A year of transition at Newark LGBTQ Center

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Newark LGBTQ Center Board for 2017
Newark LGBTQ Center Board for 2017

The Newark LGBTQ Center provides a safe space for its community and allies in the Newark area of Northern New Jersey. Since opening in October of 2013 the center has sought to expand services regularly as the community has welcomed new programs.

The Center is the only LGBT Center in the Newark area. The need for the center was seen by Newark LGBT activists for a very long time. The number of perceived hate crimes, murders and suicides in the LGBT community in Newark, culminated with the horrific murder of Sakia Gunn, a 15 year-old lesbian. She was killed in downtown Newark after returning home from a visit to New York City.

Recent census figures estimate that over 4,000 Newark residents identify as lesbian or gay. This figure excludes those who identify as bisexual or transgender, or question their sexuality.

The Newark LGBTQ Center features programs including Yoga and Spoken Word classes, True Colors (Youth and Young Adults), a 50+support group, and a Crochet/Knitting Circle. The Center is open daily for walk-ins who are looking for referrals to health and human services or to use the computer and just hang out.

“It’s surprising how many people walk-in because they have nowhere else to turn”, says Thomas E. Steele, who volunteers because he lost a friend to suicide who struggled with depression after being diagnosed with AIDS. “It’s important to me to ensure these doors are open for anyone who needs someone to listen.”

This year, the Center will undergo a leadership change as founding Executive Director, Rev. Janyce L. Jackson and the Chair of the Board of Trustees and founding member, C. Alicia Heath-Toby retire. Both Rev. Jackson and Ms. Heath-Toby have been tireless advocates for LGBT rights in the area. Rev. Jackson was one of the founders of the Liberation in Truth Unity Fellowship Church in Newark in 1995, the Newark Essex Pride celebration in 2006, and served as Executive Director of the Liberation in Truth Social Justice Center from 2005-12. Ms. Heath-Toby and her wife Saundra joined Lambda Legal in the historic New Jersey LGBT marriage lawsuit, Lewis vs. Harris, which sought to secure the right for same-sex couples to marry in New Jersey.

“It’s impossible to replace two iconic leaders like Rev. Jackson and Alicia, but we are excited to continue to build on their legacy and are happy to have their continued support”, says board member Whitney Strub.

James Cramer will assume the volunteer role of Acting Executive Director. A Newark resident for over 30 years and an executive in the healthcare industry for over 40 years, Mr. Cramer also brings his experience of working with LGBT causes, supporting access to quality healthcare, housing, legal and support services. Denise Hinds, who had been serving as co-Chair of the board as part of Ms. Heath-Toby’s transition, has assumed the role of Chair. Ms. Hinds brings almost thirty years of experience as an executive in the social services industry and a passion for working with LGBT youth.

Although the leadership at the top of the organization is changing, the commitment to the mission and to serve the community remains unchanged say volunteers and Board members. Volunteers and participants say the Center may be needed now more than ever. “With the new presidential administration, we need a rally point more than ever”, says volunteer Kim Guy. “I feel honored to volunteer and feel tremendous gratitude when I’m able to help someone, even if it is simply to sit and listen to their story.”

The Newark LGBTQ Center is located at 11 Halsey Street in Newark. For more information, please visit www.newarklgbtqcenter.org or the Facebook page at Newark LGBTQ Community Center.