By Glennda Testone
Glennda Testone is the Executive Director of the New York LGBT Community Center and is a leader in the field of social justice for women and LGBT people. Testone joins The Center from The Women’s Media Center (WMC) where she served as the Vice President. Glennda also served as the Senior Director of Media Programs for the national Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) where she acted as a spokesperson for GLAAD and for the LGBT movement, appearing on CNN, FOX News, and MSNBC, and in outlets such as The Boston Globe,The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, Time Out and W magazine.
A year and a half into my role as the Executive Director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center I am so inspired and humbled to continue building on the work of those who have spent the last 28 years building this institution into a life-saving home away from home for the entire LGBT community. I stand on many shoulders and never take for granted the visionary activists who started our Center, the people that have kept it going for all of these years, and the folks who make it what it is today.
As I reflect on the Center’s decades of service to LGBT people I also salute the parallel journey of the Chelsea Pines Inn. Both places came of age at a time when our community desperately needed safe spaces to organize, advocate and be who we are. Both still offer a haven today, even at a time of great progress for our movement. Thanks to founders Jay Lesiger and his late partner Sheldon Post, LGBT people visiting our city have had a welcoming Inn to rest and find community within the charming and friendly walls of their comfortable and LGBT affirming space.
Here at the center I never tire of seeing how people’s lives improve because of the programs and services that we provide 365 days a year. I watch young people in our Youth Enrichment Services program grow up to become confident, healthy adults right before my eyes. I have met people who after numerous attempts at sobriety come to the Center and now are living alcohol and drug free lives. And I have seen LGBT individuals and couples create families through our Center Families Services. This is what the Center does best, we come into someone’s life at the moment when they need a hand, and we help give them the tools and support that will last them a lifetime.
As our community changes, so does the Center; we are always evolving to focus on the most urgent needs of our community. When the devastating reality of HIV/AIDS struck our community the Center emerged as a place to gather debate and create. When bullying and teen suicide among LGBT teens was at the forefront of the nation’s consciousness, the Center stood up as a leader protecting our youth through our crisis intervention, positive developmental models and through our Safe Schools Program. And as immigrant populations in this city reach and begin to exceed 40% of the population, the Center will host its third annual LGBTQ Immigration Support Fair & Cultural Event showing our dedication to supporting LGBTQ immigrants so they can bring all of themselves to this city and achieve all of their dreams.
The Center’s work never stops. We offer support, connection, resources, information and community. We transform lives. And we know just how much the Chelsea Pines Inn has done the same thing these past 25 years. We consider you a dedicated partner and salute your dedication of service to LGBT people. As my friend Jay Lesiger reminded me– while Chelsea Pines Inn is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year it is interesting how both the Inn and the Center, neighbors for a quarter-century, actually began the same year.
Jay and his late partner Sheldon Post purchased their building in 1983, just before the Center building was purchased. Sheldon was a lifelong friend of both Irving Cooperberg and Peter Vogel, the two people who were extremely influential in creating the Center. Sheldon was also a very early supporter of the project. As Jay so eloquently put it, “Our connection to the Center has run on parallel lines from the beginning; we have both created a safe haven for the LGBT community from the time we opened our doors.” It’s empowering to see that both places are still here, thriving, and fulfilling that same mission today. Happy 25th Anniversary Chelsea Pines. Here’s to the next 25!