By Rebecca Rolfe
On April 9, the SF LGBT Center will be celebrating its 15th anniversary with a ribbon-cutting ceremony of the newly remodeled space and an open house for the entire community. We are thrilled to be starting a transformational new chapter in the Center’s history. The renovated space breathes new life into the facility while providing a sustainable home for future generations of LGBTQ people in the Bay Area.
The remodeled Center reopens at a crucial and challenging time for all of our communities. I’m confident that the program expansion the renovation has afforded us and our continued building improvements will provide crucial resources to face the challenges that lie ahead, and will enhance our work to support all LGBTQ people and allies. We can meet these challenges head on because our first 15 years have given us the opportunity to better understand the evolving needs of the community and how the building can be the strongest possible asset to meet those needs.
Soon after the Center opened in 2002, we realized that the LGBTQ community in San Francisco had significant needs around economic development—finding and keeping jobs, building businesses, and developing financial stability and security for individuals, youth, and families. Those needs were not being met elsewhere in the city, and the Center stepped in to begin building those programs and services for the community.
We created the first LGBT economic development program in the world, and have continued to innovate within that model. Over time we also created our Youth Program and Information & Referral services, both of which connect some of the most vulnerable members of our community to the incredible resources available in San Francisco.
Now, each year, our Economic Development team supports 3,000 people, our Information and Referral services connect over 6,000 people to critical resources, our Youth Program serves over 400 young people, and we host over 3,000 events. In all, the Center and its programs welcome over 100,000 visitors annually and, given the current political climate, we expect this number to grow dramatically.
The renovation gave us a unique opportunity to look at the facilities and to improve them as an asset for the entire community. The new facilities accomplish many things, including creating a stronger revenue stream that will support long-term building maintenance and will make sure that this building and our services are here for generations to come.
We were also able to help alleviate the ongoing problem of affordability in the Bay Area nonprofit community by providing partner organizations with below market rate rental space. The upgraded 15,000 square feet of space allows us to bring tenants who align solidly with the strongest community needs, such as low-income legal services, primary medical care, health and wellness programs, and programs to serve the transgender community. These are critically important resources that strengthen the Center as a one-stop shop for the LGBTQ community.
The remodel also gave us the opportunity to look at creating a place that felt warmer and more welcoming and friendly for the entire community. We brought the art gallery into the lobby to create a more accessible space for the community to display art, upgraded our CyberCenter with new computers, and refreshed all of our public spaces and meeting rooms. On the programing side, the remodel has allowed us to physically expand the youth programming space, which now includes a drop-in area, a support group/therapy room, and a room that includes all clothing resources and a washer/dryer.
The renovation culminates on the 15th anniversary of the Center—a watershed moment for the Center and the community.
Fifteen years ago, we could not have envisioned the incredible progress that our communities would experience. While this progress has been life-changing for many, we must always remember that numerous individuals in our community continue to face significant challenges rooted in homophobia, transphobia, sexism, racism and other related oppressions.
We cannot know what the next fifteen years will bring us, but we do know that the Center will still be here leading the way in understanding how to work with folks most at risk—for isolation, for violence, for illness, for unemployment or homelessness—and that we will still be welcoming people of all ages who come to San Francisco in search of a place to be their authentic selves.
With the renovation completed, we are now ready to lean into the future and make these aspirations a reality.
Rebecca Rolfe is the Executive Director of the SF LGBT Center.
By Vanessa Teran
“I arrived in San Francisco full of hope and ready to live my authentic self, but unfortunately I soon found myself homeless and at the mercy of strangers who took advantage of my situation.”—Anastazia, Youth Program participant
After a 72-hour bus trip, 22-year-old Anastazia arrived in San Francisco with little money and nowhere to live. They left a life of rejection and harassment in Florida to seek a new beginning within a community that was supporting and accepting of young queer, trans and gender non-conforming people.
“I didn’t give up,” said Anastazia. “I found the Youth Program at the SF LGBT Center, which provided me with a safe space, weekly meals, and support in finding the help I needed in order to find housing and begin a new life. I am now more stable and have time to explore a career in design.”
LGBTQ youth, who have incredible talents and contributions to make to society, already face higher rates of suicide, homelessness, and depression. In San Francisco alone there are 1,500 LGBTQ youth like Anastazia. In my position as Youth Program Manager at the Center, I work with over 400 of them every year.
The recently completed renovation of the Center will allow our Youth Program to expand mental health services and continue providing critical services for youth who often experience rejection, violence, racism, sexism, and transphobia—often by their own families—which create barriers to accessing housing, employment, and healthcare.
“I was so happy that even through the building remodel, the Center continued to provide me and other LGBTQ youth with a safe space to hang out, access to resources, and to find other essential support like STD testing, and information about training and employment opportunities,” Anastazia continued.
Just as Anastazia did, every day a new young person comes through our doors seeking support. Together with our nonprofit partners, the Youth Program at the Center will support every one of them.
Vanessa Teran is the Youth Program Manager at the SF LGBT Center.