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New Haven Pride Center expands services after moving to bigger space

Lenny Speiller, the mayor's Director of Communications hands off the ceremonial scissors to Executive Director Juancarlos Soto as the New Haven Pride Center staff members and elected officials celebrate the ribbon cutting of the center's new space.
Eddy Martinez
/
Connecticut Public
Lenny Speiller, the mayor's Director of Communications hands off the ceremonial scissors to Executive Director Juancarlos Soto as the New Haven Pride Center staff members and elected officials celebrate the ribbon cutting of the center's new space.

The New Haven Pride Center is celebrating the opening of its new location, which promises to offer more community resources.

New Haven Pride Center Executive Director Juancarlos Soto showed off the center’s new location on 50 Orange St, where pride flags hung from the windows and walls.

It’s a far cry from the previous basement location at 84 Orange St in New Haven.

“We weren't allowed to fly any flags or [put] anything on the windows,” Soto said.

Soto gave a tour of the newly acquired ground floor space at a ribbon cutting Thursday, where several local and state elected officials celebrated the unveiling.

The new space allows the center to fly pride flags and expand much-needed services to the community.

“With increased square footage, we have enhanced our food pantry, expanding our community closet, and creating dedicated spaces for our affinity groups, and gathering places for community programming,” Soto said.

Soto showed off the expanded food pantry and community closet where residents can get clothes. The clothes are not separated by gender but are organized by size. The new space also has a meeting space and the food pantry now has five shelves compared to just one at its old location.

While the center and others celebrated the milestone, the event came months after the center faced a bomb threat. Soto said the increased visibility not only makes it easier to find, but is an act of defiance.

“It was so important to be visible.” Soto said. “One, we weren't not going to allow anyone to intimidate us. And, it's important for people to see what we do, who we are.”

Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz attended the ribbon cutting and celebrated the new space’s increased visibility.

“Today, we celebrate bringing the work above ground, bringing that important work into a beautiful space that no one can miss,” Bysiewicz said. “And it's important to be visible to show the New Haven community, and beyond, that this is one of the two community centers for the LGBTQ+ community in the whole state.”

The old basement location was smaller in comparison and since the center used to share space with other tenants, the location didn’t allow pride flags to be hung up from the windows, making it easy to miss, Soto said.

The space doesn’t just cater to the LGBTQ+ community but offers aid to people in need. Passersbys can see that the center is a community resource, Soto said. Autumn Mortali, a bookkeeper at the center, spoke of how empowering having a new space can be.

“If you asked me, like 14-year-old me, if I ever thought I'd be here today, out trans publicly in this public storefront with this beautiful rainbow walkway outside, I wouldn't believe that anybody could do that,” Mortali said.

But while attendees celebrated the occasion, speakers criticized actions by various municipalities statewide which effectively banned pride flags from being flown at municipal buildings.

Enfield’s town council recently banned any flag other than the state, national or POW/MIA flag from being flown at its town hall, as previously reported by CT Insider.

Hope Chávez, the center’s board of directors co-chair, said she’s lucky she and her partner live in New Haven where the city is much more accepting of the LGBTQ+ community. Chávez said the pride center is a crucial resource for surrounding municipalities.

“We have to keep doing this work in order to make sure that cities around us that need our services, that don't have their own Pride Center, can keep doing that,’ Chávez said.