Being LGBTQ in New York - The New York Community Trust
May 13, 2019   |   By The New York Community Trust
Being LGBTQ in New York

This story was originally published in our 2018 Annual Report. Illustration by Katarzyna Surman

Long before Lady Liberty graced New York Harbor, our City welcomed immigrants from all over the world seeking freedom, escape from persecution, and a better life. Americans who felt like outsiders in their places of birth also flocked to New York, where our diversity has allowed them—not without struggle—to find communities in which they could feel welcome.

LGBTQ people were among those “outsiders.” Fifty years ago, it was unthinkable for them to walk hand in hand, marry, or adopt a child. It was inconceivable that they would ever be able to live openly, free from stigma and discrimination. Back then, there weren’t many places where LGBTQ people could socialize. New York had laws prohibiting them from gathering in public spaces, and there was even a criminal statute permitting police to arrest people wearing clothing of the opposite sex.

In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, the police raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular Greenwich Village gay bar. This time, the patrons fought back. The raid sparked days of confrontations with law enforcement.

The Stonewall riots were a tipping point, inspiring the LGBTQ community to organize and fight for equality. While there is still much work to do, great progress has been made as we observe the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. Laws prohibiting homosexual activity have been eliminated, and same-sex couples can marry in all 50 states.

For nearly 100 years, The New York Community Trust has worked to improve the quality of life for all who live here, supporting nonprofits that offer services and advocacy for the young, the elderly, and families; veterans, artists, immigrants, the unemployed; and people who are poor, disabled, and homeless.

And we, along with our Westchester and Long Island divisions, have been funding programs benefiting LGBTQ New Yorkers for decades.

A FUTURE UNFOLDS: After their internship at the Brooklyn Community Pride Center, Ivelisse “Ivy” Frias went on to help win passage of New York’s Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act. In 2018, Ivy left the state for the first time to advocate for transgender rights in Washington, D.C.

The nonprofits we’ve supported have helped young people find jobs, provided legal services to those who have been discriminated against, created more affordable housing, and run programs to prevent bullying in schools. They’ve offered competent, culturally sensitive health and mental health services, advocated for legalization of same-sex marriage, and won asylum for immigrants persecuted for their sexual identities.

The Trust was there in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. The first case of AIDS in the country was identified in 1981, quickly followed by a deluge of others. We made two grants in 1983 to support HIV research and health services for patients and their families. Six years later, The Trust launched the New York City AIDS Fund with the National Community AIDS Partnership; it worked with local foundations to develop an effective response to the deadly disease.

The Trust was there in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. The first case of AIDS in the country was identified in 1981, quickly followed by a deluge of others. We made two grants in 1983 to support HIV research and health services for patients and their families.

That 25-year, nearly $25 million effort brought sustained attention and coordinated services to a population no one wanted to acknowledge.

Frank Decolator and Ted Wolf created a fund to support the LGBTQ community at the height of the AIDS epidemic. You can read a full interview with them here.

The Trust’s long-term commitment to helping the LGBTQ community also attracted donors who created funds in their wills to support this work in perpetuity. Living donors like Joseph Arena and his spouse, Dr. Thomas D’Eletto, began working with The Trust in 1997 to make strategic grants about causes they care about—health care, the elderly, veterans, and the LGBTQ community.

Joseph Arena’s interest in philanthropy began in the early 1980s, when he volunteered at the Gay Men’s Health Crisis. “When AIDS hit, I had to do something,” he explains. “My focus on HIV/AIDS grew to a larger perspective on gay health care. Back then, it was difficult to raise money for gay organizations. These were not charities people wanted to support.”

Today, queer culture has entered the mainstream. Gay people are anchoring network news, starring on TV shows, and appearing in all manner of advertising. They head Fortune 500 companies, serve as judges, and hold elected office. One might think all is well, but in too many areas of everyday life—from employment to health care—LGBTQ people struggle.

The Trust has stepped in to ease the struggle and provide crucial early support to nonprofits best suited to help. The breadth of grantmaking to LGBTQ people demonstrates how The New York Community Trust meets changing needs.


The Trust helped the Empire State Pride Agenda Foundation mount an early campaign to advocate for legislation to allow gay marriage in New York. The Agenda educated the clergy, business leaders, and unions about the importance of marriage for gay men and lesbians. Our grants to Immigration Equality let gay and lesbian immigrants join the fight for marriage equality as they sought the right to apply for citizenship based on marriage.

HONORING HISTORY: A Metro New York City article highlighted our work to preserve LGBTQ historic sites, putting a spotlight on these important landmarks.

Polls showed increasing popular support for the cause, and in 2011, the State finally approved gay marriage—four years before the nation followed suit. And a Trust grant to the New York Civil Liberties Union helped LGBTQ New Yorkers understand their new rights.


Figuring out how to pay the doctor or the hospital is a major concern for almost all Americans. Some LGBTQ New Yorkers, many of whom are uninsured, have limited resources and are loath to disclose their sexual orientation to providers. The result is poorer health outcomes and social isolation.

We helped create Callen-Lorde Community Health Center more than two decades ago. Today it provides primary care, behavioral health, and dental services to 18,000 LGBTQ patients in Manhattan and the Bronx. Recent grants have helped Callen-Lorde establish its Health Outreach to Teens (HOTT) program to serve the increasing number of homeless LGBTQ teens and plan a new location in Brooklyn.

New York City’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center is a haven for the more than 6,000 people who come through its doors each week. It offers the LGBTQ community health, wellness, and counseling services as well as a variety of other programs. With Trust support, the Center developed the only State-licensed outpatient substance-abuse treatment center specifically designed for LGBTQ youth.

In an ambitious project The Trust recently funded, Callen-Lorde and the Center co-located a portion of their behavioral health and substance abuse services. “LGBTQ New Yorkers now have expanded access to services,” says the Center’s executive director, Glennda Testone. “But there is also great exposure to drugs, alcohol, and other obstacles to success. People who face discrimination and bias are particularly vulnerable, making the support and services we provide all the more crucial.”


About 150,000 young people in the U.S. publicly identify as transgender. Daily life for them can be a struggle, from lack of acceptance at school to threats of violence. Supported by the Westchester Community Foundation, Westchester Jewish Community Services started TransParentcy six years ago to help trans youth and their parents or guardians deal with an often hostile world. The agency also runs Pride Camp, a week-long summer program where young people learn leadership and communications skills.

TRANS-PARENTING: Spirit Goodwin, center, and their parents, Elijah Goodwin and Katherine Hannon, were part of a support group led by Westchester Jewish Community Services’ program for trans teens and their families. Spirit says, “Center Lane is my safe place. From the moment I first attended TransParentcy, I felt warm and welcomed, and was able to have a community of my own.

The Long Island Community Foundation assists groups such as Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth (LIGALY), part of the LGBT Network, which helps build the power of gay-straight alliance (GSA) clubs—student-run organizations that offer space for friendship, activism, support, and safety. LIGALY has established more than 125 GSAs and presented its bullying intervention workshop in almost every school district on Long Island. “These workshops empower young people to speak up when they witness bullying,” says Robert Vitelli, COO of the LGBT Network. “They learn how prompt intervention, done right, can put a quick stop to it.” The workshops include training for teachers, counselors, and administrators.

GROUP BONDING: Our Long Island Community Foundation has helped make schools safer and more welcoming to LGBTQ students through its funding of gay-straight alliances on local campuses. Here, Carolina Acon sings with Charlie Solidum at a karaoke night organized by the LGBT Network.

At the other end of the age spectrum is Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), which benefited from Trust support at a critical juncture in 2006. “We were finding our way, and our finances were shaky,” says SAGE CEO Michael Adams. “The Trust grants provided financial stability and enabled us to develop a strategic plan. If not for The Trust, we wouldn’t be here today.” SAGE has become the go-to organization on LGBTQ aging issues on a national level. Here in New York, it provides a range of health and social services to 5,000 LGBTQ elders across the City.


A few years ago, Floyd Rumohr, CEO of the Brooklyn Community Pride Center, came to us to discuss creating internships for LGBTQ youth. The result was Pride Path, a place where young people learn workplace skills and habits through coaching and classes, and then are placed in internships to help them find jobs.

A PLACE FOR SELF-EXPRESSION: Hetrick-Martin Institute provides community, basic needs, health, education, arts and culture, and career services to thousands of LGBTQ youth every year. Here, some of its clients improvise in a dance class. From left, Dominick Spies, Maxx Kpojour, Tianaa Watson, and Tahj Mahal.

“The skills I learned as a Pride Path intern are helping me succeed in my new job as a peer advocate at the New York Transgender Advocacy Group,” says former participant Ivelisse Frias. “I have confidence because of all I learned.”

Good jobs are essential to living in a city as expensive as New York. Our homeless population continues to burgeon, and shockingly, some 40 percent of the City’s homeless youth are LGBTQ. Many find help at Manhattan’s Hetrick-Martin Institute, either as drop-ins or through an outreach program funded by The Trust. Once there, they are evaluated for needed services, taken to safe, temporary housing, and helped to get off the streets permanently.

A unique feature of a community foundation like The Trust is its ability to connect living donor’s interests to promising projects. One donor wanted to provide scholarships for LGBTQ youth. We advised him to recommend a grant to Hetrick-Martin to provide scholarships to young homeless people to go back to school and get into college.

“The Trust understands that it’s all about education,” says Hetrick-Martin CEO Thomas Krever. “The long-term solution to homelessness and poverty isn’t just a roof over your head—it’s getting a degree and finding meaningful work.”

‘THE DARNED CLUB’: Photographer Alice Austen (left) with friends in 1891 on the lawn of her home, now a museum funded by The Trust. The tight-knit group was dubbed “The Darned Club” by detractors, but the group reclaimed the name and owned it. Photo courtesy of the Collection of Historic Richmond Town


We help bring the City’s rich history to life with historic preservation grants highlighting the LGBTQ community’s contributions in New York and throughout the U.S. With our support, NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project identifies historically significant locations in the City that illustrate important moments in the LGBTQ civil rights movement and contributions of LGBTQ New Yorkers. One of the locations, the Alice Austen House on Staten Island, is the family home of—and a historic house museum dedicated to—this pioneering lesbian photographer whose images reveal turn-of-the-century gay and lesbian life. And we are helping document the LGBTQ movement with a grant to plan for the American Museum of LGBTQ History & Culture.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: With funding from The Trust, the New York Public Library is sharing its trove of LGBTQ photographs. Here, Marsha P. Johnson hands out flyers for support of gay students at NYU in 1970. Photo by Diana Davies

Coming full circle, we’ve marked the 50th anniversary of Stonewall with grants to let the New York Public Library share its archive chronicling the history of the gay, lesbian, and transgender community nationally, and to the Stonewall 50 Consortium, a group of more than 200 agencies that is coordinating events marking the anniversary. “The 50th anniversary is a pivotal moment for LGBTQ communities to reflect on our past and envision our future,” says Jason Baumann, curator of the Stonewall exhibit. “We are so eager to see the faces of visitors who will see their history and the history of their movement reflected on the walls of this major public institution.”


The Trust and its Long Island and Westchester divisions have a proud history of tackling many of New York’s most intractable problems. Our donors have stood with us, providing invaluable resources for unpopular causes and for issues that need unflagging commitment, even when ready solutions are nowhere in sight. We have learned that persistence ultimately brings needed change. That truth is particularly evident in the progress that has been made by the LGBTQ community. We remain dedicated to ensuring the well-being and success of all New York’s “outsiders.”

Read the full Annual Report on Issuu.

The photos in this story were taken by Ari Mintz for The Trust unless otherwise noted.

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(646) 214-1004

Get our media kit

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