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Chris Bartlett: Gayborhood builds to endure

50 years after Philadelphia hosted the first U.S. gay rights demonstrations, the Gayborhood will host a year of commemorations.
Chris Bartlett is executive director of the William WayLGBTCommunity Center.Contributed photo

Chris Bartlett is executive director of the William Way LGBT Community Center. He spoke with Metro about the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender rights movement.

As the year is coming to an end how do you feel about the Gayborhood's progress and what still has to be done?

I gave a TED talk comparing it to Chinatown. It’s a cultural district that centralizes the experience of LGBT community even though LGBT people live everywhere in Philadelphia, it’s where the organizations, the bars and social centers are. It’s where people come to find other LGBT people. It’s the expression of the regional community. If you’re looking to find Chinese culture, you come to Chinatown. If you’re looking to find the LGBT community, you come to the Gayborhood.

Just as they’ve made sure affordable housing remains in Chinatown for that community, the LGBT community must there is afford housing. We just completed the John. C. Anderson affordable housing unit. It will provide 56 units for people aged 62 and up. It’s built with federal funds so it’s open to everyone, but it’s LGBT-friendly.

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Why is affordable housing so important?

These anchor institutions are key to preserving a community. Bars are important too, but you need to provide places for people to get health services, youth services, senior services – that’s all is equally important. You need to ensure that LGBT seniors don’t have to move away. If a neighborhood is going to be successful, seniors have to be able to live there. Otherwise it becomes a Disneyland.

Does your organization have any plans for a Christmas celebration?

We have our annual holiday potluck on Christmas Day at the William Way LGBT community center. We make it a point to be open on the holidays because it’s a day when many LGBT people don’t have a place to go.

Is that changing now?

We are seeing a generational shift, where more people have a relative, a colleague, a close friend who is LGBT and it doesn’t matter. The success of the coming out project hasn’t hit the grandparents and the elder generation as much so many people still struggle on the holidays.

What are some of the major issues that your community will tackle in the new year?

2015 is the 50th anniversary of some of first gay rights demonstrations in the U.S. Every year from 1965 to 1969 in front of Independence Hall they held Reminder Day protests. That helped pave the way for what happened at Stonewall. We’ll be holding a year of commemorations. The National Constitution Center will have its first LGBT exhibit ever, looking at the evolution of LGBT rights in the Supreme Court and in public life from 1960 to the present. We’ll also be organizing exhibits at several other museums in Philadelphia.

 
 
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