Op-ed: Why New Yorkers Still Need Community Centers Like Ours

Op-ed: Why New Yorkers Still Need Community Centers Like Ours

in a "post-marriage equality" New York is wonderful, that is, unless
you are a young person being bullied in school; homeless on the streets without
safe shelter; a transgender individual seeking housing, employment, or public
accommodation outside the handful of locales that offer protections; a couple
seeking a second-parent adoption; a senior looking for companionship; a
transgender person seeking culturally competent health care;  a person living with HIV/AIDS struggling
to make ends meet; or a parent trying to understand what it means that their
child just "came out.” It is these reasons I am thrilled to serve as the
Brooklyn Community Pride Center's executive director.

Passing laws is vitally important. In New York we’ve celebrated dozens of legislative
and governmental victories over the years. LGBTQ individuals, couples, and
families are legally protected in countless ways — loving same-sex couples can
marry and in one act be extended numerous rights and responsibilities that come
with marriage; individuals cannot be discriminated on the basis of their sexual
orientation; the Dignity for All Students Act, now signed into law, works to
protect our young people in school; same-sex couples can adopt; and the list
goes on. But equally if not more important is making certain that individuals
have access to information and knowledge, to support systems and community. It
is through this that individuals are empowered. It is these reasons that in a
post–marriage equality state community centers are essential.

Think of the LGBT Center in Manhattan 30 years ago — in 1983,
when the center was founded, there weren't many laws protecting LGBTQ people, and AIDS was a ticking time bomb, but the community came together and
the result was the birth of dozens of organizations and services that continue
to serve LGBTQ individuals. The ability for individuals to come together and
share ideas built community as much as sustained it. To have
a permanent LGBTQ center in Brooklyn will mean that the diverse
communities making up Brooklyn's LGBTQ population will have a place to
come together to access much needed services but to also build community.

The Brooklyn Community Pride Center currently runs a series
of programs, including Brooklyn Youth United Against Hate and our ElderCare
program. Brooklyn Youth United is a youth-driven empowerment program designed
to bring our young people together to provide them support services and an
opportunity to connect with other LGBTQs in a safe and welcoming space.
ElderCare is a groundbreaking initiative taking place in mainstream senior
centers addressing the commonalities among the senior population in an attempt
to tackle the isolation this population often faces. Daily we are looking at
ways to expand our programming to include peer support groups, legal and
education services, health initiatives, name change support for the transgender
community, and social gathering to bring Brooklyn’s LGBTQ community

Currently, Brooklyn’s LGBTQ community must access services
outside the borough, but in time, through relationships with organizations
currently serving the LGBTQ community the Brooklyn Community Pride Center will
provide a physical space to bring these services under one roof. Young people
and their families will be able to find support services as they navigate
coming out; transgender individuals will find services related to name changing,
culturally competent health care, and assistance in navigating housing and
employment opportunities; people living with HIV/AIDS can come to the
center for support groups, access to information about health services, and
resources related to housing; seniors can continue to participate in our
ElderCare program, building relationships with other seniors; and families can
learn about social activities with other LGBTQ families as well as support
services. Together we will build and sustain our community.

I am thrilled to be at the helm of the Brooklyn Community
Pride Center. Four years ago a group of dedicated and thoughtful advocates and
activists asked why Brooklyn was the only borough without an LGBTQ center. They
didn’t stop there; they started meeting with elected officials and community
leaders and built a center. It is this dedication that will grow this
organization to provide the support necessary for all of the LGBTQ community in
Brooklyn. I am recently reminded to “never doubt that a small group of
thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only
thing that ever has.”


 ERIN DRINKWATER is the new executive director for the Brooklyn
Community Pride Center. Learn more about its work at LGBTBrooklyn.org.

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