The new DC Center for the LGBT Community offers more space for anyone who needs resources or a place to call home.
When a visitor walks into The DC Center for the LGBT Community on 14th Street, they are welcomed immediately. They can grab clothing from a walk-in closet, pick out food from a kitchen, check out a book from a brightly lit room, or pick up pamphlets and a condom.
“We’re the first place they come to,” Kimberley Bush, the center’s executive director, says. “The DC Center for the LGBT Community is the first place they actually walk into. When they walk out, they are walking out in power.”
But Bush and their colleagues have bigger dreams for the center. Later this year, the DC Center for the LGBT Community and Capital Pride Alliance will expand into an even larger space on Wiltberger Street, where they can partner with outside groups and offer more comprehensive wrap-around services.
The center works to provide help to those in crisis and immediate need.
“Whenever you’re getting off that Greyhound bus with your busted Samsonite, and you’ve just been kicked out of your home or whatever it is you’re going through, there’ll be someone to take care of any crisis counseling that person may need,” Bush says.
Over the past several years, the organizations behind the center have also helped the LGBTQ+ community come together and celebrate, despite Covid-19.
In 2021, for instance, they thought Pride would be canceled for the second year in a row thanks to the pandemic. But a month prior to when the parade would be, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the city would reopen.
The DC Center and Capital Pride scrambled to get ready.
“Just within three weeks, organizations, individuals, government officials — we all came together to really figure out how we can provide that space for folks to get out of their homes, to be in community,” Ryan Bos, the executive director of Capital Pride, says. “To be able to see the joy and fulfillment of what that does for folks definitely validated the work.”
That spirit, that exuberance, is what Bos wants to bring over to Wiltberger Street. The new location — which Bowser invested $1 million in through the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development — will boast co-working spaces, therapy rooms, wellness spaces for meditation and yoga, a cyber-lounge, a larger community closet with free clothing and lockers for unhoused community members.
As the organizations build their new space, they’re also thinking about how to design it around sustainability and accessibility. Since the new location is near the Green Line and several bus stations, Rehana Mohammed, the vice chair of the Board of Directors for The DC Center, says she hopes people will be able to easily arrive from public transit.
The new location will incorporate elements of the old as part of their sustainability plan. And the entire space is designed around accessibility, rather than having a separate accessible entrance, according to Mohammed.
“Everyone’s interacting with the space on the same path in the same way,” she says. “We’re thinking beyond ADA accessibility to make sure the space is a supportive and nurturing environment for people with neurodiversity. And to make sure it is supportive for people who have other disabilities, so they can access the space as well.”
Mohammed wants to ensure the new center is a place where the community can truly come together, a sentiment Capital Pride Board of Directors president Ashley Smith echoes.
“The work we’re doing [is] for the people of the future — and those who are alive today,” Smith says. “It’s just being able to create those spaces. And I think that’s the important part and why we continue to do what we do.”
At its inception, the center was essentially a single room, Bos says. When it expanded to 14th Street, he saw how a larger space encourages everyone to come together.
Though he says D.C. has the largest LGBTQ+ community per capita in the country, he also thinks it has the “most inadequate” amount of space. So, to Bos, the move is a way to rectify that issue, unite the community and expand the resources on hand.
“We can gather in person, work in person and really showcase our community,” he says.
The DC Center and Capital Pride will be joined in their new location by a number of supporting groups, including the Wanda Alston Foundation, Rainbow Families and G III Associates. And, Smith says, they’re hoping to see more groups sign on over the next few months to create a true community hub.
Once complete, Mohammed says, the project will serve as the embodiment of the hopes of the D.C. LGBTQ+ community.
“The dream was always to have a dedicated, purpose-built space that was more accessible and, frankly, bigger — where we can offer more services and incorporate more organizations and members of the community,” she says. “So, this space is really all of that work and dreaming and imagining coming to fruition.”
Want to learn more about the many ways to experience life in D.C.? Become a member and support local journalism today.