HARLEM — The neighborhood's gay community had a coming out celebration in the form of a town hall meeting Thursday evening.
About 200 people packed into a standing-room-only room at the state office building, some were turned away at the door because there was not enough room for everyone.
The goal of the night was to introduce Harlem's growing LGBT community to policy makers and begin to better address some of their needs, said Manny Rivera, the chair of Community Board 10's LGBTQ Task Force.
“Harlem has become kind of the unofficial home for black and Latino LGBT members," he said.
During the town hall meeting, hosted by the LGBTQ Task Force, people spoke about the need from more HIV testing in Harlem, more involvement in the political process, and taking an active stand against homophobia.
One of the most prominent issues raised was establishing an LGBT community center in Harlem to be a one-stop-shop for health and mental services and a hub for people to organize.
Borough President Gale Brewer supported the notion, saying The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center on 13th Street gets so much use that it was recently renovated to meet their growing demand.
“When you hear an issue over and over again we know that it’s very serious,” she said. “I think that the community center is something that we should all focus on. We need something similar in Harlem and Upper Manhattan."
Brewer also encouraged more community boards to set more LGBT task forces.
Another prominent issue was making sure the “T” in LBGT does not become an afterthought, said Kiara St. James, the director of NYTAG, the New York Trans Advocacy Group.
“We get lost too often in these LGBT coalitions,” she said as she challenged elected officials to do more to recruit members of the transgender community to their offices.
“I want to ask if it’s possible for Gale Brewer’s office, Bill Perkins’ office, other elected officials to recruit trans folks to be in your agencies so that they can learn how to navigate that system because too often we are denied that access.”
The town hall meeting also served to recognize several honorees, including the state’s first openly gay African-American judge, for their work in the LGBT community.
“It is great that we have come out of the closet tonight to say who we are to stand up for what we believe and to fight for who we are,” said Judge Frank Perry.
Perry encouraged the audience to be more active in local government and specifically judicial politics, saying it was sad that there are not enough black judges in the city.
“It’s sad because so many people look like us but there’s only one of me on the bench,” he said. “We’ve got a long way to go.”