The GLBT Center of Central Florida celebrates its new renovation with ribbon cutting, open house

By : Jeremy Williams
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ORLANDO | The GLBT Center of Central Florida reopened their doors after a nearly three year renovation with a ribbon cutting ceremony and open house Aug. 31.

The event was well attended by local and state officials, members of the community and media as Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, City Commissioner Patty Sheehan and Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy spoke to the crowd and then cut the ribbon officially opening The Center.

The Center’s renovation began in October 2014 with a Community Development Block Grant of $147,000.

“These funds, along with matching funds from our donors, supported the renovations of The Center, which has allowed us to expand our services beyond just HIV testing,” said The Center board president Jeff Buak. “We now have increased space for support groups, community gatherings and a thriving senior program; with many more programs to be added over the next few months. Even though it has taken us almost three years to get this project done I think you’ll agree that it’s well worth it.”

The Center has been a staple in Orlando’s LGBTQ community for 35 years, making it the oldest LGBTQ community center in the state of Florida.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is that The Center originally started as a way to help people suffering from HIV and AIDS when no one else would take care of them,” Sheehan said to the crowd. “When no one else would provide counseling. When no one else would come to help our community, we came together and there are many, many wonderful people, 35 years ago, who were volunteers. They were not paid for what they did, and they started this center to help this community.”

The Center was one of the earliest facilities in Central Florida to offer HIV testing, a critically needed service in a state with some of the highest HIV infection rates in the country.

“Our Florida cities are really being plagued. We lead the nation in new HIV diagnosis,” Murphy said. “We can’t sweep this issue under the rug any longer. We have to encourage our friends and family to get tested. We need to offer them a convenient way to do so, and helping them get treatment if it’s necessary. That’s how we combat the stats, and that’s how we save lives and that’s how we love our neighbors.”

Along with offering free HIV testing seven days a week, The Center was also the place that became the focal point of the community, and the world, after the devastating June 12 attack on Pulse.

“People say why are community centers still important? We have all this online stuff, we have connections we can make on social media,” Sheehan said. “Nothing can tell you how important those face-to-face contacts were than on June 12 and June 13 because people needed a place to embrace one another, to know what to expect and how to help one another. You can’t do that online. There is no better way to make a connection and understand than getting face-to-face and that’s why these brick and mortar community centers are so critically important to us, and will continue to be important to us.”

Dyer remembers coming to The Center in those days and weeks following the worse mass shooting in modern U.S. history and seeing just how important the community center was, not just to the LGBTQ community, but to the city of Orlando.

“The Center has been a sanctuary for our LGBT, Lantinx and other communities of color providing all types of services,” he said. “I have gotten to know The Center better in the last 14 months because in the darkest day of our city’s history The Center played a critical, central role in offering services and support and comfort to the Pulse survivors and other victims, and honestly the community as a whole because whether you were actually at Pulse that night or not you were a victim in a sense as our entire community was a victim of June the 12th and we are grateful for the role The Center has played in the Pulse tragedy and for its contributions over the last three decades.”

The newly renovated facility is open now. All services, support groups and testing information can be found at TheCenterOrlando.org.

Photos by Jeremy Williams.

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