LGBT Community Center Seeks New Home After Vandalism

New Orleans Pride – Rainbow Flag” by Tony Webster is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The LGBT Community Center of New Orleans is looking for a new home after the exterior of the Center’s administrative office and program space located at 2727 S. Broad Street was vandalized late last summer and the property management company is demanding payment for those and other repairs, according to Santos Rodriguez, the Center’s interim president. In an attempt to enter the site after hours, thieves smashed the building’s two large storm windows. Though the perpetrators were not able to break through the industrial-strength glass, repair costs for the windows and the HVAC system, which had also recently gone out, are estimated at $6,000. In addition the Center is several months in arrears on the building’s rent. Both the NOPD and the FBI were contacted after the vandalism. No arrests were made.

Earlier this month, supporters found offsite storage for the Center’s artifacts and moved programming to alternate spaces while searching for a new home and raising funds to cover their current $15,000 debt. “We are actively looking for a new space preferably in the French Quarter or St. Claude Avenue corridor to be closer to our community,” said Rodriguez. The group needs at least 2,200 square feet.  

The Center has no full-time staff and is predominately operated by five board members who handle administrative functions and oversee the Center’s programs. Rodriguez, a clinical researcher, said he accepted the interim presidency as a temporary measure. He expects to relocate from New Orleans at the end of February for a new job in his field. Other current board members include Syria Jackson, Stable Switch and Michael Fletcher.

Blessed with a lively arts and cultural scene, New Orleans has always attracted members of the LGBT+ community. According to LGBT+ archivist Frank Perez, the first written reference to homosexuality in New Orleans dates back to 1724. Beginning in the mid-1800’s LGBT+ artisans, writers and musicians were making their presence known in the Crescent City including Gaston Pontalba who designed the cast-ironwork on the Pontalba apartments; Walt Whitman who was one of America’s most influential poets; highly sought-after Storyville composer and pianist Tony Jackson who mentored Jelly Roll Morton; artist and silver designer William Spratling; pioneering photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston; and beloved playwright Tennessee Williams who said New Orleans was “one place in the South that he could be himself relatively fully.” 

To foster a LGBT+ social scene, establishments including Café Lafitte, Dixie’s bar of Music, and the Steamboat Club opened by the mid-1950’s. In 1955 homosexuals were described by the NOPD as New Orleans’ “Number 1 vice problem.” In 1958 Mayor Chep Morrison created the “Committee on the Problem of Sex Deviates.” Yet the LGBT+ community continued to grow with the establishment of Mardi Gras krewes and political organizations including the Krewe of Yuga, the Krewe of Petronius, the Krewe of Amon Ra, and the Krewe of Armeinus, as well as the Daughters of Bilitis, the Gay Liberation Front, the Gertrude Stein Society, the Louisiana Lesbian and Gay Political Action Committee (LAGPAC), and the Forum For Equality.  

After years of intense lobbying, the New Orleans City Council enacted a human rights ordinance in 1991 which was heralded as a formal recognition of protection against discrimination in housing and employment for LGBT+ people. The Lesbian and Gay Community Center opened the following year (1992) at 816 N. Rampart St. In 1993, the City of New Orleans domestic partner registry was created. In 1997, Louisiana became the first state in the Deep South to enact a hate crimes law that included sexual orientation. Simultaneously Mayor Marc Morial extended domestic partner benefits to city employees. In 1998, protection for transgender people was added to the Human Rights Ordinance.  

The Center moved to 2114 Decatur Street in 1999 and launched the Hate Crimes Project in 2000, which tracks hate-based crimes against LGBT and other groups targeted by discrimination. In 2003 an annual Trans Day of Remembrance was inaugurated to commemorate the lives of a large number of transgender people murdered each year. In 2009, New Orleans city leaders declared December 12th annually as The LGBT Community Center Day. 

In 2011, the Center launched the Safe Space for LGBT and questioning youth. A new mission and vision was then established based on community needs. In 2013, the Center relocated to the Egg Studio complex on South Broad after they were forced out of their Faubourg Marigny program space due to damage from Hurricane Isaac. For the last seven years, the Center was housed at 2727 S. Broad Street, a 100 percent accessible location which provided an opportunity to serve every element of the community. 

The Center currently offers Alcohol Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings which are attended by more than 50 people. It serves as a safe space for celebratory events, parties and milestones for program participants. The Center is also a welcoming environment where poor people in the LGBT+ community can be linked up with resources.  

The Center’s NOLA Gaymers has by far the greatest reach in the community. Approximately 200 youth and adults gather monthly to explore and have fun with board games and video games while providing them an opportunity to interact with like-minded people in a non-threatening setting.

The Center also works with approximately 30 transgender youth. “We do a lot for these young people but we could do so much more,” Rodriguez explained. He hopes the Center’s new home has adequate space to provide temporary housing for queer youth. “They youth come to our door looking for a place to stay. We need to be able to serve them.”

Rodriguez says fundraising for the Center is a priority during this transition. They need to recruit new board members and new sources of funding. Some people are interested in helping but nothing has worked out yet. Realtors are scouting new locations. An unpaid adviser is assisting the Center to apply for new grants. For several years, the Center has received some funding from the Greater New Orleans Foundation which they are hoping to increase. Rodriguez hopes that through a combination of grants, special events, and individual gifts from interested community members, enough dollars will be raised to hire a staff person who can manage day to day activities and develop a long-term fundraising plan.  

The LGBT Center has provided a unique service to LGBT+ adults who are trying to rebuild their lives after alcohol or drug addictions, transgender youth as well as LGBT+ youth and adults who need a safe environment for recreation where they can unwind with friends. For more than 30 years, the Center has played a vital role in thousands of LGBT+ lives. New Orleans always has and always will accept those who dance to the beat of a different drum. To help eliminate the Center’s debt, donate online at         

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