Hundreds gathered at New York City’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center (The Center) earlier this week to celebrate the spectacular completion of its 18-month, $9.2 million renovation. Prominent officials like New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, New York State Assembly member Deborah Glick, and New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer paid tribute to the trailblazing and life-saving work The Center has done since opening in 1983, while some of the 300,000 annual users mingled over St. Germain cocktails (of course, nothing stronger than Think Coffee for the Center Youth). It was both grand and intimate, inspiring and humbling — in all, a fitting reflection of an organization that facilitated the founding of ACT UP in 1987 (within what is now called the Kaplan Assembly Room) and continues to provide exhaustive support to the most vulnerable members of the LGBT community.
From a young age, Edie Windsor, the evening’s guest of honor, recalled, her late wife Thea Spyer dreamt of a place where gay people could drop in, like a coffee shop. Before The Center, she explained, gay social life in the city necessarily revolved around bars and clubs. The building’s opening changed that landscape, providing a different type of space for LGBT people to come together. It was where Windsor and Spyer attended their first all-women dance, and it was where Windsor went to learn the Supreme Court verdict in 2013. Yet for all the services and support provided, it took this most recent bout of renovations to finally realize that dream of a simple cafe. And in honor of their work, the new Think Coffee shop has been formally dedicated to the now iconic couple.
The Center has meant many different things to many different people throughout the decades, and with improved facilities and technology, it’s better suited now than ever to continue playing its central role. Addressing a packed auditorium before cutting the rainbow ribbon (made by the rainbow flag creator, Gilbert Baker), Executive Director Glennda Testone offered her interpretation of The Center’s most basic message. “The gay man who’s struggling with HIV and trying to get and stay sober,” she began, “the young person who is desperate to meet someone like him, the lesbian couple who is hoping to have a baby, the trans immigrant woman who just needs a doctor and health insurance, or the LGBT elder who comes here to be with the only family that he has now. Those people matter.”
To coincide with the re-opening, Once Upon A Time And Now, an exhibition that will run through April, is on display across all four floors of the building. Blending original pieces from The Center’s 1989 show, which commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall Riot — such as a bathroom mural by Keith Haring and massive photographs by David LaChapelle — with contemporary works hand-picked by Ian Alteveer, an associate curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it’s message is clear: Ours is a history worth celebrating, and our future is as exciting as it is limitless.