NEWARK, NJ - When the Newark LGBTQ Community Center found out the space they rented at 11 Halsey St. would be demolished, the news left its leaders hard pressed to find a new location to provide services.
“As a board, we believed there was still a need for the center in Newark,” said Denise Hinds, the center’s board chairperson. “There was still a need for a place where LGBTQ people could call home. A safe, nurturing environment where people could just be themselves - find friends who look like them, and create lasting relationships.”
The building at 11 Halsey St. is owned by Cottage Street Orbit Acquisitions, which U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings show is a subsidiary of Prudential Financial. Jersey Digs reported in 2017 there were plans by L+M Development Partners, which restored the Hahne & Co. building, to build there.
The search for a new space was a difficult one, especially for a nonprofit that has no government or private foundation funding and survives on individual donors. The center's entire operation is run by volunteers.
The Newark Public Library stepped in and offered the center a room on the first floor of its main branch. The space includes a dedicated office and a large room that will be shared by other groups on occasion.
“Without the library stepping up to offer us a home, we are not sure where we would be,” Hinds said today at a grand opening event. “Our little center that could - the one that keeps going no matter how many times it gets knocked down - was all out of miracles until that day.”
The move was a no-brainer for Newark Public Library Director Jeffrey Trzeciak, who at the time had just come onto the LGBTQ center’s board of directors. His role with the center was short-lived, however, since he was soon becoming the nonprofit’s landlord.
Trzeciak, who is gay, hoped the public library could be a refuge for others like him. He grew up in Ohio and attended Catholic schools, which didn’t offer many resources to learn about his community. He didn’t see many gay role models on TV growing up either.
“The [local] library was more than just a place where I could check out books,” he said. “It's the place where I discovered myself and my community - our community.”
First Lady Tammy Murphy also attended the grand opening of the center’s new space. As governor, her husband signed LGBTQ-friendly bills, including one that requires LGBTQ history to be taught in schools.
“New Jersey's strength is grounded in our diverse and inclusive communities and these communities need to be safe in order to thrive,” Murphy said. “These spaces give individuals that chance to breathe and to feel empowered, to feel celebrated. It is the social, cultural and economic contributions of communities like the LGBTQ community that create the vast tapestry of who we are as a state.”
The Newark LGBTQ Community Center has been operating since 2013. However, it was the fatal stabbing of Sakia Gunn, a lesbian teenager, in Newark during 2003 that spurred the nonprofit’s creation. Gunn’s killer was sentenced to 20 years in prison for her death and bias intimidation.
Now that the center has a permanent home it can begin to apply for grants and do more programming. The center currently offers free yoga, separate game nights for adults and children, poetry events and more. In the future, the center hopes to offer free counseling for people who are gender nonconforming.
“When you have a home, everything else changes,” said the center’s board treasurer, Beatrice Simpkins. “It’s so good to have a place that we know is stable and open to the public.”
The center is always looking for volunteers. To learn more, visit the group's website.