LGBT Community Center opens new facility on Detroit Avenue
by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, July 2019) The Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) Community Center of Greater Cleveland celebrated the opening of its new facility at 6705 Detroit Avenue on June 14thwith a ribbon cutting ceremony and open house. LGBT Community Center volunteers lined the sidewalk in front of the Center holding colorful flags while supporters, staff and board members filled the sidewalk around the new building.
The first of a series of speakers, Bob Sferra, President of the Board of Directors of the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland, thanked all who contributed to making the new center possible. Sferra specifically thanked individual members of the board and staff, “an angel donor”, and the architectural firm and crew that designed and built the new center. Sferra said the new facility means new programs in a bigger and better location. “We are finally up and out,” he said.
Architect David Thal of Weber Murphy and Fox described the new building he designed saying it “absolutely compliments the mission of the center. The community center is for all of you.”
Bryan Bowser, former board president of the LGBT Community Center, spoke of the effort and the generous donations that made it possible to open the new center with zero debt and with a $1 million plus endowment on hand. He urged those present to fill the new space with “your ideas” and “amazing programming.” He spoke of the 44-year history of the LBGT Community Center of Greater Cleveland and the many years ahead saying the efforts of those involved in creating this new facility “are gifting to the Greater Cleveland community this space, and all our great energy and mojo.” Bowser urged all LGBTQ people here in Cleveland, their friends and allies, and all of the community to continue to support and be involved with the center to “make it a vibrant place.”
State Representative Michael Skindell (District 13) said the new center would serve not only serve the Cleveland community but all of Northeast, Ohio with great programming, wonderful services and staff. Skindell said State Senator Nickie Antonio (District 23) wanted to attend the ribbon cutting but was tied up in Columbus with the State Senate’s deliberations on the Ohio budget.
City of Cleveland Ward 15 Council Representative Matt Zone praised the LGBT Community Center’s efforts and advocacy that led such accomplishments as having a domestic partnership registry in Cleveland and bringing the gay games to Cleveland. He noted activists in the neighborhood such as the late Buck Harris and Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization Executive Director Jeff Ramsey, who have worked in support of the center. Zone also spoke of the welcoming message the LGBT Center sent to the LGBTQ community members of greater Cleveland. He noted his late brother, Marty, left Cleveland for New York City because he didn’t feel welcome here.
City of Cleveland Ward 3 Councilman Kerry McCormack, who describes himself as openly gay, shared his story of the fear he felt as a ten-year-old about telling people who he was. McCormack described the new center as “planting a flag in the ground” and saying to young people with fears similar to those he had as a child, “this community cares for you.”
LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland Executive Director Phyllis S. Harris asked members of allied organizations to come to her side as she addressed the crowd. She read a poem about how those that have gone before you are part of your fabric. Harris noted the forty-four-year history of the LGBT Community Center at the Gordon Square Arcade, W. 29thStreet and Coventry. She called the opening of the new LGBT Community Center the highlight of her career. She acknowledged and offered thanks for “the support of community members, elected officials and people who believed in us over the last 44 years.”
Referring to all the allies now standing at her side, Harris talked about their role in making the new center happen. She said, “We make progress by connecting to people.”
Harris talked about the Center’s celebration of the Pride event on June 1stin Cleveland and preparing for the opening of the center at the same time. She talked of the opening of the new center during Pride month and the commemoration of the 50thanniversary of Stonewell. “Let’s think about the significance of all this,” she said.
Harris then invited all present to tour the new center.
The tour of the center revealed an open and inviting space with lots of natural light. The Center will have a variety of programs in the new facility including some new programs. The LGBT Community Center’s website lgbtcleveland.org notes a number of existing programs and services provided including health and wellness programs, youth and young adult programs, and SAGE a program for adults over 50. The center also offers LGBTQ+ sensitivity training programs and community meeting space. MetroHealth Doctor Doug Vanauken says the Pride Clinic will be moving from McCafferty Health Center to the new LGBT Community Center.
Those touring the facility noted the spacious second floor with a capacity of up to 198 people. The second floor also features an outdoor patio. From the front of the building’s east side, former Board President Bryan Bowser noted you can “get a peak” at Lake Erie looking down W. 67thStreet.
Architect David Thal showed guests the gender-neutral restroom facility signs that say “THEM.”
Guests enjoyed colorful pastries prepared by Board President Bob Sferra’s catering company Culinary Occasions.