Hurricane Sandy was arguably the most destructive Atlantic storm since Katrina. Its impact on the eastern United States, Canada and the Caribbean will be felt for a long time to come. Though self-appointed guardians of morality blamed the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community for Sandy, this “Frankenstorm” struck people and their property regardless of race, color, gender or sexual orientation. Some of the effects of Sandy were relatively trivial, like the cancellation of the annual Greenwich Village Halloween Parade. More serious was the loss of power, property and lives experienced by too many people, LGBT or otherwise. Fire Island, a barrier island that served as a LGBT resort and getaway for almost a century, suffered significant damage, though thankfully no one was hurt. In lower Manhattan’s largely-gay Chelsea neighborhood, Sandy left floods, power outages, and chaos in its wake.
One of Hurricane Sandy’s best-known Chelsea “casualties” was the Ali Forney Center for queer youth. Made famous by public service ads featuring “A-List” photographer Mike Ruiz, the Center was started in 2002 and named after a transgender youth who was murdered in 1997. The Ali Forney Center’s “mission is to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ) youth from the harm of homelessness, and to support them in becoming safe and independent as they move from adolescence to adulthood.” The Center provides short- and long-term housing, medical care, HIV testing, mental health services, showers, food, computer access and job training.
During its first decade, the Ali Forney Center has benefitted from the generosity of many, most notably a large bequest from the estate of actress Bea Arthur. Even so, the Center has been short of funds even before Hurricane Sandy struck. Sandy caused major water damage to the Center, forcing it to close its doors. “I am saddened to report that this past weekend we were finally able to inspect our Drop-In Center on West 22nd Street – which serves as the entry point to many of our programs for LGBTQ youth,” reported Carl Siciliano, the Center’s Executive Director, on November 5. “Water went at least four feet up the walls, and everything in there, including phones, computers, refrigerators, supplies, and the building floors has been irreparably damaged. I do not see us being able to return there, especially since our lease ends in January,” Siciliano said. “Having our drop-in center destroyed means it is likely that we are among the hardest-hit of all LGBTQ organizations in the city.”
The devastation incurred by the Ali Forney Center is doubly tragic; because the people they serve are the ones most likely to suffer from the likes of Sandy. Happily, the LGBT community was not one to abandon the most vulnerable among us. New York City’s LGBT Community Center stepped up to the plate, inviting the AFC drop-in center to resume operations at the Center located on West 13th Street in the West Village. The Ali Forney Center will remain in that location until it can move into its new permanent home, now scheduled for late December. Meanwhile, groups and individuals large and small have organized fundraisers for the cash-strapped Center. A recent fundraiser at Industry, a gay bar on West 52nd Street in Hell’s Kitchen, attracted such luminaries as Mike Ruiz, actress Ally Sheedy, activist Corey Johnson, MSNBC news anchor Thomas Roberts and his husband, Patrick Abner. A total of $33,000 was raised at that event.
As part of the effort to save the Ali Forney Center, LGBT journalists from coast to coast have written about its plight, most notably Patrick J. Hamilton for Bilerico. Even so, the Ali Forney Center is a cause worth repeating, even by this humble author. Though there are several fundraising campaigns on behalf of the Center, direct donations can be made by visiting the Web site (www.aliforneycenter.org) and making online donations there or by making a check out to the Ali Forney Center and sending it to the Ali Forney Center, 224 West 35th Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10001. AFC is also in need of such items as toiletries, cleaning supplies, office supplies, twin sheet sets, towels and wash cloths, socks, underwear and T-shirts, school supplies and book bags. (But NOT used clothing, linens, or toiletries)
Some of you might say that the Ali Forney Center is up in New York and thus it does not affect those of us who live elsewhere. However, anything that affects our brothers and sisters anywhere affects all of us everywhere. Though we might not need the services that the Center offers, there might come a time when (God forbid!) one of our loved ones could. Also the Ali Forney Center serves as a role model for similar operations across the USA and around the world. It is a worthy cause, and I urge all of you to support it.