When Donald Trump became president in 2016, some had grave concerns about what that could mean for the LGBTQ community.
It gave such serious pause to the backers of the historic Los Angeles LGBT Center that they even considered scrapping plans to build their $142 million Anita May Rosenstein Campus in Hollywood.
Then again, that would have been antithetical to the LGBTQ community’s storied history of fighting back.
“Our response was ‘Absolutely not!’” Lorri L. Jean, the center’s longtime CEO, tells Variety. “This is the counterpoint to what the Trump administration is doing. What kind of message would it send if we stopped? What I’ve been saying is that when the current leaders in Washington, D.C., are building a wall to keep the most vulnerable among us out, our center is building a home to welcome the most vulnerable in. And that is a powerful antidote to this current leadership in Washington.”
It’s no accident that the center’s new campus on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and McCadden Place opened this year, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of both the center and the Stonewall riots.
In the five decades since it was founded in a dilapidated Hollywood motel, the center has become the world’s largest LGBTQ organization, with a $141 million annual budget, 700 employees and seven locations throughout Los Angeles. The center sees more than 42,000 visits a month, or more than 500,000 a year. Its international reach extends to China, where the center’s staff has become instrumental in training that country’s growing LGBTQ activist community.
The genesis of the new Hollywood facility was a project begun 13 years ago, after the nonprofit organization commissioned a study to determine the most pressing issues facing the LGBTQ community.
“Two of the areas that were especially highlighted were youth and seniors,” says Jean. “We knew the needs of youth were growing, and we weren’t seeing any abatement in terms of homelessness in LGBT youth, and at the same time LGBT youth who were not homeless were coming to us in increasing numbers. We also knew that given what’s happening to the population in our country, the population of LGBT seniors was exploding.”
The two-acre campus, designed by the architectural firm Leong Leong, offers services for homeless youth and seniors, intergenerational affordable housing, education and employment programs, as well as the new Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Senior Center.
Even as Jean and her staff prepare for a September gala dinner and concert at the Greek Theatre to celebrate the center’s half-century mark, today’s anti-LGBTQ political climate underscores that much more work is still to be done to protect human rights.
Los Angeles’ LGBTQ community has a long legacy of standing up to injustice. A full decade before the Stonewall riots in New York City, the first uprising against police harassment erupted at Cooper Donuts in downtown Los Angeles. In May 1959, police arrived for a round of targeted arrests of patrons of two neighboring gay bars; in response a group of gay men, lesbians, drag queens and transgender women began throwing doughnuts, coffee cups and debris at the officers. Soon, more protesters joined them, and the ensuing riot forced the street to be closed down for a day.
Prior to that, in 1950 a handful of gay men gathered in Silver Lake and began the Mattachine Society, considered to be one of the first LGBTQ rights organizations in the United States.
“We don’t give up,” Jean says. “We persevere, and we are determined. Also, right is on our side. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be very significant challenges ahead, but in the end, I have no doubt that right will prevail. Fairness, compassion and equality will prevail, and our community will continue to make progress and continue to care for each other.”