On the fourth floor of a nondescript building just blocks from Madison Square Garden, the team at New Pride Agenda, a statewide LGBTQ education and advocacy organization, has been busy transforming the space into the city’s newest drop-in center for queer and transgender individuals in need.
The new space at 210 West 29th St. formally opened on Jan. 25 during a packed ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring many of the city’s out elected officials and LGBTQ leaders. Described as an “empowerment center,” the midtown site features a computer lab for professional development, a food pantry, and free clothing options, in addition to a broader space intended to serve as an organizing hub for queer and trans people. The drop-in center will be open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 3 p.m. until 6 pm.
The New Pride Agenda has made a mark statewide and locally by successfully advocating for initiatives like the Lorena Borjas Transgender Wellness and Equity Fund, which provides funding across New York State for services provided by organizations serving transgender individuals. This space represents the organization’s latest endeavor — and evidence of the organization’s respect for Borjas’ legacy can be seen on a side wall adorned with colorful artwork depicting LGBTQ heroes like Borjas, Bayard Rustin, Marsha P. Johnson, and Harvey Milk, among others.
New Pride Agenda executive director Elisa Crespo introduced the new space during what she said was a “milestone” moment and reflected on her organization’s journey since launching five years ago.
“You’ve been with us since day one, believing in our vision to build statewide power and understanding why it was necessary to establish this organization: Not only to right the wrongs of the past, but to ensure that Black and Brown queer and trans people can be at the forefront of the movement — a post marriage equality movement,” Crespo said, drawing applause.
One after another, out elected officials from the State Legislature and City Council excitedly stepped up to the podium to welcome the new space and emphasize the importance of providing much-needed services for marginalized individuals. Some lawmakers who represent districts far from the site — like Brooklyn Councilmember Crystal Hudson — vowed to send their constituents there, while Manhattan Assemblymember Tony Simone joked that it was so close to his office that he would stop by to escape from his staff.
On a more serious note, Simone said the space would serve as a home, of sorts, to those without one — especially when so many other states are directly targeting the rights of trans youth. He also commended the state for making New York a safe haven for trans youth and said he is working on a bill with out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal to ensure every school district adopts trans-inclusive policies for students.
“But [Passing this bill] won’t be easy, and the only way we can get these things across the finish line is with New Pride Agenda and our allies, just like you all worked on the Safe Haven bill,” Simone said. “We’ll get it done. It may not happen right away… This is a must-do.”
The ribbon-cutting ceremony also recognized the five-year anniversary of New Pride Agenda, prompting multiple speakers — including Crespo, Manhattan Councilmember Erik Bottcher, and Queens Councilmember Tiffany Cabán — to drill the message that the fight for marriage equality is long over and that the community must focus on more urgent priorities — including attacks on trans Americans.
Bottcher, recalling the sudden shutdown of Empire State Pride Agenda in late 2015, said, “The message that was sent by that — or at least what people heard — was, ‘Mission accomplished. We have marriage equality, we have some executive orders…’” The shuttering of Empire State Pride Agenda, he said, caused the community to lose momentum in Albany — momentum that he said still has yet to be regained.
“Thank goodness we’ve got organizations like New Pride Agenda and Equality New York who stepped in to continue the fight,” he said.
Hudson, who co-chairs the City Council’s LGBTQIA+ Caucus alongside Cabán, echoed Bottcher’s points, saying, “It can’t be reiterated enough that the New Pride Agenda picked up the work after there was a void.” She further praised the way in which New Pride Agenda “is so intentional and deliberate about the work to uplift trans and queer people of color who, as Elisa said, are living in the margins.”
Manhattan Assemblymember Deborah Glick, who was recognized by Crespo for being the first out member of the New York State Legislature, said the new center will be a critical resource for youth who would not otherwise have access to such an inclusive safe space.
“When I was growing up, we didn’t have spaces like this,” Glick said. “The isolation that so many young people still feel in so many communities is still out there, but we have an LGBTQ+ infrastructure and ecosystem that now supports young people.”
Case in point: State Senator Jabari Brisport, a former teacher, told a story about one of his former students who came out to him as non-binary after he saw headlines about how Brisport was the first out LGBTQ Black person elected to the New York State Legislature — a prime example of how visibility can foster positive outcomes.
“It’s important that we make space for our youth to come out and be themselves,” Brisport said. “And we do that by shining bright, and we do that by having victories — not just electoral victories, but this space is a victory.”
Cabán, for her part, could barely contain her excitement about the new space when she stepped to the podium.
“This,” she said, pointing to the ground, “is what revolutions are made of. The element of movement, of revolution — is this right here in this space. We’re nourishing people’s bodies. We’re putting clothes on their backs… I can’t wait for the things that are borne out of this space because the queer community and the community at large will be better for it.”
In addition to state and city lawmakers, representatives were on hand from the offices of Governor Kathy Hochul, State Attorney General Letitia James, and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. Melissa Sklarz, a longtime trans leader in New York, was also in attendance.
“It’s always wonderful to see the New Pride Agenda and the LGBTQ community of New York gathering resources and creating organizations and spaces that will protect us all into the future,” Sklarz told Gay City News.