Prizm News / November 1, 2018 / By Bob Vitale
Deb Steele, interim executive director of Stonewall Columbus, stands inside the entry of the newly renovated LGBTQ community center in Columbus’ Short North. It will open to the public in mid-November. (Prizm photo by Staley Munroe)

Stonewall Columbus will unveil its newly renovated center this month, while construction continues on a new home for the LGBTQ Community Center in Cleveland.

 

By Bob Vitale

They got their start around bar tables and in people’s living rooms at a time when there were no grand openings and ribbon-cuttings for LGBTQ organizations. The founders of Stonewall Columbus—known originally as the Stonewall Union—hosted a party for the press to announce their presence in 1981, but no press showed up.

The first landlord for what’s now the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland reneged on the group’s lease. An early sign for the center said nondescriptly, “The Center.”

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Donors often gave cash to LGBT groups back then because checks would have tied their names to the cause.

Today, interim Executive Director Deb Steele is showing off the newly renovated and expanded Stonewall Columbus community center, which opens officially in mid-November. It includes three times as much space for programming and events, floor-to-ceiling first-floor windows that open the building up to passers-by, and a roof-top terrace with views up and down High Street.

“We’re not in the closet anymore,” Steele says.

The new LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland is under construction on Detroit Avenue.

Cleveland will celebrate the opening of a brand- new LGBT Community Center of its own next spring. Construction is under way across the street from the current center on Detroit Avenue. The new building will triple its space and replace what has been a basement home since 2000 with a two-story, glass-walled facility that makes the center much more visible.

The metaphor in these bright, modern LGBTQ spaces isn’t lost on Executive Director Phyllis Harris in Cleveland, either.

LGBT Center Executive Director Phyllis Harris speaks at the groundbreaking for Cleveland’s new center in December 2017.

“We’re coming up and out,” she says. “We want to be visible. We’re no longer in the basement.”

First announced in 2016, the Stonewall Columbus renovation keeps a bit of the façade of the 5,000-square-foot building at N. High Street and 4th Avenue that has housed the community center since 2004. It also incorporates an older, 2,000-square-foot warehouse that Stonewall Columbus has owned behind the building on 4th Avenue.

Together, and with the addition of a three-story space that connects the two buildings, the new Stonewall Columbus center has 15,000 square feet for meetings, events, programs and classes.

Everything from AA meetings to support groups to ballroom dancing classes has been dispersed to temporary locations in churches and city recreation centers during construction of the renovated center. They’re all likely to come home by Jan. 1, Steele says.

What used to be first-floor offices is now a wide- open event space that will be used as an art gallery day-to-day. Other large spaces can be used for yoga and dance classes, Steele says. There are enough offices to expand therapy services and STI testing.

A conference room and other spaces can be rented. The rooftop terrace atop the front of the building can host 81 people.

The new Cleveland center has run into a few construction glitches, Harris says, from the discovery of foundations for three separate structures that formerly stood on the Detroit Avenue site to problems with city sewer lines serving the property.

“There are always issues in construction,” she says. “We’ve been particularly unlucky around some of that.”

The result is a $500,000 cost increase for the project. Harris says. Although she worries aloud that donations for the construction effort already are affecting donations that help center operations—”we’re doing a lot of asking”—Harris says plans are coming together to make up the difference.

A $1.8 million gift from an anonymous “angel donor” allowed center leaders to announce plans for a new home on the eve of the August 2014 Gay Games in Cleveland. The donor has since upped that contribution to $4.9 million.

The new LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland will include rentable event space and a rooftop patio. Other amenities include a cyber center and meeting rooms. Perhaps its most unique feature will be a 380-square-foot retail space on the ground floor that Harris wants to use as a business incubator for LGBTQ entrepreneurs.

She says the center will add staff once it makes the move across the street.

In addition to the expansion of existing LGBTQ community centers in Ohio’s two largest cities, others have opened or are in the works elsewhere.

In Dayton, where 98 percent of people taking a 2014 LGBTQ community survey indicated their desire for a community center, the previously homeless Dayton LGBT Center found a physical home in 2016. The center is now housed in the heart of Downtown’s gay-bar district, next door to MJ’s on Jefferson on N. Jefferson St.

The center hosts weekly yoga classes and support groups, a monthly LGBTQ book club and trans community social, and other events.

In Toledo, public meetings and community forums about a local LGBTQ center have given way to what Equality Toledo Executive Director Analese Alvarez describes as more behind-the-scenes work. The local advocacy group lists “find a home” as one of its top priorities.

“As we continue to grow and expand our services, a physical space becomes increasingly integral to our work,” reads an Equality Toledo web report to the community. “A space of our own can offer a central location for people to gather for events,

meetings, and support. The space will be a symbol of our viability, strength and compassion. It will signal a long-term commitment to serving the area LGBTQ population.”

“It’s still our focus to open one,” Alvarez says. “I hope the community remains patient. We’re knee- deep in the work. It’s just not very public.”

Fundraising for centers in Columbus and Cleveland has been a success.

Stonewall Columbus reports that it’s 90 percent of the way toward the $4 million fundraising goal of its capital campaign.

In Cleveland, a $1 million goal—$500,000 in community donations matched by the Milton and Tamar Maltz Family Foundation—already has been met to open the new center building with a facilities endowment fund.

Harris has another idea to raise some money for the LGBT Center. It’s further evidence of how far we’ve come from the days when people feared sending checks and the only safe word for the sign outside an LGBT community center was “Center.”

She’s planning on selling naming rights for meeting rooms and other spaces inside the new Cleveland facility so individuals and corporate sponsors can let everyone know they support the work going on inside.

Bob Vitale is the editor of Prizm. Send him your comments, suggestions and story ideas at bobvitale@prizmnews.com.

FIND OUT MORE

The new Stonewall Columbus community center is located at 1160 N. High St., Columbus, 43201. Learn more about Stonewall and its programs at stonewallcolumbus.org. There’s a separate website for information about the new center at stonewallbuilds.org.

The LGBT Center of Greater Cleveland is now located at 6600 Detroit Ave., Cleveland, 44102. The new center will be at 6705 Detroit Ave. Visit lgbtcleveland.org to find out about the center’s programs.

The Dayton LGBT Center is at 20 N. Jefferson Ave., Dayton, 45402. The center is online at daytonlgbtcenter.org.

Equality Toledo is online at equalitytoledo.org.

Bob Vitale
Bob Vitale is the editor of Prizm. A Toledo native and graduate of Toledo Public Schools, he has worked as a local government and politics reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, as a Washington correspondent for Thomson Newspapers and as editor-in-chief for Outlook Ohio. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science from Ball State University and a master's degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield. Contact: BobVitale@prizmnews.com