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Cleveland is home to one of the oldest LGBT Community Centers in the nation. They're about to hit a milestone

Posted at 7:23 AM, Jun 27, 2024

CLEVELAND, Ohio — News 5 continues to highlight the stories celebrating Pride all month long.

Right here in Cleveland—a community non-profit that has acted as a safe space and support system for the LGBTQ community for nearly five decades.

Many may not know, but Cleveland happens to be home to one of the oldest LGBTQ community centers in the nation.

The work at the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland is remarkable.

Volunteers and staff have made it their mission to create a safe haven for those often afraid to step out.

Next year—marks 50 years of action and service.

"There's never a dull moment here at the center," Gulnar Feerasta, Managing Director of the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland, said.

The moment you step foot inside the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland—you'll feel comfort, light and warmth.

"The center offers a space of respite, of safety, of access to resources, access to support," Feerasta said.

Founded all the way back in 1975—but then under a different name—the work started at the then GEAR Foundation or Gay Education Awareness and Resources Foundation.

The center got its first office in Cleveland Heights in 1977 before setting up shop along the historic West 29th Street in Ohio City back in 1987.

"We have a lot of icons and activists who are still here and still around who are part of the Act Up Movement—that were part of the equality movement--around access to care for people living with HIV," Feerasta said.

Cleveland's center is one of the oldest LGBT+ community centers in the U.S., just behind New York City and Los Angeles.

The signage for "The Living Room" from the prior center in Ohio City showcases true bravery and strength to those battling HIV and AIDS.

"It wasn't because it was being held in somebody's living room --it was because it was a place you come so you could have hope to live," Feerasta said.

A couple of years later—the home became the Gordon Square Arts District.

The Center was initially located across the street in the basement of a brick building, which then housed the Detroit Shoreway Corporation.

The opportunity of a lifetime came about, and the non-profit opened a new 15,000-square-foot building thanks to a generous angel donor and community support.

"2019 we had been there for 19 years, and that's huge to be able to literally come out," Feerasta said.

But Feerasta says visibility was vital for strengthening their messaging and offering support in the community.

"You can't provide hope, if you can't relate to the people you are serving," Feerasta said.

The Center has become a one-stop shop for resources and inclusion.

They are the only center that houses a public school campus within --in the nation—in the form of their Cleveland Metropolitan School District "School of 1" for LGBTQ plus youth.

Then there's the PRIDE clinic, in Partnership with Metro Health—offering a variety of safe medical services in-house.

"It feels historic," Ralph Sanderson, a Rainbow Pioneers member, said.

At 81-years-old, Sanderson has been coming to the center since 1992 and is a proud, longstanding member of the Rainbow Pioneers.

It's a 50-plus social group for the LGBTQ community, which stands at more than 150 members strong.

"Just brings a real joy into my life. That purpose, something to do, something productive, something valuable," Sanderson said.

They meet multiple days a week for conversations, coffee and workouts.

"Facility is fabulous. It's very good. I jokingly refer to us as Rainbow Pioneers to rainbow daycare because we're all over 50," David Greene, a Rainbow Pioneers member, said.

Despite ongoing rhetoric, Feerasta remains hopeful for the future and says the constant here are the people and compassion.

"We too have the right to dream big and achieve," Feerasta said.

Volunteers are at the core of the Center's ongoing success.

The LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland is working on a series of major events leading up to their huge historic 50th anniversary.

Their goal is to raise $10 million to further support the community and the people who rely on support services.

To give back, click here.

The center is also hosting a community health and wellness fair Friday, June 28 from noon to 6 p.m.

For more information, click here.