Since 1983, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Community Center has served as a vital support system for hundreds of thousands of people.
The Center has witnessed the founding of ACT UP, GLAAD, Las Buenas Amigas, Queer Nation, and the Lesbian Avengers, and for many years was the meeting location for the Metropolitan Community Church of New York and SAGE.
The Gender Identity Project, which was established here in 1989, is the longest running service provider for the transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) community in the state.
Credit: Christopher D. Brazee/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2016.
Floor plan of the building, 1980s. Source unknown.
The building at 208 West 13th Street was originally known as Ninth Ward School No. 16 when the first section was built in 1845. Later additions were made in the following years. By the time the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center was established here in 1983, the building had operated under a number of different names, the last being the Food and Maritime High School.
After renting space here, the Center – since renamed the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Community Center – bought the city-owned building in 1984. Françoise Bollack Architects was then brought on to restore the façade and work on the building’s adaptive reuse as a community center, which was completed in 2001. The wings were designed by architect Thomas R. Jackson.
“[Buying the building] will consolidate the [LGBT] community and give us a point of focus which we’ve not had. … It will give us an independence outside of political control with the community determining its needs, not the political wind of the moment.”
David P. Rothenberg, Vice President of The Center, 1983
In 1989, a group of volunteers that included transgender activists Riki Wilchins and Christian O’Neal established Survivors of Transsexuality Anonymous (STA) here. A year later, they worked with Dr. Barbara Warren (then a senior staff member at the Center) to co-found the Gender Identity Project (GIP), one of the nation’s first transgender-driven peer counseling and peer support programs and a pioneer in developing an HIV/AIDS prevention program for the trans community. A sampling of GIP’s groundbreaking work includes convening providers and community members for the first Transgender and Transsexual Health Empowerment Conference in 1995 and developing and distributing the peer-driven educational film Safe-T-Lessons: HIV Prevention for the Transgender Community. It also opened the city’s first transgender medical clinic on the second floor of the Center in partnership with what is now known as the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, which was based here for many years. Today, GIP is considered the longest serving trans space in the city and a flagship in developing services for transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) people.
“Second Tuesdays” – the Center’s first cultural program begun in 1985 – has featured speakers from writer Audre Lorde to activist Larry Kramer; his emotional 1987 speech led to the founding of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) here a few days later. Other organizations founded at the Center were the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (now known as GLAAD) in 1985, Las Buenas Amigas in 1987, Queer Nation in 1990, and the Lesbian Avengers in 1992. The Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights, a tenant, was the leading community organization to promote the gay rights bill, which was approved by the New York City Council in 1986.
The Center has also been a space for remembrance, both in times of struggle and celebration. In 1988, it partnered with Heritage of Pride to hold the Quilt Workshop, during which friends and family of those who died of AIDS created 1,200 panels; it later became part of the nation-wide NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. In 1989, 50 works of art were installed in the building to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion; iconic artist Keith Haring painted the “Once Upon a Time” mural in the (now former) second-floor men’s bathroom. It was restored in 2012.
In 1990, the Center established its archive, which under the curatorship of Rich Wandel has grown into an important collection from various donors. A recent major renovation of the Center’s interior was completed by Brooklyn-based RSVP Architecture Studio and N-Plus Architecture and Design.