The building on the corner of Elton Way and Spruce Street in Center City easily blends into the scenery. Even though there is a large mural on the west side of the building, nothing else about the area appears out of the ordinary.
But if you look to the top of the building, you can see a rainbow flag. This building is different from others – it is the William Way Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center, and is one of the few gay community centers in the nation established with government funds.
The center was formed in 1996 when a group of community leaders decided that the current LGBT community center lacked enough strength. In March of 1997 the group found their new home at 1315 Spruce St. Formerly home to the Engineers’ Club of Philadelphia, the building took four months of renovations before opening that July.
The section of Juniper Street that runs alongside the center was recently renamed Elton’s Way in honor of Elton John, who visited the center shortly after the renaming while in Philadelphia on July 4. Dolph Goldenburg, the executive director of the center, said that renaming the street has really made that section of Philadelphia William Way’s home.
The center’s purpose is to educate people about the gay community in order to find acceptance, in addition to informing both gay and straight people about the accomplishments, culture and history of homosexuals, according to the “about us” section on the center’s Web site.
The center has 2,500 members and over 70 groups that hold meetings, practices or events in the building. Norah Salmon, the director of Volunteers and Programs at William Way, said that volunteers run everything from the front desk to programs held at the center. Some of the groups are based out of the center and others simply rent rooms to host activities.
Goldenburg said that his favorite event is an annual one, a Christmas Day potluck.
“It’s for people who have family far away, folks who can’t go home,” he said.
The Silver Foxes, a group of senior citizens, meets at the center every fourth Sunday of the month to socialize and watch educational videos. Another group out of the center is called Reel Amusing. The group’s members, who are ages 18 to 30, get together and watch a movie. Reel Amusing shows a free film the fourth Friday of every month at 7 p.m.
The center also displays artwork, and while the artist does not need to be LGBT their work needs to have some relation to LGBT issues. Artist Eric Gibbons currently has work on display at the center. His black and white oil paintings are pictures of men in boxes-literally.
The men are shown in a variety of poses; some are holding ancient knives, some are pointing and some are smiling. Gibbons’ work will be on display at the center through Dec. 14.
Salmon said her favorite part of her job is “working with the staff to develop new programs that [the members] will benefit from and like.” She also encourages any young people interested in the center to attend the Halloween Dance Friday on Oct. 28. The free costume party will feature a raffle for prizes.
If interested in becoming a volunteer at the center, contact Gibbons at (215) 732-2220.
Orientation is offered every Wednesday, but people can volunteer with the center’s mailing project even without orientation training. The mailing project is held the fourth Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. Students can join the center for an annual $15 fee. Membership includes newsletters, program, business and parking discounts. Call (267) 732-2220 for more information on becoming a member.
Amanda Reyes can be reached at Amanda.firstname.lastname@example.org.