Glennda Testone describes The Center’s annual gala on Thursday night as a homecoming.
“We haven’t gotten to gather this way in three years, and to be able to think about coming together, to really be together, is so much of what The Center stands for,” said Testone, The Center’s executive director, several days before the black-tie event at Cipriani Wall Street. “We are a space and a place for our community to gather and connect and get stronger together. So to be able to have this dinner and be joyful together again, and to recommit to how much work we still have to do, is so critical.”
Located on 13th Street in the West Village, NYC’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center has provided critical resources and programming since its founding in 1983. During the pandemic The Center expanded its virtual programming and launched its RiseOut activist-in-residence program. “That program is really putting funding and support directly in the hands of LGBTQ activists; the next generation of this movement and of this fight,” said Testone.
“Certainly the last two years are not what anyone expected,” she added. “On the positive side, it pushed us to really figure out how to go from a completely place-based, in-person service delivery to completely online in a very short amount of time.” Testone noted that it was paramount for The Center to rally at the beginning of the pandemic, knowing that the LGBTQ community fights against social isolation to begin with.
“We saw, especially in the very beginning pretty immediately, 30 to 40 percent increase in the demand for those services for mental health, for substance abuse, for connection and support,” she said. “And it allowed us to reach people in a different way, to reach young people across the country and even across the globe in ways that they could not necessarily access on 13th Street in New York City.”
Thursday’s event honored philanthropists Tim Gill and Scott Miller with the inaugural Edie Windsor Trailblazer Award, named for one of the founding supporters of The Center who worked for IBM in the 1950s and was part of a landmark legal case for the same-sex marriage movement.
“[Windsor] was a spitfire. She’s an inspiration and icon in the community. At The Center specifically, she helped us set up our first computer system,” said Testone. “Tim and Scott are such a consistent force of positive change for the community, whether it’s fighting for marriage all across the country and funding that fight, or any of the political fights that we’re fighting now for the trans community,” she added. ”They are really at the forefront of making sure our community and our movement has what we need to keep pushing forward and to win, to eventually get to equality and justice.”
Also honored were transgender activist Cecilia Gentili and Bank of America, which provided The Center with a $200,000 grant in 2018. That funding allowed The Center to build the foundation for its RiseOut program, expand its mental health services, and establish Center Works, an economic advancement program.
Gentili, an actress, was honored with the Visibility Award. “She is someone who has benefited from the services of The Center. She runs her own company successfully, and she is such a role model for everyone in our community,” said Testone.
Thursday’s gala, which was also attended by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, raised more than $1.8 million for the organization.
Looking toward the rest of the year, Testone is focused on a strategic plan guided by the question “what does our community need?”
“In the last two years, that’s really making sure we have the capability to be online and to be in person, we have the capability to be rooted in racial and gender equity, economic equity and doing everything we can to be there for our community,” she said. “So lots of continuous self-reflection, and trying to push ourselves to make sure we’re there for the folks in our community that needs support the most.”