CLEVELAND — Three years after Cleveland unveiled a brand new LGBT community center, leaders at the center told News 5 they've seen quite the growth, including a 60% increase in their older adult program.
After this new space opened in June 2019, the coronavirus all but paused many of the in-person ideas once dreamed up. However, after two years of tiptoeing around the pandemic, center leaders told News 5 they're finally seeing the extent of how this community hub is being used.
Leaders including Gulnar Feerasta, the senior director of programs, also cite a 30% increase in their other programs including support for area teens.
"To be back in person and to see the center utilized to its full potential, it’s been beautiful," Feerasta said. "When you walk in the doors of the community center, we say you’re leaving heteronormativity and you’re stepping into queerness, queer culture. You can breathe and be your full authentic self and that’s priceless."
News 5 sat in for a rainbow pioneers art therapy class, where several talked about what's changed in Northeast Ohio when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community.
"First I was coming here in my 20’s and now I’m almost 60," Charlie K. said.
His visits became can’t-miss appointments last year.
"I moved here after my husband died last July and it was to meet new people and kind of just starting a new life all over," he said.
Finding joy through his art as he looks back on everything that’s changed in this community.
"Things are different and thankfully, wonderfully have changed in so many positive ways," he said. "I never thought all that protesting would lead to what we have today."
Later this week, the first phase of a $100 million project named Studio West 117 will officially open on Lakewood’s east side. It's a project meant to provide a new space for Northeast Ohio’s LGBTQ+ population.
Feerasta told News 5 that the center's growth, as well as other growth in the area still doesn't convey the full scope of the community and what it needs.
"We are still fighting for equality in 2022," Feerasta said. "When you think about data and what can data can tell you, there’s a lot we need to think about whether one community center is enough and I’m telling you it’s not."
A November 2020 study from the Prevention Research Center at Case Western Reserve University showed that among 15,350 surveyed Cuyahoga County high school students, 13.8% identified as LGBT, with 4.3% responding as unsure how they identified.
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