Activists open gay meeting center

Stonewall Community Center

The new center will provide meeting space for member organizations.

Staff report

YOUNGSTOWN — The Mahoning Valley’s gay and lesbian activists have opened a community center here that takes its name from a watershed event in the emergence of the gay and lesbian movement almost 40 years ago.

The center, known as the Stonewall Community Center and located at 1523 Poland Ave., conducted its grand opening and holiday party Saturday.

“It’s really a milestone for us because, for so long, there has been no sense of community,” among local gay and lesbian people, said Brian Wells of Youngstown, co-chairman of the Mahoning Valley Pride Coalition, which operates the center.

“This really provides everyone with a place to go and a place to gather and to be able to develop a sense of community,” Wells said. “We want to be able to provide them with a place to call home,” he added.

The coalition had previously rented small quarters at a North Side church, but the new center, which occupies donated quarters, is the first true gay and lesbian community drop-in center in the Mahoning Valley, Wells said.

Besides offering meeting and office space, Wells and coalition trustee Kay Davis of Columbiana said the Poland Avenue center can function as an alternative social gathering place to bars, where Davis said the noise level often makes conversation difficult.

“This is a place to meet, discuss things that are on your mind, and to make friends,” Davis said of the center. “If you come here, you can have nice, quiet conversations,” she added.

Although its leaders call it an alternative to the bars, the new center takes its name from the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village, made famous by the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion.

According to the bar’s Web site, police and liquor control agents raided the bar June 28, 1969, saying they were checking for liquor law violations, then made homophobic remarks, checked identifications and ejected patrons, one by one.

The crowd grew outside, and agents and police were trapped inside; police called in reinforcements; and the crowd clashed with police, touching off a three-day protest that marked the start of the modern gay rights movement.

Beginning Jan. 3, the new Youngstown center will be open regularly for drop-in hours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on nonholiday Saturdays. It will be staffed by volunteers offering information to visitors about the center and member organizations, which will use the center as a meeting place.

Besides the coalition, the Stonewall Community Center here will be home to several related local organizations, including the Stonewall Democrats; Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG); and All Families Matter.

The street-level center was formerly a carpet store, bar and storage facility.

With wooden tables and chairs at one end, the center’s main room also features sofas and lounge chairs to provide a living-room-like atmosphere at the other end. Large U.S. and gay pride flags hang vertically from the interior walls.

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