Center History

The Center was established in 1983 as a safe and affirming space for LGBTQ+ activism in New York City. Today, our commitment to justice and eliminating stigma continues as we grow to meet the needs of LGBTQ+ New Yorkers.

Explore highlights of the The Center’s 40+ year history. You can explore every year of our history, from 1983 to today.

The Center's early years

Former Center Executive Director Richard Burns sat down with former Center board member Diana Leo to talk about the time when he first started working at the Center in 1983 at the height of the AIDS crisis.

This video excerpt is from Out at the Center, a former TV show of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of New York City.


The founders incorporate "Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center Inc.” on July 6. In December, New York City approves the sale of the former Food and Maritime Trades High School at 208 West 13th Street to The Center. On December 20, The New York Times runs an article by David Dunlap with the headline “Sale of Site to Homosexuals Planned.”


The City and The Center close the deal and Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center Inc. takes title to 208 West 13th Street. The cost: $1,500,000.


The Center launches its first cultural program, Second Tuesdays, led by board member Diana Leo. Second Tuesdays brings prominent figures such as Audre Lorde, Fran Lebowitz, and Quentin Crisp to speak directly to lesbian and gay New Yorkers.

Photo caption: Audre Lorde reads at a Second Tuesday event at The Center.


The New York City Council passes the Gay Rights Bill to ban housing and employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights sponsors a large public celebration at The Center.

Photo caption: Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights demonstration to end discrimination against gay and lesbian people.


Activist, author, and playwright, Larry Kramer, appears at Second Tuesdays at The Center on March 10. He rages at the lack of government response to the AIDS crisis. His speech, galvanizes the crowd and spurs the creation of ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power.


Volunteers create the Quilt Workshop at the Center. This is part of the national effort to create panels for the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.

Photo caption: At the Quilt Project Workshop on February 2, 1988; 1st row: Candida Scott Piel, Harvey Fierstein - 2nd row; Wes Cronk, David Nimmons.


The Center begins offering services for families with the launch of Youth Enrichment Services (YES) for LGBTQ+ and Center Kids for LGBTQ+ people who want to start families.

The Center honors the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots with The Center Show. The art exhibit features work by dozens of LGBTQ+ artists, including Keith Haring Martin and Wong .

Photo captions: YES participants attend The Center’s In Our Own Write Event on October 2, 1989.
Martin Wong at The Center Show.

"This building is a sacred space."

Richard Burns shared this sentiment when reflecting on his 20+ year tenure as The Center's Executive Director. Today, The Center's building in the historic West Village remains a sacred space for all who visit.


David Dinkins attends a Second Tuesday event as part of his first scheduled visit to The Center as mayor of New York City.

Photo caption: During a Second Tuesdays Event, David Dinkins is accompanied by Richard Burns in a tour of The Center.


The Pat Parker/Vito Russo Center Library opens. It is the brainchild of Stan Leventhal, Kevin Jenkins, and Brian Phillips, co-sponsored by The Publishing Triangle. The library starts out with 500 volumes.


The Center, along with architect Françoise Bollack, receives several awards for its façade restoration.

Joan Rivers hosts “Joan Rivers and Her Funny Friends,” the gala features dozens of prominent lesbian and gay entertainers.


The Center and other organizations charter buses to Washington, D.C., for the National March for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi-Equal Rights and Liberation on April 25. A million people attend the March.

Photo caption: The April 25, 1993, March on Washington.



The Center’s International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) Committee hosts the 16th Annual ILGA Conference.

In June, The Center hosts the founding meeting of the National Association of Lesbian & Gay Community Centers, now known as Centerlink.

Photo caption: The June 26, 1994, Gay Pride (Stonewall 25) March on the U.N.


Board President Judith Turkel announces a capital campaign at the annual Garden Party. The campaign is called "Center Challenge: The Campaign for Our Future." Its goal is to renovate The Center’s 153-year-old building.

Photo caption: The 12th Annual Garden Party on June 19, 1995.


The Center launches the “Promote the Vote” campaign. At the time, Promote the Vote is the largest nonpartisan lesbian and gay voter registration and mobilization program in the U.S.

Photo caption: Center employee, Ashley Merriman, advertises the Promote the Vote Event on July 6, 1996.


The Center mourns the death of our founding President, Irving Cooperberg, after he dies of AIDS in August.

Photo caption: Center Founding President Irving Cooperberg (left).


In Wyoming, on October 12 Matthew Shepard dies from injuries sustained in a brutal anti-gay attack. Volunteer applications to The Center reach an all-time high.

The Center relocates to One Little West 12th Street as renovations begin at 208 West 13th Street.

Photo captions: Matthew Shepard as seen in Out at The Center
Weekend Renovation Committee participant, Andrew Gessner, helps paint the Assembly Room at The Center.



The Center creates a program for people who are in recovery from alcohol and drug use that focuses on community organizing and policy. It is called SpeakOUT.

The Center adopts an anti-death penalty position.

"So many other organizations were spawned out of this building."

Terry Boggis, our first Director of Communications, reflects on The Center as a cornerstone of NYC queer infrastructure. Since our founding, The Center has been an incubator for coalitions, movements, and organizations. Notable organizations that got their start here include ACT UP, Callen-Lorde, and the Anti-Violence Project


Vice President Al Gore visits The Center while campaigning for president.

First Lady and candidate for the New York State Senate, Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaks at The Center.

Photo caption: Democratic presidential candidate Vice President Al Gore laughs with supporters during a visit to The Center on March 6, 2000. (Photo by Chris Hondros)


In July, The Center moves back to 208 West 13th Street as the renovation is completed. The building now has a new sign with a new name: The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center.

Photo caption: Stanley Kaplan, Barbara Praimin, Dino Georgiou, Paul Kaplan, Richard Burns, and Mark A. Bieber attend The Founders Society Reception - Kaplan Party on May 1, 1989.


With support from The Ford Foundation, The Center creates Causes in Common to connect its LGBTQ+ liberation and reproductive justice work.

The Center merges its health and wellness programs under a new umbrella: Center CARE.

Photo captions: An early Center CARE promotion
Project Connect staff members Barbara Warren and Stephanie Grant.
Tiana Bien-Aime, Sean Cahill, Ruthann Robson, and Carmen Vazquez attend a Causes in Common event.


The David Bohnett CyberCenter opens. Visitors use the David Bohnett CyberCenter to get online and take classes, meet friends, and seek services. The CyberCenter is made possible through funds from The David Bohnett Foundation.

Photo caption: The CyberCenter Opening on January 6, 2003.


On April 24, busloads of Center supporters travel to Washington, D.C., for The March for Women’s Lives.

Photo caption: Center community members in Washington, DC, for The March for Women’s Lives.


Executive Director Richard Burns celebrates 20 years at the helm of The Center. In 1987, shortly after Burns joined The Center, it was facing foreclosure on its mortgage. In Burns’ 20th year, The Center employs a staff of 80, and has an annual budget of $8 million.


Council Speaker, Christine Quinn, and Borough President, Scott Stringer, attend the Garden Party in June. They pledge millions of dollars to The Center’s renovation project.

In November, Center CARE Recovery becomes the first LGBTQ+ treatment program that can accept insurance and Medicaid in New York State. In the first six months, 243 people benefit from the program.


The Center celebrates its 25th anniversary by serving as Grand Marshal for the NYC Pride March.

The Center also recognizes two long-time staff members: Barbara Warren (with 20 years on staff) and Robert Woodworth (with 25 years).


In February, Richard Burns completes his 22-year tenure as Executive Drector. He moves on to the Arcus Foundation.

In November, Glennda Testone begins her service as the first woman Executive Director of The Center. She comes from leadership positions at GLAAD and The Women’s Media Center.


The Center launches the LGBT Foster Care Project. It is a collaboration with the New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) that aims to increase the number of homes for all youth. It has a special emphasis on LGBTQ+ youth

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Glennda Testone speaks at her first event as Executive Director

Glennda is The Center's first woman Executive Director and only the second ED in The Center's history.


The New York State Marriage Equality Act takes effect on July 24. The Center hosts a wedding reception. 350 newlyweds, friends, and family come to The Center to celebrate their love and commitment.

Photo captions: Couples celebrate the passage of marriage equality legislation in New York State at The Center’s Wedding Reception.
George Takei at The Center’s Wedding Reception.
Grooms at The Center’s marriage equality celebration and reception.
Brides at The Center’s marriage equality celebration and reception.


The Center unveils the newly restored “Once Upon a Time” mural by Keith Haring. The Center also holds a full month of programming to celebrate the mural and Keith’s legacy.

Hurricane Sandy destroys the Ali Forney Center’s drop-in facility. The Center steps in to provide temporary space. AFC continues to serve LGBTQ+ homeless youth while a permanent new space is arranged.

Photo caption: Invitation to the unveiling reception of Keith Haring’s restored “Once Upon a Time” mural at The Center.


On June 26, in United States v. Windsor, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that Section 3 of the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional.

The Center breaks ground on a $9.1 million renovation.

Photo captions: Edie Windsor hosts a press conference at The Center about her monumental marriage equality victory. A sign is displayed on the door of The Center informing visitors of our temporary move.


The Center opens a shared space for the Library and the Archive.

After many years of advocacy, the New York City Council changes the city's policy on gender markers for birth certificates.

Photo captions:
The Pat Parker/Vito Russo Library and The Center's National History Archive at The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center. Photography by Travis Mark.

The transgender pride flag.


The Center completes its $9.2 million renovation.

Founding staff member Robert Woodworth retires after 32 years of service to The Center.

Photo captions:
The renovated lobby of The Center.
Robert Woodworth sits in The Center's Kuriel Garden.


The Center launches new economic initiatives for women, immigrants, and TGNC people. The Center also creates an outpatient substance use treatment program for LGBTQ+ youth, ages 13 and up. It is the first program of its kind in the U.S.

The Center is awarded a contract to administer The New York State Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Health & Human Services Network (The Network).

The Network


At the annual Center Dinner, The Center announces the launch of a new advocacy program. The event raises a record-breaking $1.8 million, and honors Hillary Rodham Clinton.

On June 18, Senator Chuck Schumer announces a $1 million grant from to The Center. The grant enables The Center to create the Stonewall National Monument digital experience. Soon after, hundreds of people join The Center at the annual NYC Pride March to celebrate. They wear shirts with custom illustrations by artist Daniel Arzola.


Together with leaders from every region in New York, The Center launches the inclusive and people-centered, RiseOut People’s Platform. It represents a shared vision of justice and equity for LGBTQ+ New Yorkers.

The Center expands multiple services, increasing HIV support and offering free HIV testing five days a week. It also broadens services for LGBTQ+ immigrants and launches the first-ever TGNC Career Fair.


New York State laws end the use of the gay/trans “panic” defense in court, bring state abortion laws up-to-date with Roe v. Wade, ban the use of conversion therapy on minors, require all state buildings to have gender-neutral, single-occupancy restrooms, and protect gender identity and expression under human rights law.

The Center launches Stonewall Forever, a website, mobile app, and augmented reality monument that honors the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.

Stonewall Forever


The Center closes its doors to the public and shifts to remote only services during the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes launching a new web chat where people can request support. The Center sees a 40% increase in demand for services, like mental health counseling and substance use treatment. Going virtual means The Center can meet these needs, even for people who live outside of New York.


The Center welcomes LGBTQ+ New Yorkers back into the building after pausing in-person operations due to COVID-19.. It continues to offer virtual services.

The Center celebrates 5 years of RiseOut. The advocacy program has helped to pass more than 10 LGBTQ+ affirming laws and policies.

Second Tuesday celebrates its 35th year. It is one of The Center’s longest-running programs.

"There's got to be a way to be more inclusive, because I know it works."

Board member and former client Sandra Caldwell challenges The Center to do more to embrace equity and inclusion. In 2019 The Center began a racial equity transformation journey by investing in a robust organizational assessment of its existing practices and policies concerning race.


As part of racial equity commitment, The Center establishes its organizational values.

The values, grounded in equity, serve as a compass that guides The Center's work, policies, and decision-making.

The Center is committed to:
Racial, gender, and economic justice
A community-driven approach
Healing & joy

Learn more