Lehigh Valley to get first LGBT center
by Jen Colletta
Jun 12, 2014 | 1480 views | 0 0 comments | 48 48 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Pennsylvania Diversity Network this week announced the launch of a campaign aimed at opening the first LGBT community center in the Lehigh Valley.

The planned Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center — named for longtime Lehigh Valley LGBT activists Liz Bradbury and Dr. Patricia Sullivan — will be located in downtown Allentown.

A timeframe for its opening has not yet been announced.

Center founding director Adrian Shanker said organizers are working closely with Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski and the Allentown Redevelopment Authority to redevelop the building, the exact location of which will be announced at a later date.

There are only five other LGBT community centers in the state — in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Wilkes-Barre and Milford.

“Where there are community centers across the state that have permanent spaces, they have been able to create almost-daily programming for people who really want to participate in the LGBT community,” said Bradbury, PDN executive director. She noted that PDN has operated an information telephone line for 10 years and about half of the calls are from individuals looking for support groups and opportunities to connect in person with other LGBT people in the area. “We have a wonderful Pridefest here where there’s opportunities for people to meet lots of other people in the community, but that’s one day a year. When you don’t have a physical space, it’s very hard to create programming that will allow people to come together and celebrate the culture of the LGBT community.”

Shanker said the center will offer an array of comprehensive LGBT resources.

“Since Pennsylvania Diversity Network doesn’t have a physical space, we’re limited in terms of the programs and services we can offer,” Shanker said. “There’s a lot we do but there are things we can’t do that involve having a regular physical space. Having this space will allow us to offer better programming for LGBT seniors, better programming for LGBT youth, more direct services to, for example, low-income members of the LGBT community who really need these services. We’re looking forward to being able to do that.”

Center advisory board member and Bethlehem resident Barb Baus said that, while there are a number of organizations working on behalf of the LGBT community in the area, having one central hub will help with cohesion.

“There are a lot of agencies, groups and organizations in the Valley that serve the GLBT community, but we’re not coordinated and don’t always work together because the right hand doesn’t always know what the left hand doing,” Baus said. “I think a community center will be very helpful in that area, as a resource, a focal point for all GLBT activities, agencies and resources so people can go to one place and find out what’s going on in whatever area they’re interested in.”

Shanker noted that it’s an effort that is sorely needed in the Lehigh Valley.

He said that, according to the 2010 Census, Allentown has the state’s third-largest LGBT population, yet lacks a stable community meeting space.

“This is an important thing for the LGBT community here but also something that can be a benefit to the region as well, in terms of having an anchored nonprofit in an area that really needs it,” Shanker said. “We’re the largest LGBT community in the state that doesn’t have an LGBT community center. This is definitely something our community needs. But it’s going to take a lot to get there.”

At PDN’s 2014 Community Leadership Awards Ceremony Tuesday night, organizers announced the Campaign for Community, which seeks to raise $75,000 by the end of September for the center.

Shanker said that will just be a start of the overall fundraising needed, but will illustrate to potential donors the need for the project.

“We want to demonstrate momentum and show the community support for this space throughout the summer so that way we can raise the money that’s needed from the larger funders,” Shanker said.

There will be incentives for donors, including pre-opening tours of the property and a preview party for donors who give $500 or more. Donors who give more than $1,000 will have their names listed on a plaque at the center.

Shanker said organizers are also looking for professional services to be donated in-kind. Both the renovation team, led by Kohn Engineering principal Don Kohn, and architect Robert Sandoval are donating their services. Seven Points Consulting donated graphic-design services to create the center’s logo, designed by Alison Fleck.

The progression of the project will be overseen by the center advisory board, consisting of Baus, Peter Lewnes, Pat Fligge, Kari Kirchgessner, the Hon. Basilio Bonilla, Stephen Libby and Janet Ney.

Shanker, the former board president of Equality Pennsylvania, said his own background will be helpful in moving the project forward. He previously served as fundraising director for an Allentown nonprofit communiy theater and, during his two years as Equality PA president, the operating budget more than doubled and the staff more than tripled.

“I have that background and experience and I’m looking to bring that energy with me to this campaign so we have a viable, sustainable LGBT community to serve our growing, vibrant and diverse community,” Shanker said.

Bradbury said she and Sullivan were humbled to have their names tied to the proposed center.

“Patricia and I are very honored to have our names associated with the center as long as it exists,” she said. “We know it represents the future of our community.”

For more information, visit www.bradburysullivancenter.org.

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