasn’t enough, we wanted to do more and we created a Women’s Economic Empowerment Program.

The goal here is to address the wage gap for our community. We all know the fact that women make less than men; actually LBT women make even less than their straight counter-parts. We wanted to offer a program that would offer individual career counseling, trainings, workshops, networking events, and during the Annual Career Fair we want to have a track or focus on Women. Connecting women to each other, help them break into industries of interest to them and move up, if that’s what they want once they get there. We are very excited to launch that program and offer something that any women in the community could take advantage of.

What are 2 or 3 key items that the Center is working on?

I would say, we have mentioned all of them. I would say definitely the Transgender Economic Empowerment Program. Really helping folks in our Trans and Gender Non-conforming community get the economic and legal footing that they need to be able to build a life. The Women’s Economic Empowerment Program and the Youth Substance Abuse and Recovery Treatment Program.

I would like to add the Arts & Culture. We have hired a Director of Cultural Engagement, who is working very hard to provide unique cultural experiences for folks in our community. I think that would be great for the members of nglccNY. Members of nglccNY are welcomed to attend, participate and certainly if people have connections or idea that would be great.

Also, we offer training to help workforce and education service providers to create a safe and affirming spaces for the trans and gender non-conforming communities. For example, we partner with the NYC Human Right Commission to train many of the NYC agencies improve around issues of Trans inclusion and creating spaces that safe for Trans folks. That is just something to think about, if there are any members who want to delve into this area more and enhance what they are already doing for Trans and gender non-conforming folks.

What would you say are your greatest accomplishments since stepping into to your position?

I’m really proud of the Economic Empowerment Program for Women. It is something that just doesn’t happen. It is something that doesn’t exist very often in our community, it feels really great! I think the work that we are doing for the Trans Community. To really try to even the playing field a little bit is really important. Lastly the renovation that we’ve done has enabled us to increase visitors, increase room rentals, and more people coming here and loving the space and coming back. That’s something I’m really proud of.

Are you finding that folks are wanting to rent out the spaces more?
Yes, that’s always been the case, and I would say there’s been an increase in demand since the renovations. It’s challenging to juggle the increased requests.

Anything that I haven’t asked that you would like to share with the membership?

I would say, there is such a nice synergy between what the nglcc and what the LGBT Center do. So I think there are great opportunities to partner and support each other. I think nglccNY members can do that by volunteering, especially around events where there is good synergy, such as the Career Fair, The Women’s and the Trans Economic Empowerment Programing.

For folks who are a little more adventurous, signing up to ride or crew in our annual bike ride called Cycle for the Cause. We are in the 22nd year, we go from Boston to NY and raise money for HIV/AIDS programs here at the Center. Even if you don’t want to get on a bike or volunteer, we always accept and appreciate donations, people are welcomed and encouraged to become members of the organization and can have access to the community and the events we do here. We are always happy to have them join us that way.

What is your message to the universe?

“Help each other and be kind. Do what you can to make the world a better place.”

This just begins to scratch the surface of what The Center does on a daily basis. The existence and contribution of The Center is simply priceless. We may never know just how many people The Center truly reaches and how far the ripple effects of their nurturing environment extends. To that end this is The Center of LGBTQI life in NYC and we are its stewards and should consider giving back a bit of what it has given us all. Four easy ways to support The Center, become a Member, Donate, Attend or Volunteer.

To connect with The Center, Stop by at 208 West 13th Street or Like or Follow on Facebook, TwitterInstagram, and Flickr.

Written by Ingrid Galvez,
Chair, Diversity & Inclusion, NGLCCNY
Organizational Development Consultant, Strategic Remedy Group

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