3 Stories of Healing and Joy to Celebrate the Holidays

As we approach the end of 2023, we are honored to center the voices of Aliya, Jesse, and Yohon, three community members who have found healing and joy at The Center. Each of them has unique experiences within our community—whether as participants in our programming for LGBTQ+ young adults, creating experiences for New York's Ballroom culture, or our annual AIDS bike ride Cycle for the Cause—but they all discovered that The Center can change lives for the better.

Aliya on How LGBT Community Centers Provide Space for Joy

The LGBTQ+ community means everything to me and The Center reminds us of our collective power and resilience. The Center is what our ancestors fought for and is a manifestation of each battle we’ve faced, each victory we’ve won, and continuously strives to meet the needs of our community and to be better every day. When I’m in a space like The Center, I remember our existence is the whole point!

When you’re part of a community—whether it’s with another person or in a group—our ability to emphasize and validate one another’s joy makes us stronger and more magical. Joy can be a common thread to help us connect on a deeper level. I’m learning how to use joy as a tool for healing. The Center has always championed that.

Who I am is okay and I don’t have to continuously unpack myself to know that. At The Center, I can sit in a room as I am and feel seen and validated. If I didn’t have access to affirming spaces, who knows who I’d be, or what I’d be, or if I’d be. Bless The Center, y’all!

Jesse Finds Strength with His Chosen Family

Creating opportunities where LGBTQ+ people are affirmed for who they are can transform lives! Eight years ago, I hopped onto a bicycle and joined hundreds of participants in Cycle for the Cause, The Center’s Northeast AIDS Ride. The event is an intense physical feat, but I come back year after year because the joy I find alongside my fellow riders is priceless. Together, we’ve formed a chosen family—and they were my rock when I needed them most.

I was diagnosed with HIV in 2016. During initial treatment, the new friends and teammates I’d found through The Center were a supportive beacon, visiting the hospital with hugs and a listening ear. And once I was able to return to Cycle for the Cause, I was welcomed with open arms and so much love. On the ride, people living with HIV signify their status with a bright orange flag on their bike; and they lead all of the cyclists from the starting line. The flag on my bike is a symbol that those living with HIV are not alone, and we have strength when we journey through life together.

By riding, I’m paying it forward to future generations. Yours and my support of The Center and its vital services—including free HIV testing, prevention, and education; social and peer groups; and mental health and substance recovery counseling—ensures that these life-saving resources are provided for years to come. Our community is a force to be reckoned with, and together, we have the power to heal!

Yohon Shares His Story of Uplifting New York’s Ballroom Community

Ballroom culture exists because of a need to create a space for joy! Today, while Ballroom culture has more public attention, its strong and fierce community members still deserve deeper understanding and support. Through my work at The Center, I connect people in Ballroom to the resources they may need while also highlighting their talent and extraordinary resilience.

The Center’s Ballroom programs are not only an outlet for happiness but a source of healing. Every year, I help to plan The Center’s World AIDS Day Red Ball. It’s a fabulous and full-out celebration that commemorates the lives we have lost and showcases the joy in how far we have come. Plus, every week at The Center, we offer vogue classes for young people and first-timers; and revel in extravagant, unfettered queer self-expression. These events serve as vehicles to connect folks to The Center’s free HIV testing and connections to PrEP and PEP services, mental health counseling, substance treatment programs, health-insurance navigation, and linkage to affirming care for trans and gender expansive folks.

My everyday work—in partnership with The Center’s reach and vision and the generosity of our members—amplifies the Ballroom community to be more seen, more supported, and more heard. I am determined to do this work so that my community can flourish in places we have always belonged, and stand out beneath lights that won’t dim our shine!

Donate today!

To support community members like Aliya, Jesse, and Yohon, please consider donating.