The Brooklyn Community Pride Center held a ribbon-cutting ceremony unveiling its new headquarters on October 27 after the project was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The public opening, however, remains months away as the new space gets finalized.
A month before the pandemic slammed the city, the center signed a 30-year lease for the newly renovated space at Bedford-Union Armory in Brooklyn, which includes a public workspace, pantry, laundry room, and an LGBTQ mental health clinic run by the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center.
The headquarters, which is housed in Crown Heights on the lower level of the historic Bedford-Union Armory, now known as the Major R. Owens Health and Wellness Community Center, resembles a high-end WeWork-style space, including signs wrapped in greenery and private work pods equipped with electrical outlets and glossy overhead fixtures.
Jere Keys, the development and engagement manager at Brooklyn Community Pride Center, told Gay City News the new headquarters intends to help the organization expand their reach to LGBTQ individuals who have been underserved in the neighborhood. The center still plans to operate their other existing space at 1360 Fulton Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant, primarily serving low-income LGBTQ populations and acting as a drop-in center for clients. According to Keys, the old building did not have enough space to help fulfill the community’s growing demands.
“We were hearing from people that they needed somewhere to go, somewhere to hang out,” Keys said. “We had one table in the public area, and maybe if you were there within the first 10 minutes, you could claim the table.”
The center will also look to fill other gaps in the community by serving as a space where individuals can establish connections with like-minded folks in a safe space.
“Most of the time, we don’t have parents that will teach us what it means to be LGBTQ,” Keys told Gay City News. “Community centers are one of the places where people young and old can learn what it means to be part of the community, to have discussions about our history, about our customs; I’m not comfortable with all of that being taught through the Internet or passed down generationally through Twitter and Grindr.”
He added, “My dream is that we serve as a place that isn’t a bar…we are a place where you learn about the community.”
The new location was first unveiled during a lease-signing event in February of last year at the Brooklyn Community Pride Center’s Bed-Stuy location. Those on hand at that gathering included Don Capocia of BFC Partners, which developed the space; Debbie Brennan, who was then the president of Brooklyn Community Pride Center’s board of directors; Callen-Lorde executive director Wendy Stark; Rachel Loeb of the New York City Economic Development Corporation; former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who was the first woman and first out LGBTQ speaker in New York City; and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who contributed $1 million to the new headquarters.
The Bed-Stuy location resumed its in-person programming following a COVID-induced hiatus, but Keys said traffic there is still below pre-pandemic levels — and he hopes the new headquarters can “bring life back” to the center.
“It was hard to see our Bed-Stuy space go from having 20 to 30 people at any given time to no one,” Keys said.
The Bed-Stuy space will remain as the center’s main location until the headquarters can finally open to the public at the end of the year or in 2022 — a date that remains undetermined for now. Keys attributed part of the slow opening to national furniture delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are over a year behind schedule, and that has been very frustrating for us, and what that has meant for finances, programming, staff capacity, and space,” Keys said. “As we get close to actually opening the space with all of the COVID protocols…the last year is sort of melting away.”
Building on more than a decade of history in Brooklyn’s LGBTQ community, Keys said he wants the center to be a hub for new ideas, including nurturing future leaders who can develop the next LGBTQ non-profit.
“It is important that we as a community support community centers, or they are going to disappear,” he added. “Young people who are just coming out really need them.”
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