Adrian Shanker (Part 2), March 4, 2022

Dublin Core

Title

Adrian Shanker (Part 2), March 4, 2022

Description

Adrian Shanker recounts the inception of the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center and the work it does to continue to serve the LGBTQ+ community in the Lehigh Valley and Pennsylvania as a whole.

Date

2022-03-04

Format

video

Identifier

LGBT-30

Oral History Item Type Metadata

Interviewer

Mary Foltz

Interviewee

Adrian Shanker

Duration

01:24:42

OHMS Object Text

5.4 March 4, 2022 Adrian Shanker, Part 2, March 4, 2022 LGBT-30 01:24:43 LVLGBT Lehigh Valley LGBT Community Archive Collection Muhlenberg College: Trexler Library Oral History Repository Support for the collection of this interview was provided by the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS). Adrian Shanker Mary Foltz video/mp4 ShankerAdrian_20220304_video_edited_FINAL.mp4 1:|30(2)|47(13)|59(8)|74(10)|86(12)|100(8)|113(6)|123(9)|135(10)|148(12)|162(6)|174(9)|186(3)|200(15)|214(8)|226(6)|240(11)|255(13)|269(1)|281(7)|294(10)|306(1)|319(16)|332(11)|344(12)|356(4)|368(1)|382(2)|397(6)|412(1)|426(5)|442(9)|458(3)|471(1)|482(12)|498(3)|510(8)|524(3)|536(10)|551(3)|566(4)|580(10)|594(6)|607(8)|622(6)|637(7)|648(8)|662(13)|673(10)|684(10)|698(3)|711(1)|725(10)|741(1)|756(1)|769(13)|784(5)|797(10)|809(8)|823(1)|835(14)|851(8)|866(7)|880(3)|894(4)|908(6)|920(8)|934(11)|947(2)|959(15)|974(13)|992(11)|1009(7)|1029(11)|1044(4)|1056(12)|1071(6)|1084(5)|1098(12)|1108(12)|1117(13)|1131(11)|1143(6)|1156(3) 0 https://youtu.be/oro7sK8zntc YouTube video English 0 Interview Introductions Mary Foltz: My name is Mary Foltz, and I’m here with Adrian Shanker to talk about his life and experiences in LGBT organizations in the Lehigh Valley, as a part of the Lehigh Valley LGBT Community Oral History Project. This year, our project has funding from ACLS. And Adrian and I are meeting at Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center on March 4, 2022. First, I just want to say thank you so much for being here today. Adrian Shanker: Thanks for doing this. MF: And I’m just going to ask quick consent questions, and then we’ll jump into the interview. So do you consent to this interview today? 84 Starting a LGBT Center in Lehigh Valley MF: So I want to start with this question. How did you decide to start the center? AS: Yeah. Well, after I’d been leading Equality Pennsylvania as the board president, which was a volunteer position, for at that point three years, and I was on the board for four years. And it was a time in Equality Pennsylvania where my role as the board president was still -- it was a pretty small staff, so it was a pretty significant role, and one that required a lot of statewide travel. And I knew that I wanted to do LGBTQ work full time. And I had been, you know, driving around Pennsylvania for Equality PA, and kept coming back to the Lehigh Valley feeling like, how come I had to keep driving elsewhere to access the basic cultural programs that I really wanted for my own life? You know, they just weren’t happening here on a regular enough level, or thea small stipend, but it was really an all-volunteer effort. 181 Role of Pennsylvania Diversity Network AS: Pennsylvania Diversity Network was the predecessor organization to Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center. And basically, Pennsylvania Diversity Network, the plan was for it to restructure into the center, with me as the executive director, and to move forward with a plan to open a physical space in the Lehigh Valley for LGBTQ people that would be a cultural hub, and a resource space, for our community. MF: Could you talk a little bit more about Pennsylvania Diversity Network, what they were doing before you got involved in visioning the center? AS: Yeah. So Pennsylvania Diversity Network was founded by Liz Bradbury and Patricia Sullivan, and it was pretty much an all-volunteer effort. 248 Importance of LGBT Centers AS: And as a result, it wasn’t an open-to-the-public community space, and there was really a need for that community space. And Liz and Trish and I, and others, had conversations about the need for a physical center for our community. I grew up going to an LGBT center in White Plains, New York. After my parents were divorced, I remember, when I was a kid, my mom took me and my brother to -- the LOFT LGBT Center had a gay parents with kids meetup in the ’90s. Later, there was an LGBT youth center, also in White Plains, New York, called Center Lane, that I went to in high school. So I knew the value of an LGBT center. And I was, kind of, surprised that we didn’t have one. And in my travels across Pennsylvania, I saw how important they were in Harrisburg and Philadelphia, for example, for the LGBT communities there. And a short-lived center had opened in Wilkes-Barre, and it didn’t last very long. But when that center opened, it was, like, Oh, if they can do this in Wilkes-Barre with a much smaller LGBT community, we can do this in Allentown, without question. 379 Obtaining a Physical Space for the Center AS: And at that announcement, we announced that the city of Allentown was going to sell us a building for one dollar that we could renovate. We had a design team already assembled of pro bono architects and engineers who were pledging their services to help us get the building ready. And we pitched to the community what the vision was. And it was very clear that we needed to raise a minimum of $75,000 from individuals in three months, so that we could demonstrate that the community was behind us. By the end of that three-month period, we had raised over $115,000. The average donor gave $400. So people did make stretch gifts -- what I mean by that are gifts beyond what they might normally donate in a year -- because they really did share the passion and the vision for having an LGBT community center. And from there, then, we started having conversations with corporations. And there was actually seven local-ish corporations who, together, provided additional funds needed to help us get into a physical space. 552 Problems with the First Space AS: That building we had been offered for a dollar from the city was on 11th and Turner. The exact address was 1021 West Turner Street. And it was a long-vacant building. It was a former, like, dairy building? And it had been in very poor condition. It was owned by the Allentown Redevelopment Authority. And we were able to work with Barry Isett &amp ; Associates, an engineering firm, who actually donated the cost of a Phase I Environmental Assessment. The assessment confirmed that there was over 1500 square feet of asbestos, and as a result, the construction cost was going to be much higher than we had anticipated, much, much higher. We already knew the building needed a lot of work, but now there was going to be major environmental remediation. 606 Looking for a Safer Building 806 First Two Grants So the first grant that we received was a very small grant from CenterLink to do a program called My 2024, where we had a community visioning session about people’s hopes, fears, and dreams about the next 10 years, after winning marriage equality nationally through the Obergefell v. Hodges decision. After winning marriage equality nationally, what did the Lehigh Valley LGBT community want to see for the next 10 years of the LGBT movement? 887 Creation of the LGBT Health Needs Assessment AS: And we were able to get funding to create an LGBT Health Needs Assessment, that we did as a pilot project in 2015 and ’16. In ’15, it was in the Lehigh Valley and central Pennsylvania. And then in 2016, it was expanded to four other regions in Pennsylvania, southwest PA, southeast PA, northeast PA, and, I believe, Philadelphia. And then after that, it actually became a biannual needs assessment. But that grant was very significant for us. At the time that we got it, it really allowed us to build up our credibility, and also, it gave us the funding we needed to really get off the ground. After we saw the data, though, that came back, I knew, and frankly, so did the Department of Health, that more work would be needed. And they awarded us other grants to do tobacco prevention and control. 979 Coming Together with the Community AS: I mean, we had so many volunteers here. The volunteers were so passionate. And really, it was the entire community coming together. We had churches and synagogues doing volunteer groups. We had corporations, like Air Products and Olympus, coming to do volunteer painting together. And we had individuals who were just coming and building community while they were volunteering. And Liz Bradbury actually led a lot of the volunteer activities, almost all of them. She oversaw the volunteers, really, as we were getting into the space, while most of my time was focused on continuing to fundraise, and making decisions about what the building would look like, and how we would pay for the building to look like that. So dealing with supplies, trying to get some pro bono support. For example, Habitat for Humanity Lehigh Valley came and retiled the floors in two of our bathrooms. Home Depot sent employees over to retile the floors in our front vestibule and our elevator, and donated all the supplies needed to do that project. So part of it was figuring out, like, what we were going to need, because we were really trying to not spend too much money to get open. 1067 Grand Opening of the Center AS: And our grand opening, in addition to remarks from dignitaries, it was just a momentous occasion. It was a rainy Saturday. I believe it was a Saturday. It was definitely on the weekend. And we had four hundred people show up. Everyone was really excited. We had a short VIP part for our founding donors, the people who gave five hundred or higher in that initial event that we hosted back in June 2014, right before the grand opening. And we had initially, right from day one, we said, founding donors will get the first view. And they came in a little bit before. We also had a volunteer recognition event that week for all the volunteers who helped us get the building ready, and that was a really exciting night, as well. You know, and from there, after the grand opening, it really moved very fast. So from that moment on, it was pretty nonstop. At the grand opening, we actually announced 10 programs that we’d be starting right away. And it wasn’t long before there was many more. 1185 Pulse Massacre AS: And really, throughout 2016, that continued. But something changed in the world in June 2016, which was two years after we announced our founding, which was the Pulse massacre. And so, you know, on the morning of Pulse, we all got the news just like everyone else did around the world. And we knew that we needed to respond, because we knew that our community needed us to respond. But in all of the work that we put into opening the building, we really hadn’t thought about security. And the Pulse massacre let us know that we needed to add security to the building, and we needed to do it pretty quickly. So we actually went to Air Products and PPL, and between the two companies, they gave us $16,000 of emergency grants to pay for security that we needed right away. And that was a challenging conversation, really. It was, we just hadn’t thought about it. And for good reason. We hadn’t had to have thought about it. 1262 Community March for Orlando AS: [...] and we organized, within just a couple hours, a march from Candida’s to Stonewall. Hundreds of people showed up. And we marched. The police chief, at the time, joined us. Government officials, Republicans and Democrats. Congressman Charlie Dent was there as a Republican leader. We had many Democrats, as well. The owner of Candida’s, Candida Affa, joined us for the march. We started at Candida’s for some opening remarks, and then we marched over from her bar, which was on 12th and Chew, over to Hamilton Street, and then we marched down Hamilton Street to 10th Street, and then we turned to go on 10th Street over to the Stonewall. And in front of the Stonewall, people gathered on the steps of the Stonewall, hundreds of people. And we stood strong and resolved that love was stronger than hate. Our community would not keep from dancing. We would continue to do the work that was needed. We also, as a community in the Lehigh Valley, even though we were very new as an organization, raised about five thousand dollars to send down to the Orlando LGBT Center to support their urgent needs. And the next year, on the Pulse anniversary, we sent some additional money down to support the Pulse memorial. 1391 Programming Offered by Bradbury-Sullivan AS: But our programs continue to evolve. So in February 2017, we opened Project Silk, our LGBTQ youth program in partnership with Valley Youth House, through a grant. It was a quarter million dollar grant we received with Valley Youth House to start this program as a recreational-based safe space program for LGBTQ youth, specifically queer youth of color, and that it would be HIV-prevention focused. So the program started in February 2017, but we got the grant in the end of 2016 to be able to get started. And that was a really big win for our organization, to be able to get that kind of funding pretty early on. 1607 Gaining Support for the Center MF: [...] How does that happen in Pennsylvania or in the Lehigh Valley, where you and others involved in making the center able to motivate and activate wide support, from corporate support, governmental support, and then, of course, volunteer community support? AS: I mean, we had to make a strong and compelling case for support, every direction we went. When we bought this building, we had to go appeal to Lehigh County to get property tax exemption, and we had to make the case that Bradbury-Sullivan Center was going to relieve the government of specific burdens in the types of services we would provide here. When we talked to the city of Allentown’s Redevelopment Authority earlier about receiving a one dollar Redevelopment Authority building, we had to make the case that having an LGBT center would not only serve the people in our community, but that it would beautify the neighborhood, it would provide economic benefit back to the community, and it would serve the entire community’s cultural needs, as well. And that’s what we’ve done. Even though we didn’t take that one dollar building, we have done that here in what was a vacant building. And this building, I didn’t talk about what it was. But historically, it was a warehouse. It was, at one point, a guns and ammo place, to my knowledge. The last thing it was before it was vacant for two years before we bought it was, the second floor was a law firm, the first floor was an architect office, and the third floor was the Lehigh County Drug and Alcohol building. And so it wasn’t conducive to one organization taking over the whole building. We had to do some work to make that, kind of, seamless. And it really felt like three different organizations, just the way the building was structured. And so we had to change that around a little bit and make it feel like one space, one community center. 1761 Vision for the Community: My 2024 MF: You talked about doing a community visioning, getting people together to envision what the center would be. And I’m just curious what some of those visions were that community members shared, and how that mapped out. AS: That wasn’t specific to the center, actually. It was just about, really, what the Lehigh Valley LGBTQ+ community wanted from the LGBT movement for the next ten years. And that was back in October 2014, so looking 2014 to 2024. 1944 Results of the LGBTQ Health Needs Assessment MF: I want to ask a little bit more about the public health programming, because you had that first big grant for the Health Needs Assessment. I’m curious. What did you uncover in that assessment in the first year? How has that shifted over the years that you’ve done it? AS: So we learned right from the beginning with the first LGBTQ Health Needs Assessment that LGBTQ people in the Lehigh Valley experienced health disparities through all aspects of their lives, except for one, which was access to health insurance. But in every other area of our lives, we were faring a little bit worse off from a health and wellness standpoint than the majority of the population. 2211 Impact of Public Health Programming on LGBTQ Community MF: I have some ideas about this, but I just want to ask a basic question. What is the impact of a statewide health assessment? What is the impact of public health programming from a local LGBT community center? AS: Yeah. So every community deserves an LGBT center. That’s what CenterLink says, and that was a mantra we used at the beginning. And we need our local community-based LGBT centers because community-based organizations are the first line of defense. So it’s where you go when you need to build community. You’re new to an area and you want to meet people. It’s also where you often turn when you need a referral for a doctor. It’s an organization you trust to get information. And so as a trusted messenger to our community, we were a great organization to provide health promotion programs. 2402 Making the LGBTQ Health Needs Assessment Statewide MF: Could you talk a little bit about the collaborative nature -- like, how you developed that Needs Assessment across the state? AS: Yeah. So the way that we made it a statewide sample was that we went to the Department of Health, and we said, It would be much easier, and less time consuming, and frankly, less expensive, if we did this as one statewide project instead of six separate projects, where you’re working with six different agencies in each different community. So the model we did was that we got one state grant to do this on a statewide basis, and then we collaborated and funded LGBT community-based organizations across Pennsylvania to be partners in that project, and actually, we partnered with over 30 organizations in Pennsylvania, and funded them to help us with the data collection. 2483 Combining Bradbury-Sullivan and Pride of the Greater Lehigh Valley MF: You talked a little bit about other public health programming, the public health -- the Needs Assessment. Can you talk a little bit about other programming, like your merging with Pride, and Pride programming that you put on? AS: Yeah. So Lehigh Valley Pride, as we call it, was previously known as Pride of the Greater Lehigh Valley. And it was an all-volunteer organization since the early ’90s. And courageous and dedicated volunteers that really made Lehigh Valley Pride happen every year. In 2017, Pride of the Greater Lehigh Valley merged with Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center. So I facilitated this merger. And we worked for many months with the board of Pride to consider how this might work. 2618 Making Pride Accessible AS: We also prioritize access and inclusion for people with disabilities, by bringing sign language interpreters to the stages, reserving parking and seating in the front of the stages for older adults and people with disabilities, ADA restrooms, large print programs, to really try to make for a more inclusive festival. Because Pride is for everyone, and that’s really important to us. I think that there were some skeptics over how it would work at the Jewish Community Center, but it really has worked pretty well to have a large festival. We also increased the faith programs at Pride by bringing them onsite. 2711 Arts and Cultural Programming MF: In addition to Pride programming, you have arts and cultural programming, and you have gallery programming. But you -- AS: Yeah. I’ll talk a little bit about the galleries. So I talked about the library earlier, but our art galleries, for me, have been so exciting and important over the years. Really, the only queer art space in the Lehigh Valley, where that’s its mission, is to exhibit and celebrate LGBTQ artists. And we’ve balanced between local artists and not-so-local artists. And we’ve brought some exhibits that are museum quality. Mariette Pathy Allen, who is a major photojournalist, who has documented trans communities for decades, kicked off her newest book of photographs of trans people in Southeast Asia from our center with an exhibit here. 2840 Reacting to the Trump Presidency MF: You mentioned Trump, through this art gallery exhibit. What was it like to be a community center executive director during that presidential campaign and that presidency? AS: Well, you know, we’re a nonpartisan organization, so as all nonpartisan organizations, we don’t engage directly in electoral politics. We don’t tell people who to vote for. However, the day after Trump was elected, the morning after, when we all woke up to that news, we knew that it was going to be very challenging for our community, not because a Republican was elected president over a Democrat, but because a person who made such challenging comments about diverse communities, LGBTQ people, people of color, Muslims, transgender people in particular, there was a lot of very strong words and rhetoric that was spewn throughout the campaign. And so we wanted to make it clear to our community that we were a safe space for everyone to come and be, but that we would also resist when needed. 2966 Litigation Against Donald Trump AS: And of course, once Trump issued rules that were going to directly harm LGBTQ people, we took a different approach, which is, we actually filed lawsuits to block three Trump administration rules that would have caused direct harm to LGBTQ people. The first one was the denial of care rule, where Trump’s Health and Human Service Department issued a rule, a final rule, that would have invited discrimination from health care providers by saying that health care providers could, essentially, deny care to an LGBTQ person if it violated their moral and religious beliefs. In fact, the rule was so problematic, it didn’t even require the health care professional to notify their employer that they were doing so. It didn’t require a warm handoff to a different provider. It didn’t require a referral to a different provider. It didn’t require anything. It was such a harmful rule, designed specifically in a way that would have harmed people living with HIV and transgender people, as well as people who may need abortion care in the future. So we were very concerned about this rule. And in coalition with some other LGBT organizations and a couple doctors, we were a plaintiff in a lawsuit led by Lambda Legal, and were able to block the rule from going into effect. 3202 Navigating COVID-19 MF: There’s another big thing happening during the Trump administration, which is COVID-19. AS: Yeah. MF: So here you have these three lawsuits, but you also have the global pandemic. How were you navigating in that time? AS: Well, nobody, including me, could have predicted the pandemic that has now been ongoing for -- we’ve just entered the third year (laughs) of the ongoing pandemic. That’s, certainly in my lifetime, unprecedented. At the start of the pandemic, like every other LGBT center, like every other nonprofit, it was just about navigating uncertainty. It was about, we don’t know what’s to come, but we have to adapt quickly. So in an effort to keep our community safe as well as our staff, we announced that staff would be working from home. We were shutting down our building. 3405 Making COVID-19 Data Inclusive AS: They were all reasonable changes given the uncertainty. In addition to what we were doing directly for our community in terms of programs, and in terms of what we were doing to manage staff transition to a virtual office, we were also directly engaged in advocacy from the very beginning. In March 2020, the CDC, under the Trump administration, put out a directive requiring all states to collect demographic data with regard to race, ethnicity, age, and gender. They did not include sexual orientation or gender identity. In April 2020, we sent -- we organized with the National LGBT Cancer Network, and 26 organizations joined us -- a letter to then-Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, asking that Pennsylvania be the first state to mandate collection of sexual orientation and gender identity data for COVID infection, mortality, and hospitalization. One month later to the day, we were able to get Pennsylvania to collect COVID-19 infection data. 3564 Lehigh Valley's First Virtual Pride Festival AS: But really, it was a journey of health activism through that time, as well. And in terms of our programs, I mean, we had to continuously pivot. So I didn’t want to be canceling in-person programs too far out, because we kept being told, Oh, it’s just a couple more weeks. Oh, it’s just a couple more months. So we had to make decisions continuously. And moving Lehigh Valley Pride to a virtual Pride for the first time in its history was a heart-wrenching decision, but it would not have been possible to have an in-person Pride in 2020. So we ended up with a televised Pride festival on RCN, a star-studded event. Celebrities that participated included Michelle Visage, Carson Kressley, RuPaul Drag Racers like Silky Nutmeg Ganache, Jujubee. We had Peter Paige from Queer as Folk. We had Theo Germaine from The Politician. We had Holly Near, you know, iconic musician Holly Near. We had a whole bunch of really amazing folks. 3625 Pivoting to Virtual Programming AS: And we continued to pivot. We produced a virtual queer novel miniseries on our Facebook that ran as Facebook Live events, where we had, instead of in-person author talks, we had author talks on Facebook Live. We tried to curate content for our community to keep our community connected through a period of quarantine and uncertainty. And we started delivering healthy food packages to the youth program participants that we were serving, because they couldn’t come here, so we brought stuff there. As a resource to our community, we actually developed a subpage on our website for LGBT-specific COVID-19 information. We wrote guidances for the city of Allentown, county of Erie, Montgomery County, and the state of Pennsylvania about safer sex during the pandemic. 3716 Work as a Publisher/Author/Editor MF: I would say also during this time, you were moving into publishing. And I know this is, sort of, adjacent to the community center, but you’re publishing on public health, editing collections. You have another book coming out soon. Could you talk a little bit about how that work as an author, as an editor, is connected to your work with the center, or just a little bit about your publication? AS: Yeah. So after we did our first Needs Assessment in 2015, I became very passionate about LGBTQ barriers to care and access to care. When it comes to accessing, the unmet dream of health equity, defined by the US government, is the attainment of the highest quality of health for all people. That’s the definition from Healthy People 2020. LGBTQ people don’t have that. So I actually went and enrolled in a graduate certificate program at George Washington University in LGBT health policy and practice. 4028 Role in Continuing Scholarship MF: I can’t wait to see that book. I just want to say that. And it’s recorded. I can’t wait to buy that. Beyond publishing those two, curating those two collections, one of which will be out soon, is Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center participating in other kinds of publications, research publications, or -- AS: Yeah. So something that’s, kind of, unique to Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center is our work to make contributions to the literature more broadly. So we actually conduct original research. We’re so lucky to have a data and evaluation department. We present the results of our programs at state and national conferences, for example, American Public Health Association, Society for Public Health Educators. That’s just two examples. And we have also worked to try to publish some of the results from our Needs Assessment, or programmatic results from our archive, or from some of our health programs, in either peer-reviewed or other academic journals. That really allows us to demonstrate the role that Bradbury-Sullivan Center plays, and more broadly, the role that LGBT community centers play in all communities, because the work that we do here is not so dissimilar from other communities. And so our contribution to the literature, I think, has been really important. 4185 Work on Legislation Banning Conversion Therapy MF: You mentioned the bans on conversion therapy, and I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit more about how that worked in Bethlehem, in Allentown, and Easton. Can you just describe that a bit more, what that process was like once you had the legislation drafted? AS: So National Center for Lesbian Rights drafted the legislation, and shared it with local elected officials in our community. We built a strong coalition, though. So our role was that we were doing public education and awareness in support of ending conversion therapy in our communities. So for example, we partnered with KidsPeace, which is a mental health hospital here in the Lehigh Valley, who shared in public meetings that their operating rules don’t allow conversion therapy for their clinicians. The director of the Allentown Health Bureau spoke out, saying that she had talked to local pediatricians, who have confirmed that they have seen the harms of conversion therapy in our community from their patients. So we mobilized our community, is really the role that we played, as grassroots organizing. And we were able to see these three laws passed very quickly in each municipality. 4369 Starting the Archival Collection MF: Well, I want to ask a question about the archives, because we haven’t talked about that yet, and you really, from the beginning, were focusing also on archival collection when you were envisioning the center and when it was opening. So could I ask about that? AS: Yeah. MF: Why did you (overlapping dialogue ; inaudible) -- AS: It was one of the first programs of the center, actually. So very early on, I approached Tina Hertel, the library director of Muhlenberg College, and we set up a meeting with her, and with Susan Falciani Maldonado, special collections archivist. And the meeting was really -- we had some stuff already. There was stuff in Liz and Trish’s basement. I had some stuff in my house. And we didn’t want to be holding onto it. And we also knew that there was a lot of stuff in the community. We looked at similar archives in central Pennsylvania and Philadelphia. But something that was really important to me was community ownership. So our agreement with Muhlenberg is the only one we’re aware of in the country where an LGBT center maintains ownership of the archival materials, and it’s professionally housed and preserved at a university library. And Muhlenberg was willing to do that with us. And it’s been an incredible partnership. 4554 Exceeding Goals for the Center MF: The center does so much educational programming, training, arts and culture, galleries, reading groups, film series, archival collection, public health. You’re involved in lawsuits when needed to protect our community. Was that part of the original vision that we started with today? Did you think, when you were starting -- AS: We have far exceeded the original vision. I mean, the original vision was getting a physical space. We said we were going to revolutionize the programs and services available to the LGBT community. That’s language we used in 2014. I think we have absolutely done that. And that does not mean that there’s not more that’s needed. Absolutely. There is always more we can do for our community. Our current director of development, Matt Easterwood, likes to say, “More money, more mission.” So as Bradbury-Sullivan Center continues to grow, more can be done for the community at large. But, you know, part of my decision to move on from Bradbury-Sullivan Center is because I feel like sometimes I can be clouded by my original vision. And I think leadership changes are good over time. And there’s an opportunity for new ideas, for new leadership that comes with different expertise, different backgrounds, different passions. And actually, I think that’s good for organizations over time. We have absolutely grown past my wildest dreams. 4710 People Important to the Formation of the Center MF: Well, we’re right about at the end. You ended with this lovely statement about, you know, it will continue with new leadership and wonderful people that are still here. And it leads me to, maybe, a final question or two. Do you want to talk about the people that have really made this organization into this incredible support for our community? AS: Yeah. Why don’t you pause for a minute and give me a minute to think about that? (break in video) AS: Throughout the journey of opening the center, there’s been so many people who have been part of that journey, and there’s no way I could possibly name every single person. But I do want to share some names of folks that were critical to the start, the opening, and the growth of the center over time. So from the very beginning, Liz Bradbury and Patricia Sullivan, and Liz Kleintop, original board members of Pennsylvania Diversity Network, at the time, that really were willing to go with me on this journey. MovingImage Adrian Shanker recounts the inception of the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center and the work it does to continue to serve the LGBTQ+ community in the Lehigh Valley and Pennsylvania as a whole. INTERVIEW WITH ADRIAN SHANKER MARCH 4, 2022 MARY FOLTZ: My name is Mary Foltz, and I&#039 ; m here with Adrian Shanker to talk about his life and experiences in LGBT organizations in the Lehigh Valley, as a part of the Lehigh Valley LGBT Community Oral History Project. This year, our project has funding from ACLS. And Adrian and I are meeting at Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center on March 4, 2022. First, I just want to say thank you so much for being here today. ADRIAN SHANKER: Thanks for doing this. MF: And I&#039 ; m just going to ask quick consent questions, and then we&#039 ; ll jump into the interview. So do you consent to this interview today? AS: I do. MF: Do you consent to having this interview transcribed, digitized, and made publicly available online? AS: I do. MF: Do you consent to the LGBT Archive using your interview for educational purposes in other formats, like short films, articles, websites? AS: I do. MF: Okay. And I just want to remind you that you will have 30 days after the electronic delivery of the transcript to review the interview, decide if you want to redact any material, or if you want to pull the interview from the collection. Do you understand that, that you have time? AS: Yes. MF: Okay. Great. So last time we did an interview, we really talked a lot about previous organizations that you&#039 ; ve been a part of. But today, we&#039 ; re really going to talk about the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center. So I want to start with this question. How did you decide to start the center? AS: Yeah. Well, after I&#039 ; d been leading Equality Pennsylvania as the board president, which was a volunteer position, for at that point three years, and I was on the board for four years. And it was a time in Equality Pennsylvania where my role as the board president was still -- it was a pretty small staff, so it was a pretty significant role, and one that required a lot of statewide travel. And I knew that I wanted to do LGBTQ work full time. And I had been, you know, driving around Pennsylvania for Equality PA, and kept coming back to the Lehigh Valley feeling like, how come I had to keep driving elsewhere to access the basic cultural programs that I really wanted for my own life? You know, they just weren&#039 ; t happening here on a regular enough level, or they were not easy to find when they did happen. And so the desire was to open an LGBT community center for the Lehigh Valley. And I knew that I had the skills and the background to do it. But what I wasn&#039 ; t sure of is if other people in the community felt that it was needed. So the process to start the center started with some visioning, and some private community meetings with key individuals or potential stakeholder groups. And then it was launched publicly at the gala for Pennsylvania Diversity Network in 2014, in June 2014. Pennsylvania Diversity Network was the predecessor organization to Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center. And basically, Pennsylvania Diversity Network, the plan was for it to restructure into the center, with me as the executive director, and to move forward with a plan to open a physical space in the Lehigh Valley for LGBTQ people that would be a cultural hub, and a resource space, for our community. MF: Could you talk a little bit more about Pennsylvania Diversity Network, what they were doing before you got involved in visioning the center? AS: Yeah. So Pennsylvania Diversity Network was founded by Liz Bradbury and Patricia Sullivan, and it was pretty much an all-volunteer effort. Liz drew a small stipend, but it was really an all-volunteer effort. As a regional advocacy organization for LGBTQ people. It operated out of their home. And as a result, it wasn&#039 ; t an open-to-the-public community space, and there was really a need for that community space. And Liz and Trish and I, and others, had conversations about the need for a physical center for our community. I grew up going to an LGBT center in White Plains, New York. After my parents were divorced, I remember, when I was a kid, my mom took me and my brother to -- the LOFT LGBT Center had a gay parents with kids meetup in the &#039 ; 90s. Later, there was an LGBT youth center, also in White Plains, New York, called Center Lane, that I went to in high school. So I knew the value of an LGBT center. And I was, kind of, surprised that we didn&#039 ; t have one. And in my travels across Pennsylvania, I saw how important they were in Harrisburg and Philadelphia, for example, for the LGBT communities there. And a short-lived center had opened in Wilkes-Barre, and it didn&#039 ; t last very long. But when that center opened, it was, like, Oh, if they can do this in Wilkes-Barre with a much smaller LGBT community, we can do this in Allentown, without question. So it started with visiting some of the other centers, getting some ideas, talking to stakeholders, meeting with individuals, some potential funders, some community leaders, both LGBT and from the broader community, to get a sense of what might be possible. We also met with elected officials to try to get a sense of what kind of support there would be from the government, potentially, for a new community center in the Lehigh Valley. And by the time that we were ready to launch publicly, we used the annual gala for Pennsylvania Diversity Network, which was the LGBT Community Leadership Awards. And at that time, it happened in June every year. And it was about 180 attendees. And it was at Allentown Symphony Hall in the Rodale Room. And so we had told people, &quot ; there&#039 ; s going to be a very special announcement, and you&#039 ; re going to want to be here for this announcement&quot ; . And at that announcement, we announced that the city of Allentown was going to sell us a building for one dollar that we could renovate. We had a design team already assembled of pro bono architects and engineers who were pledging their services to help us get the building ready. And we pitched to the community what the vision was. And it was very clear that we needed to raise a minimum of $75,000 from individuals in three months, so that we could demonstrate that the community was behind us. By the end of that three-month period, we had raised over $115,000. The average donor gave $400. So people did make stretch gifts -- what I mean by that are gifts beyond what they might normally donate in a year -- because they really did share the passion and the vision for having an LGBT community center. And from there, then, we started having conversations with corporations. And there was actually seven local-ish corporations who, together, provided additional funds needed to help us get into a physical space. Those corporations were Jerner &amp ; Palmer law firm in Philadelphia ; Gross McGinley law firm here in Allentown ; Capital Blue Cross, our health insurance company located in Allentown ; the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce ; OraSure. I may be missing one. It will come back to me. Oh, and ESSA Bank &amp ; Trust Foundation, as well. So those local funders gave us the corporate funding to be able to balance that. I left my last job in September 2014 to do this work full time. We had raised enough money for me to come on board full time. And it really was going to require full-time fundraising to be able to get into a physical space and build up an organization. I had been working in marketing while I was leading Equality Pennsylvania. I worked in marketing for a local LGBT-owned business called Wolper Information Services, and they were based in Easton. And actually, the owner at the time, Susan Wolper, let me continue working out of their space. She donated office space, basically, to start the center. So I continued working out of that building in Easton until we had acquired a space, which was about a year and a half. But from the moment that I started doing the work full time, the focus was fundraising and really trying to get into a building. That building we had been offered for a dollar from the city was on 11th and Turner. The exact address was 1021 West Turner Street. And it was a long-vacant building. It was a former, like, dairy building? And it had been in very poor condition. It was owned by the Allentown Redevelopment Authority. And we were able to work with Barry Isett &amp ; Associates, an engineering firm, who actually donated the cost of a Phase I Environmental Assessment. The assessment confirmed that there was over 1500 square feet of asbestos, and as a result, the construction cost was going to be much higher than we had anticipated, much, much higher. We already knew the building needed a lot of work, but now there was going to be major environmental remediation. And so we made a decision to walk away from that building, and instead, we found a real estate agent, Rob Ritter, a local Weichert real estate agent, who is part of the LGBT community. And he helped us to look for other properties. We looked at a whole bunch of properties together. And finally, we found 522 West Maple Street. We bought this building on September 30, 2015, so only about a year and a quarter after announcing publicly to the community, and only a year after I was doing this work full time. We were able to acquire this building. And that acquisition is complicated for a nonprofit, any nonprofit, to acquire property. It&#039 ; s more complicated for a brand-new nonprofit, essentially. We really only had one year of finances behind us, even though we had restructured from Pennsylvania Diversity Network. The budget at Pennsylvania Diversity Network was about $22,000 a year. So we really only had one year of financials that included staff to show to banks. And we were turned down initially by traditional banks. And we ended up getting a mortgage through People First Federal Credit Union. And they took a risk on us as a small nonprofit. We had a very compelling business plan and were able to make a strong case for how we&#039 ; d be able to pay off the mortgage, and not only provide essential services to the community, but what our funding would look like. So, yeah, September 30, we closed on the building. The building had been for sale for about $369,000, I believe. And we bought it for $340,000. It&#039 ; s 13,000 square feet. And it needed a good amount of work. Not the kind of work that would require major construction. It needed some aesthetic improvements, and it needed a little bit of repairs. So we were able to manage those repairs, and we had volunteers assist with aesthetic support, repainting, removing the carpet from the floors, scraping the glue off the floors that was underneath the carpet, that kind of stuff. And we had 3100 volunteer hours from more than 300 volunteers over a six-month period before we opened to the public on April 9, 2016. For our grand opening, we had more than four hundred people in attendance. We had remarks from the lieutenant governor at the time, Mike Stack ; the CEO of CenterLink, the association of LGBT centers, Denise Spivak. She flew in to speak at the event. It was a moment for our entire community to celebrate. And really, every donor who gave any amount of money, five dollars to five thousand dollars, felt like they were part of it. Every volunteer who participated in some aspect knew that they were part of it. You know? So it was really, the community came together to support and open an LGBT community center. At the same time, though, we were also building up what our programs would look like. So if we go back a little bit, right after I started, in addition to raising money for the building, we also had to start doing programs, because you can&#039 ; t only fundraise, right? So the first grant that we received was a very small grant from CenterLink to do a program called My 2024, where we had a community visioning session about people&#039 ; s hopes, fears, and dreams about the next 10 years, after winning marriage equality nationally through the Obergefell v. Hodges decision. After winning marriage equality nationally, what did the Lehigh Valley LGBT community want to see for the next 10 years of the LGBT movement? We also then received a grant from the Women&#039 ; s 5K Classic. These were the only two grants we received in 2014, actually, our first two. And the Women&#039 ; s 5K Classic provided a grant to have us host a women&#039 ; s health fair, and start some education around gynecologic cancer screenings. And that was our first health grant. And shortly after we did that, we were able to work with the Pennsylvania Department of Health with the support of one of my mentors, Dr. Scout, who at the time worked at CenterLink. Currently, today, he leads the National LGBT Cancer Network. And he facilitated an introduction for me with the Pennsylvania Department of Health&#039 ; s Division of Tobacco Prevention and Control, and provided technical assistance, as well, to me, to teach me how to work with government funders. And we were able to get funding to create an LGBT Health Needs Assessment, that we did as a pilot project in 2015 and &#039 ; 16. In &#039 ; 15, it was in the Lehigh Valley and central Pennsylvania. And then in 2016, it was expanded to four other regions in Pennsylvania, southwest PA, southeast PA, northeast PA, and, I believe, Philadelphia. And then after that, it actually became a biannual needs assessment. But that grant was very significant for us. At the time that we got it, it really allowed us to build up our credibility, and also, it gave us the funding we needed to really get off the ground. After we saw the data, though, that came back, I knew, and frankly, so did the Department of Health, that more work would be needed. And they awarded us other grants to do tobacco prevention and control. I mean, we received some significant funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, first through the Needs Assessment, and then to start doing health promotion around tobacco prevention and control. And those grants really allowed us to start building as an organization at the same time as we were physically trying to get into a space, and once we got into the space, to start planning what our programs would look like. The time period in between purchasing the building and opening was so exciting. I mean, we had so many volunteers here. The volunteers were so passionate. And really, it was the entire community coming together. We had churches and synagogues doing volunteer groups. We had corporations, like Air Products and Olympus, coming to do volunteer painting together. And we had individuals who were just coming and building community while they were volunteering. And Liz Bradbury actually led a lot of the volunteer activities, almost all of them. She oversaw the volunteers, really, as we were getting into the space, while most of my time was focused on continuing to fundraise, and making decisions about what the building would look like, and how we would pay for the building to look like that. So dealing with supplies, trying to get some pro bono support. For example, Habitat for Humanity Lehigh Valley came and retiled the floors in two of our bathrooms. Home Depot sent employees over to retile the floors in our front vestibule and our elevator, and donated all the supplies needed to do that project. So part of it was figuring out, like, what we were going to need, because we were really trying to not spend too much money to get open. I&#039 ; m sorry. I need to pause again. TIERSA CURRY: I&#039 ; m good. AS: Okay. So, yeah. I mean, as we were preparing to open, it was just so much exciting momentum here at the building. And our grand opening, in addition to remarks from dignitaries, it was just a momentous occasion. It was a rainy Saturday. I believe it was a Saturday. It was definitely on the weekend. And we had four hundred people show up. Everyone was really excited. We had a short VIP part for our founding donors, the people who gave five hundred or higher in that initial event that we hosted back in June 2014, right before the grand opening. And we had initially, right from day one, we said, founding donors will get the first view. And they came in a little bit before. We also had a volunteer recognition event that week for all the volunteers who helped us get the building ready, and that was a really exciting night, as well. You know, and from there, after the grand opening, it really moved very fast. So from that moment on, it was pretty nonstop. At the grand opening, we actually announced 10 programs that we&#039 ; d be starting right away. And it wasn&#039 ; t long before there was many more. I think none of us quite predicted how much momentum there would be. And it was a constant balancing act between saying yes to everything that the community needed, and saying no, because we didn&#039 ; t have the resources to do everything at once. So we started with our LGBTQ library, and we started offering HIV testing, and we had a bereavement group. And we had partnered with other nonprofits. Like, Turning Point of Lehigh Valley was one of our first rental partners. Lehigh Valley Humanists was also one of our first rental partners. And so we had this space, and it was really exciting. And we wanted to start utilizing it as best as we could. And really, throughout 2016, that continued. But something changed in the world in June 2016, which was two years after we announced our founding, which was the Pulse massacre. And so, you know, on the morning of Pulse, we all got the news just like everyone else did around the world. And we knew that we needed to respond, because we knew that our community needed us to respond. But in all of the work that we put into opening the building, we really hadn&#039 ; t thought about security. And the Pulse massacre let us know that we needed to add security to the building, and we needed to do it pretty quickly. So we actually went to Air Products and PPL, and between the two companies, they gave us $16,000 of emergency grants to pay for security that we needed right away. And that was a challenging conversation, really. It was, we just hadn&#039 ; t thought about it. And for good reason. We hadn&#039 ; t had to have thought about it. But the Pulse massacre really reminded us that we needed to be thinking about that. At the same time, we needed to be thinking about our community&#039 ; s needs, and we organized, within just a couple hours, a march from Candida&#039 ; s to Stonewall. Hundreds of people showed up. And we marched. The police chief, at the time, joined us. Government officials, Republicans and Democrats. Congressman Charlie Dent was there as a Republican leader. We had many Democrats, as well. The owner of Candida&#039 ; s, Candida Affa, joined us for the march. We started at Candida&#039 ; s for some opening remarks, and then we marched over from her bar, which was on 12th and Chew, over to Hamilton Street, and then we marched down Hamilton Street to 10th Street, and then we turned to go on 10th Street over to the Stonewall. And in front of the Stonewall, people gathered on the steps of the Stonewall, hundreds of people. And we stood strong and resolved that love was stronger than hate. Our community would not keep from dancing. We would continue to do the work that was needed. We also, as a community in the Lehigh Valley, even though we were very new as an organization, raised about five thousand dollars to send down to the Orlando LGBT Center to support their urgent needs. And the next year, on the Pulse anniversary, we sent some additional money down to support the Pulse memorial. We&#039 ; ve really rarely done fundraising for other communities, but that was a moment where it felt very needed, and our community wanted to do that. They really wanted to give as a Lehigh Valley LGBT community voice. Later in 2016, that&#039 ; s really -- we really started to grow pretty quickly in 2016 and in 2017, and we were able to bring on more staff. Really, to get us through the grand opening, it was a very lean team here at the center, and we started to grow. We started to have more and more employees. And that trend has continued, certainly through today, where our growth has been pretty unprecedented. But our programs continue to evolve. So in February 2017, we opened Project Silk, our LGBTQ youth program in partnership with Valley Youth House, through a grant. It was a quarter million dollar grant we received with Valley Youth House to start this program as a recreational-based safe space program for LGBTQ youth, specifically queer youth of color, and that it would be HIV-prevention focused. So the program started in February 2017, but we got the grant in the end of 2016 to be able to get started. And that was a really big win for our organization, to be able to get that kind of funding pretty early on. Our health programs really had been the strongest-funded part of our organization, and then when we received the youth program, that added to it. Also, our library and our art galleries were doing very well, engaging the community. We partnered with Lehigh University to be able to offer community reading groups. We were able to bring in a professional curator, Deborah Rabinsky, who curated most of our exhibits in our galleries, and was really able to help us to develop the gallery. We, at some point, launched the Reel Queer Film Series to be able to provide free screenings of art house, independent,and documentary films that celebrate LGBTQ lives. And as we continued to grow, more was possible. You know, more became possible. One former employee who was really pivotal to that growth was Oliver Reilly, who goes by Ollie. And Ollie was the first development staff person here. And it&#039 ; s very hard for a new nonprofit to hire a development staff person, because it&#039 ; s a big amount of money to commit to, and you&#039 ; re really relying on that person&#039 ; s ability to raise the money, so it&#039 ; s a little scary. But I knew, as a fundraising professional myself, I knew how necessary it was for our growth. And when we brought Ollie in, fundraising really continued to grow beyond what it was before when it was just me doing the fundraising. And by the way, I should mention that from day one, we&#039 ; ve had interns, volunteers. Some of them have helped with fundraising. We&#039 ; ve also had staff members with various roles in fundraising, as well. But Ollie was the first full-time development employee, other than me. And that was pivotal, in terms of our growth as an organization. From there, I actually think that the community really started taking us seriously after we bought the building. That was the moment where people really saw us as -- we went from being a dream to being a reality for a lot of people. Including me. But I think that people that weren&#039 ; t willing to invest early on, by making donations, including large ones, to a startup, once we had the building, they were really willing to be part of it. MF: Can you go back a minute to -- I mean, we&#039 ; re still, kind of, in those first years. I mean? , you talk about corporate support, governmental support. Even though you didn&#039 ; t go with the one dollar building, you had an offer out there from the city of Allentown. How does that happen in Pennsylvania or in the Lehigh Valley, where you and others involved in making the center able to motivate and activate wide support, from corporate support, governmental support, and then, of course, volunteer community support? AS: I mean, we had to make a strong and compelling case for support, every direction we went. When we bought this building, we had to go appeal to Lehigh County to get property tax exemption, and we had to make the case that Bradbury-Sullivan Center was going to relieve the government of specific burdens in the types of services we would provide here. When we talked to the city of Allentown&#039 ; s Redevelopment Authority earlier about receiving a one dollar Redevelopment Authority building, we had to make the case that having an LGBT center would not only serve the people in our community, but that it would beautify the neighborhood, it would provide economic benefit back to the community, and it would serve the entire community&#039 ; s cultural needs, as well. And that&#039 ; s what we&#039 ; ve done. Even though we didn&#039 ; t take that one dollar building, we have done that here in what was a vacant building. And this building, I didn&#039 ; t talk about what it was. But historically, it was a warehouse. It was, at one point, a guns and ammo place, to my knowledge. The last thing it was before it was vacant for two years before we bought it was, the second floor was a law firm, the first floor was an architect office, and the third floor was the Lehigh County Drug and Alcohol building. And so it wasn&#039 ; t conducive to one organization taking over the whole building. We had to do some work to make that, kind of, seamless. And it really felt like three different organizations, just the way the building was structured. And so we had to change that around a little bit and make it feel like one space, one community center. And, you know, the support that we started receiving, we received because we asked for it. We made a compelling case for support. With corporate support, we would engage employees of those corporations and ask for their help to make the case to the company. We would talk about what we would be able to accomplish from cultural and economic lenses. So what would be our economic benefit back to the Lehigh Valley, and what would be the cultural benefit for the people who live here? MF: You talked about doing a community visioning, getting people together to envision what the center would be. And I&#039 ; m just curious what some of those visions were that community members shared, and how that mapped out. AS: That wasn&#039 ; t specific to the center, actually. It was just about, really, what the Lehigh Valley LGBTQ+ community wanted from the LGBT movement for the next ten years. And that was back in October 2014, so looking 2014 to 2024. And it was right after we won marriage equality nationally at the Supreme Court. So some of the things people talked about were, you know, a final end to the AIDS epidemic. You know, that with how many years had gone past, that that needed to be reprioritized. They talked about winning nondiscrimination protection, so that LGBTQ people didn&#039 ; t fear discrimination from landlords or employers based on who they are. People talked about creating more opportunities for parents of LGBT kids, and for LGBTQ parents in general. People talked about, you know, navigating family building as an LGBTQ family, or as a couple, or even as an individual. They talked about a variety of things. And some people did talk about the need for a community space. But really, we weren&#039 ; t thinking local as much as we were thinking from a national lens. We did, however, at Lehigh Valley Pride in 2015, we did some informal surveying to get people&#039 ; s ideas about what a center might be. It wasn&#039 ; t a scientific survey the way that our LGBT Health Needs Assessment is, where it&#039 ; s professionally analyzed, and it goes through an IRB process, like university researchers would do. This was more just for our own programmatic knowledge, so that we could start to build the programs that our community would respond to. MF: What did people write down? What were they interested in for the center, and how did that influence your development of programming? AS: It was clear that people wanted arts and culture programs. Some of the words that community members use are not necessarily the words that funders use to describe what is sometimes a similar thing. So people would talk about social programs, or fun ways to connect with community, and we talk about that today as community building and cultural programs. But that&#039 ; s really what we&#039 ; re talking about. People talked about a place for support groups. They talked about a film festival or film screenings. There was a variety of ideas. And not every idea was something that was able to be operationalized. Even seven and a half years later, we haven&#039 ; t been able to with everything. And needs change over time, as well. But we did really think about some of those initial thoughts that we heard, and to try to operationalize many of them. MF: I want to ask a little bit more about the public health programming, because you had that first big grant for the Health Needs Assessment. I&#039 ; m curious. What did you uncover in that assessment in the first year? How has that shifted over the years that you&#039 ; ve done it? AS: So we learned right from the beginning with the first LGBTQ Health Needs Assessment that LGBTQ people in the Lehigh Valley experienced health disparities through all aspects of their lives, except for one, which was access to health insurance. But in every other area of our lives, we were faring a little bit worse off from a health and wellness standpoint than the majority of the population. And in some health areas, significantly worse off. And health insurance is often the primary indicator of one&#039 ; s health, but for the LGBT community, it wasn&#039 ; t the primary indicator. We had greater access to health insurance, and worsened health outcomes, lower screening rates. And ultimately, what that came down to is people having negative reactions from healthcare providers, many people not having a primary care provider at all, and only really getting care when it was absolutely necessary. You know, going to the emergency room when something really serious is happening. So we learned that there was specific disparities, especially around tobacco, cancer, HIV. So we started doing work in those areas, health promotion work. And we were able to go back to the Department of Health to get some funding that was able to really let us hire more staff, or at that point, really, hire staff, and to start these health promotion programs in the community. And what those programs looked like at the beginning -- we were learning as we were going. There was no roadmap, really, for us. We had great funding partners that taught us a lot, and that also took some chances with us, let us explore what might work for our community. And we created some great programs. We went into schools and did tobacco prevention workshops. We did presentations at LGBTQ churches. We stickered people at gay bars with stickers that said, &quot ; LGBT Smoke Free.&quot ; We actually paid Pride festivals across eastern Pennsylvania to go smoke free. By 2018, we had 10 Pride festivals in Pennsylvania that had committed to be smoke free, with really only a couple years of that work. By 2019, it was 14 Pride festivals. So our work really continued to grow, and especially the health promotion work really took off. We had some other grants around cancer prevention that let us continue some of that work around anal cancer, around breast cancer, cervical cancer, to let us continue some of that, as well, and to grow it. In 2018, when we conducted our Needs Assessment in 2018 -- which was the first time we did the assessment statewide, as opposed to separate assessments in six different regions of the state. The results -- we did a data tour where we went out around the state to present the data to the community. And one of the people who came to the Pittsburgh presentation was from the Network of the National Library of Medicine. And she came up to me afterwards and said, &quot ; This data is really impressive. We have some funding that you should apply for.&quot ; And we did. And we were able to get -- one of our most prestigious funding sources has been the Network of the National Library of Medicine. And they have continued to be a funder to this day, to fund some of our really incredible health promotion work. They&#039 ; ve funded work around training health providers. They&#039 ; ve funded work around cancer screenings, flu vaccines. So we&#039 ; ve been able to explore a lot, to the point where today, you know, our health programs manager has a doctorate in public health, which would have seemed unfathomable to us, certainly in 2014, and even in 2016 and 2018, to be able to bring on staff with credentials like that to lead our programs. I mean, we&#039 ; ve really built up, as an organization, our credibility, not only for the funders but for job applicants, as well. MF: I have some ideas about this, but I just want to ask a basic question. What is the impact of a statewide health assessment? What is the impact of public health programming from a local LGBT community center? AS: Yeah. So every community deserves an LGBT center. That&#039 ; s what CenterLink says, and that was a mantra we used at the beginning. And we need our local community-based LGBT centers because community-based organizations are the first line of defense. So it&#039 ; s where you go when you need to build community. You&#039 ; re new to an area and you want to meet people. It&#039 ; s also where you often turn when you need a referral for a doctor. It&#039 ; s an organization you trust to get information. And so as a trusted messenger to our community, we were a great organization to provide health promotion programs. The Needs Assessment -- one of our early funders, United Way Greater Lehigh Valley -- actually, they weren&#039 ; t somebody who funded us early on, but they were an organization that we were trying to get their funding. And Marci Lesko, who was the vice president of the United Way, used to tell me, &quot ; Without the data, the chatta don&#039 ; t matta.&quot ; And she said it just like that. And so we went out to get the data. You know, we needed local data to make the case for what the challenges affecting our community were. Health is broad. So health is not just about your visit to your doctor. It&#039 ; s also about a person experiencing social isolation and loneliness. It&#039 ; s about barriers to care. It&#039 ; s about a variety of things. So yes, it&#039 ; s about cancer screenings, and it&#039 ; s about behavioral risks. But it&#039 ; s also about how we care for each other as a community. So the Needs Assessment really has given us a kind of guiding force to our work, to our programmatic development, and it&#039 ; s actually been utilized for every grant we&#039 ; ve applied for, almost every single grant here at the center, including arts programs grants, to make the case for what our community needs. It&#039 ; s hard data. It&#039 ; s legitimate data. It&#039 ; s data that&#039 ; s professionally analyzed. And we have a very large sample size. The data stands up. We&#039 ; re able to utilize those data to achieve results. It&#039 ; s actually probably the most consequential program that we do-- (Video interrupted) AS: So, you know, we were talking about public health. And one of the things that, really, Bradbury-Sullivan Community Center has worked to create, the Pennsylvania LGBTQ Health Needs Assessment is a biannual measurement tool of health disparities and barriers to care. It&#039 ; s become one of the most consequential things that we do here, possibly the most consequential thing, because it&#039 ; s the largest state-level LGBTQ health data in the US in any state. And it&#039 ; s actually been cited as a major data source by researchers, by hospitals. It&#039 ; s used by hospitals for programmatic improvements. Other states have even looked at it as a model for what they might do in their state. And so it&#039 ; s something I&#039 ; m really proud of having created here, and having really grown. And it has supported every other program at the center. MF: Could you talk a little bit about the collaborative nature -- like, how you developed that Needs Assessment across the state? AS: Yeah. So the way that we made it a statewide sample was that we went to the Department of Health, and we said, It would be much easier, and less time consuming, and frankly, less expensive, if we did this as one statewide project instead of six separate projects, where you&#039 ; re working with six different agencies in each different community. So the model we did was that we got one state grant to do this on a statewide basis, and then we collaborated and funded LGBT community-based organizations across Pennsylvania to be partners in that project, and actually, we partnered with over 30 organizations in Pennsylvania, and funded them to help us with the data collection. We then share the data back with them. So it&#039 ; s a collaborative project. It&#039 ; s one where we all feel a sense of ownership in it. All the other centers are named in the report. And they have access to the data, as well, including the local data for their region. And I think that&#039 ; s one of the reasons it&#039 ; s been so successful, is because we all work together in Pennsylvania to achieve this unified goal. MF: You talked a little bit about other public health programming, the public health -- the Needs Assessment. Can you talk a little bit about other programming, like your merging with Pride, and Pride programming that you put on? AS: Yeah. So Lehigh Valley Pride, as we call it, was previously known as Pride of the Greater Lehigh Valley. And it was an all-volunteer organization since the early &#039 ; 90s. And courageous and dedicated volunteers that really made Lehigh Valley Pride happen every year. In 2017, Pride of the Greater Lehigh Valley merged with Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center. So I facilitated this merger. And we worked for many months with the board of Pride to consider how this might work. And ultimately, it was mutually agreed upon that we would merge together, and we would take over the planning of the festival going forward. That merger was important, because for an event of this size to continue to grow, it really needed professional staff support. And that&#039 ; s what we were able to do, dedicate a full-time employee to the production of Lehigh Valley Pride, as opposed to relying only on volunteers, which is challenging, because volunteers change frequently year to year. And this gives the event more stability. Also, we&#039 ; ve been able to grow the event. The first year after the Pride festival merged with us was a bit of a comedy of errors, in the sense that four days before the event, there was a flood at the Pride venue, the longtime Pride venue. It was to be the 25th anniversary, and we knew that the festival really needed to happen, but the entire park flooded. And we were told by the city that we could not have the event there. And so with four days to go, we redesigned the entire festival, moved it over to the grounds of the Jewish Community Center, where Pride has continued to be today, in Allentown. And put on an amazing festival. The event continued to grow year by year. We added a second stage. We added music performers. We&#039 ; ve added the opportunity to have an artist promenade. In 2021, we even added a festival mural. We also prioritize access and inclusion for people with disabilities, by bringing sign language interpreters to the stages, reserving parking and seating in the front of the stages for older adults and people with disabilities, ADA restrooms, large print programs, to really try to make for a more inclusive festival. Because Pride is for everyone, and that&#039 ; s really important to us. I think that there were some skeptics over how it would work at the Jewish Community Center, but it really has worked pretty well to have a large festival. We also increased the faith programs at Pride by bringing them onsite. Because previous to it, when it was at Cedar Beach Park, there wasn&#039 ; t a good location where it could happen onsite. And by moving it to the Jewish Community Center, we&#039 ; re able to use the indoor space in the morning. So we actually brought together an interfaith Pride service that kicks off the day at 10:30. The festival starts at 12. And that has been a great addition to the festival, as well. So really proud of the growth of Lehigh Valley Pride since it merged with us. I should say that the merger itself meant merging two nonprofits different ways of operating. Pride of the Greater Lehigh Valley was a membership organization. Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center is not. So we actually had to have a membership meeting of all the Pride members, who were notified of the vote to merge. We went through a process to do that. MF: In addition to Pride programming, you have arts and cultural programming, and you have gallery programming. But you -- AS: Yeah. I&#039 ; ll talk a little bit about the galleries. So I talked about the library earlier, but our art galleries, for me, have been so exciting and important over the years. Really, the only queer art space in the Lehigh Valley, where that&#039 ; s its mission, is to exhibit and celebrate LGBTQ artists. And we&#039 ; ve balanced between local artists and not-so-local artists. And we&#039 ; ve brought some exhibits that are museum quality. Mariette Pathy Allen, who is a major photojournalist, who has documented trans communities for decades, kicked off her newest book of photographs of trans people in Southeast Asia from our center with an exhibit here. We&#039 ; ve had incredible, incredible exhibits over the years. And it&#039 ; s brought the community together. We&#039 ; ve had group art shows. We had one show, for example, Art Against Trump&#039 ; s Misogyny. It was called Nasty Women: Art Against Trump&#039 ; s Misogyny, where artists made artwork responding to Trump calling Hillary Clinton a nasty woman. We also have had exhibits that celebrated Elton John&#039 ; s final tour, which kicked off two blocks from our community center in downtown Allentown at the PPL Center. At the same time, we were having an exhibit here in our galleries of LGBTQ artists that made artwork utilizing Elton John lyrics. And it was called To Sir Elton, With Love. You know, Elton John is unquestionably one of the most high-impact LGBTQ musicians of the last century, and when he was kicking off his final tour in Allentown, we knew that we wanted to give artists in our community a chance to honor what they loved about Elton John, as well. So many different exhibits have happened here in our galleries, and it&#039 ; s been really incredible. MF: You mentioned Trump, through this art gallery exhibit. What was it like to be a community center executive director during that presidential campaign and that presidency? AS: Well, you know, we&#039 ; re a nonpartisan organization, so as all nonpartisan organizations, we don&#039 ; t engage directly in electoral politics. We don&#039 ; t tell people who to vote for. However, the day after Trump was elected, the morning after, when we all woke up to that news, we knew that it was going to be very challenging for our community, not because a Republican was elected president over a Democrat, but because a person who made such challenging comments about diverse communities, LGBTQ people, people of color, Muslims, transgender people in particular, there was a lot of very strong words and rhetoric that was spewn throughout the campaign. And so we wanted to make it clear to our community that we were a safe space for everyone to come and be, but that we would also resist when needed. So that April, April 2017, we hosted an exhibit called The Queer Art of Resistance, LGBTQ artists making art as resistance to Trump&#039 ; s anti-LGBTQ agenda. The next year, we hosted Nasty Women: Art Against Trump&#039 ; s Misogyny. So we gave artists a chance to use the artistic freedom and create a work of art that could be exhibited, that could be part of the resistance. After Charlottesville, we cosponsored a rally in downtown Allentown against the hate that was spewn in Charlottesville. And we were very clear that hate has no home here in the Lehigh Valley, and LGBTQ people stand with other vulnerable and marginalized communities, who were really feeling attacked by the former president. And of course, once Trump issued rules that were going to directly harm LGBTQ people, we took a different approach, which is, we actually filed lawsuits to block three Trump administration rules that would have caused direct harm to LGBTQ people. The first one was the denial of care rule, where Trump&#039 ; s Health and Human Service Department issued a rule, a final rule, that would have invited discrimination from health care providers by saying that health care providers could, essentially, deny care to an LGBTQ person if it violated their moral and religious beliefs. In fact, the rule was so problematic, it didn&#039 ; t even require the health care professional to notify their employer that they were doing so. It didn&#039 ; t require a warm handoff to a different provider. It didn&#039 ; t require a referral to a different provider. It didn&#039 ; t require anything. It was such a harmful rule, designed specifically in a way that would have harmed people living with HIV and transgender people, as well as people who may need abortion care in the future. So we were very concerned about this rule. And in coalition with some other LGBT organizations and a couple doctors, we were a plaintiff in a lawsuit led by Lambda Legal, and were able to block the rule from going into effect. We then filed another lawsuit, again with pro bono counsel from Lambda Legal -- pro bono counsel from Lambda Legal is consistent with all three of the cases. And in the second case, the Trump administration&#039 ; s HHS promulgated a rule that would have removed Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which is the section that provides for nondiscrimination in health care, through both insurance and health care providers. And it mandates nondiscrimination. And the removal of the nondiscrimination language specific to our community would really put LGBTQ+ people at risk. So we also filed a suit to block the removal of 1557 from going into effect, and again, we were successful. And then at the very end of the Trump administration, the former president, kind of, went off on a different tangent, and decided he wanted to ban diversity training for federal contractors and grantees. And so we filed suit, again with Lambda Legal as pro bono counsel, to block what we considered to be a racist and sexist ban on diversity training. As an organization that provides diversity training to organizations that receive federal funds, it would have had a direct impact on our budget and our ability to provide trainings to school districts, for example, possibly to state government agencies, certainly to some corporations and nonprofits. Anyone receiving federal funds would not have been able to receive diversity training. And there were specific words you weren&#039 ; t allowed to say in trainings. So we were able to successfully block that rule from also going into effect. I&#039 ; m really proud that throughout the Trump administration, Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center stood up and stood strong to stand up for our community and to block these harmful rules from going into effect. And we wouldn&#039 ; t have been able to do it without pro bono counsel at Lambda Legal. Also, it was a lot of work to be a plaintiff in these cases. But we were part of history in protecting our community from some of the direct harm that the administration tried to inflict. MF: There&#039 ; s another big thing happening during the Trump administration, which is COVID-19. AS: Yeah. MF: So here you have these three lawsuits, but you also have the global pandemic. How were you navigating in that time? AS: Well, nobody, including me, could have predicted the pandemic that has now been ongoing for -- we&#039 ; ve just entered the third year [laughs] of the ongoing pandemic. That&#039 ; s, certainly in my lifetime, unprecedented. At the start of the pandemic, like every other LGBT center, like every other nonprofit, it was just about navigating uncertainty. It was about, we don&#039 ; t know what&#039 ; s to come, but we have to adapt quickly. So in an effort to keep our community safe as well as our staff, we announced that staff would be working from home. We were shutting down our building. It was a few days before the governor made this decision for the whole state in March 2020. At the time, we had 10 staff. And so we thought it would be for nine weeks. The governor, his shutdown was, I believe, for four or five weeks. Our shutdown, which was before the governor did that, was nine weeks. Obviously, it lasted a little longer [laughs] than that. But at the time, we were doing the best we could with the information we had. Right? And it was certainly a scary time. We had to very quickly pivot to new technology. We pivoted almost all programs to virtual within a matter of two weeks. We were able to maintain almost all staff positions. We did end up receiving a paycheck protection loan, a PPP loan, that allowed us to maintain staffing for a longer period of time. But we had a lot of technology expenses right away to be able to pivot to virtual programs. And these were unbudgeted, because the pandemic really came about pretty quickly, at least in the scope of how nonprofits budget out a year in advance. It wasn&#039 ; t something that we would have known to plan for the previous November, you know, to plan for, Oh, we need enterprise Zoom licenses, and we need to change -- we needed to get DocuSign for our entire organization so that we could sign invoices and grant contracts. And we needed to have Slack, so that we could do interoffice communication. And it was both learning how to be a virtual office and learning how to support our community and care for our community. At the beginning of the pandemic, we called most of our donors, just to check in and ask how they were during the time of uncertainty. We weren&#039 ; t asking them for money at that time. We also had to call our funders, and say, We have to change the grant that we said that we would do, because we can&#039 ; t do any in-person outreach right now, or we can&#039 ; t do this thing in person. We need to shift how we&#039 ; re doing this. And luckily, every one of our funders stood by us and said, We understand. It&#039 ; s unprecedented times. Just let us know what changes need to be made. And we made them all. They were all reasonable changes given the uncertainty. In addition to what we were doing directly for our community in terms of programs, and in terms of what we were doing to manage staff transition to a virtual office, we were also directly engaged in advocacy from the very beginning. In March 2020, the CDC, under the Trump administration, put out a directive requiring all states to collect demographic data with regard to race, ethnicity, age, and gender. They did not include sexual orientation or gender identity. In April 2020, we sent -- we organized with the National LGBT Cancer Network, and 26 organizations joined us -- a letter to then-Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, asking that Pennsylvania be the first state to mandate collection of sexual orientation and gender identity data for COVID infection, mortality, and hospitalization. One month later to the day, we were able to get Pennsylvania to collect COVID-19 infection data. And then we continued advocacy. And the journey of health advocacy throughout the pandemic for our organization was that every six weeks, it felt like we were starting from scratch. Every six weeks, there was a totally new process that didn&#039 ; t exist six weeks ago. And somehow, LGBT people were left out again. So we had to start over again when it came to the contact tracing process, to get LGBT demographic data into Sara Alert, which is used for contact tracing, and into the COVID Alert App Pennsylvania. And we then had to train all the contact tracers. We were able to train all of Pennsylvania Department of Health, Erie County Department of Health, Philadelphia Department of Health, and Allentown Health Bureau&#039 ; s contact tracers on how to ask LGBTQ questions. We ended up working on the vaccine distribution plan and provided public comment, signed on by many other LGBT organizations across the state, to prioritize people living with HIV in Phase 1A, the early days of the COVID vaccination schedule. In fact, our public comment was accepted in January, at a really good time, because we were able to ensure that people living with HIV could get their vaccines in that 1A period, right when vaccines were being made available to non-health care workers. But really, it was a journey of health activism through that time, as well. And in terms of our programs, I mean, we had to continuously pivot. So I didn&#039 ; t want to be canceling in-person programs too far out, because we kept being told, Oh, it&#039 ; s just a couple more weeks. Oh, it&#039 ; s just a couple more months. So we had to make decisions continuously. And moving Lehigh Valley Pride to a virtual Pride for the first time in its history was a heart-wrenching decision, but it would not have been possible to have an in-person Pride in 2020. So we ended up with a televised Pride festival on RCN, a star-studded event. Celebrities that participated included Michelle Visage, Carson Kressley, RuPaul Drag Racers like Silky Nutmeg Ganache, Jujubee. We had Peter Paige from Queer as Folk. We had Theo Germaine from The Politician. We had Holly Near, you know, iconic musician Holly Near. We had a whole bunch of really amazing folks. We had professional athletes, like Kurtis Gabriel. We had a really tremendous virtual Pride festival. But it wasn&#039 ; t the same as in-person Pride. So it was as good as it could have possibly been for our community, but it was not the same as an in-person Pride festival. And we continued to pivot. We produced a virtual queer novel miniseries on our Facebook that ran as Facebook Live events, where we had, instead of in-person author talks, we had author talks on Facebook Live. We tried to curate content for our community to keep our community connected through a period of quarantine and uncertainty. And we started delivering healthy food packages to the youth program participants that we were serving, because they couldn&#039 ; t come here, so we brought stuff there. As a resource to our community, we actually developed a subpage on our website for LGBT-specific COVID-19 information. We wrote guidances for the city of Allentown, county of Erie, Montgomery County, and the state of Pennsylvania about safer sex during the pandemic. These were published guidances by our governments, and that was really important. We continuously did work throughout the pandemic to ensure that LGBTQ people had the information to make risk-aware decisions, that they had the access to community through virtual means, and that our staff had jobs to continue to do the essential work for our community. (break in video) AS: Good? Okay. MF: I would say also during this time, you were moving into publishing. And I know this is, sort of, adjacent to the community center, but you&#039 ; re publishing on public health, editing collections. You have another book coming out soon. Could you talk a little bit about how that work as an author, as an editor, is connected to your work with the center, or just a little bit about your publication? AS: Yeah. So after we did our first Needs Assessment in 2015, I became very passionate about LGBTQ barriers to care and access to care. When it comes to accessing, the unmet dream of health equity, defined by the US government, is the attainment of the highest quality of health for all people. That&#039 ; s the definition from Healthy People 2020. LGBTQ people don&#039 ; t have that. So I actually went and enrolled in a graduate certificate program at George Washington University in LGBT health policy and practice. And that program really was very helpful in getting me to think more about the role that our center could play as a community-based organization. But also during that time, I struggled to find any published works written by LGBTQ people that told stories in our own voices about the health care experiences that we had. There was writing by researchers, and writing by health care providers, but there wasn&#039 ; t really writing by actual LGBTQ people telling our own stories. Around the same time, I had a negative experience with a local dermatologist. I went in for a skin cancer screening, a baseline screening, and at every step of the way, I just felt that the care that was being provided wasn&#039 ; t care to patients like me. And I didn&#039 ; t go back for the follow up that the dermatologist recommended. And it took me about a month, but I mustered up the courage and made an appointment with a new dermatologist in Bucks County. It was about an hour away in New Hope. And I received the care that I needed there. But that was a really big transitional moment, as well, that even as a full-time advocate and activist for LGBTQ people, I could even have a negative experience with a doctor. And so I ended up collecting other people&#039 ; s stories. I talked to some friends and some colleagues who had other challenging experiences accessing the care that their bodies need. And I ended up compiling a book, which -- I like to say curating a book. It&#039 ; s an edited anthology called Bodies and Barriers: Queer Activists on Health. And it collects the stories of 26 queer and trans people from around the world, telling our stories about the health care challenges that we&#039 ; ve experienced. And the book was published March 2020, right at the start of the pandemic. But I was able to do some prelaunch events in January, which I was glad to be able to do. My last event, right before the pandemic shut everything down, was the Lehigh Valley TEDxLehighRiver, where they had a local authors expo, and I was able to be there and talk to some Lehigh Valley folks. But the book actually was launched at the Creating Change Conference in Dallas, Texas, in January 2020. And I did book events in DC, and San Francisco, and Oakland, and a big event here in the Bethlehem Area Public Library. But then the pandemic hit and changed the course of what a book launch was going to look like. The book, though, is also something that continues to evolve, in terms of how we think about improving care. So it&#039 ; s been a book that health care providers have been able to read to understand patient needs. It&#039 ; s been a book that has been cited by researchers, to be able to think about some of the broader societal shifts that are needed in terms of public health and access to care. And it&#039 ; s been a book that&#039 ; s been utilized by LGBTQ community members to maybe consider how to speak up to their doctors and ask for the care that their bodies need. So it&#039 ; s something I&#039 ; m really proud of. The book has done quite well, actually, and I have another book called Crisis and Care: Queer Activist Responses to a Global Pandemic, that is coming out in June 2022, that&#039 ; s about how LGBTQ people responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. It&#039 ; s not about COVID-19 as a virus. It&#039 ; s not about how the government responded, or lack thereof. It&#039 ; s not about Dr. Fauci. It&#039 ; s not about Admiral Levine. It&#039 ; s about how queer people responded to a crisis with care, how we cared for our community in a moment of crisis, and what we can learn from this pandemic to move forward in our world. And I do outline how Bradbury-Sullivan Center led the way as a health advocate in Pennsylvania during the first year of the pandemic. MF: I can&#039 ; t wait to see that book. I just want to say that. And it&#039 ; s recorded. I can&#039 ; t wait to buy that. Beyond publishing those two, curating those two collections, one of which will be out soon, is Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center participating in other kinds of publications, research publications, or -- AS: Yeah. So something that&#039 ; s, kind of, unique to Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center is our work to make contributions to the literature more broadly. So we actually conduct original research. We&#039 ; re so lucky to have a data and evaluation department. We present the results of our programs at state and national conferences, for example, American Public Health Association, Society for Public Health Educators. That&#039 ; s just two examples. And we have also worked to try to publish some of the results from our Needs Assessment, or programmatic results from our archive, or from some of our health programs, in either peer-reviewed or other academic journals. That really allows us to demonstrate the role that Bradbury-Sullivan Center plays, and more broadly, the role that LGBT community centers play in all communities, because the work that we do here is not so dissimilar from other communities. And so our contribution to the literature, I think, has been really important. And from a nonacademic standpoint, we&#039 ; ve also been fairly active in media advocacy, to generate op-eds and letters to the editor on key issues that our community really needs to be concerned about, from ending the harmful practice of conversion therapy -- and our organization has led that. After Trump took office, actually, when it was looking like the Trump administration may even publicly fund conversion therapy, because Tom Price, his first HHS secretary, Betsy DeVos, his education secretary, and Mike Pence, his vice president, all publicly supported conversion therapy. We quickly worked with the National Center for Lesbian Rights to draft legislation that we were able to encourage the cities of Allentown, Bethlehem, and Reading to adopt. And that ended the legal practice of conversion therapy by health care professionals against minors here in these three cities. You know, but basically, we will generate op-eds on issues like conversion therapy or nondiscrimination, or other issues, as well. Our team here has constantly -- I&#039 ; ve encouraged staff members to consider their CV, to submit proposals to conferences, to consider writing to get published, because it helps them, but it also really helps the organization be the leader that we know we are. MF: You mentioned the bans on conversion therapy, and I&#039 ; m wondering if you could talk a little bit more about how that worked in Bethlehem, in Allentown, and Easton. Can you just describe that a bit more, what that process was like once you had the legislation drafted? AS: So National Center for Lesbian Rights drafted the legislation, and shared it with local elected officials in our community. We built a strong coalition, though. So our role was that we were doing public education and awareness in support of ending conversion therapy in our communities. So for example, we partnered with KidsPeace, which is a mental health hospital here in the Lehigh Valley, who shared in public meetings that their operating rules don&#039 ; t allow conversion therapy for their clinicians. The director of the Allentown Health Bureau spoke out, saying that she had talked to local pediatricians, who have confirmed that they have seen the harms of conversion therapy in our community from their patients. So we mobilized our community, is really the role that we played, as grassroots organizing. And we were able to see these three laws passed very quickly in each municipality. MF: Did they happen simultaneously in each municipality? AS: No. It started with Allentown, and then Reading, and then Bethlehem, I believe. It was definitely Allentown first. MF: Yeah, Bethlehem was a little slow. AS: Well, Bethlehem happened quickly. It was our timeline. We&#039 ; re limited in terms of our resources, so we started in Allentown, and then we either went to Bethlehem or Reading next, and then the third one. And the Reading ordinance we did in partnership with the Reading LGBT community center. MF: That&#039 ; s a lot happening, COVID, (laughs) suing an administration, publishing books, working on the bans against conversion therapy. Was there anything else happening in that time period (laughs) that you could load onto your plate? AS: The reality is that there&#039 ; s always been so much happening. We are a fast-growing, rapidly-growing, growth-minded organization, and we have been since day one. And the result of that is that we are able to always do more for our community than we could the previous year. The other result of that is that there&#039 ; s a lot going on. We&#039 ; ve built a complex organization here, in the sense that we&#039 ; re running a community archive, but we&#039 ; re also doing public health programs. We&#039 ; re running youth programs and also running supportive services for adults in our community. We have professional art galleries, and we&#039 ; re also trying to figure out a lending library system. So there&#039 ; s a lot going on in our organization. We&#039 ; re running a huge Pride festival. All of these things are happening, kind of, throughout the year at the same time. And that&#039 ; s why it&#039 ; s been so important that we&#039 ; ve been able to create a really amazing team here. MF: Well, I want to ask a question about the archives, because we haven&#039 ; t talked about that yet, and you really, from the beginning, were focusing also on archival collection when you were envisioning the center and when it was opening. So could I ask about that? AS: Yeah. MF: Why did you [overlapping dialogue ; inaudible] -- AS: It was one of the first programs of the center, actually. So very early on, I approached Tina Hertel, the library director of Muhlenberg College, and we set up a meeting with her, and with Susan Falciani Maldonado, special collections archivist. And the meeting was really -- we had some stuff already. There was stuff in Liz and Trish&#039 ; s basement. I had some stuff in my house. And we didn&#039 ; t want to be holding onto it. And we also knew that there was a lot of stuff in the community. We looked at similar archives in central Pennsylvania and Philadelphia. But something that was really important to me was community ownership. So our agreement with Muhlenberg is the only one we&#039 ; re aware of in the country where an LGBT center maintains ownership of the archival materials, and it&#039 ; s professionally housed and preserved at a university library. And Muhlenberg was willing to do that with us. And it&#039 ; s been an incredible partnership. But it started with, we had very specific things. We had all the Gaydar magazines. Liz had the records from the voter referendum that tried to repeal nondiscrimination in Allentown. I had a whole bunch of stuff from my time with Equality PA. We had some random things. But we knew that we also needed to start a collection and then let it grow, and that&#039 ; s really what&#039 ; s happened. And the archive today has, you know, oral history collection. It has a document collection. When our gay bars closed, when Candida&#039 ; s and Diamonz closed, we were able to get memorabilia. When Stonewall closed, we got memorabilia, and we also did a project called the Stonewall Memories Project, where people could submit their memories about their time at Stonewall. Memory collection as a form of archival work is really important. But, you know, I&#039 ; m not an archivist, just like I&#039 ; m not a health care provider. And so my role was really to think creatively about how we can best support our community today and also in the future. And one historian that we were so lucky to bring here to Bradbury-Sullivan to do a book talk, actually, in our library, was Hugh Ryan, who wrote When Brooklyn Was Queer. And in that book, Hugh Ryan says, &quot ; Without a past, we don&#039 ; t have a future.&quot ; And I think that&#039 ; s why local community-based archives are so important. It gives us access to our community&#039 ; s past, so that way, we can collectively consider what the future needs of our community are. MF: The center does so much educational programming, training, arts and culture, galleries, reading groups, film series, archival collection, public health. You&#039 ; re involved in lawsuits when needed to protect our community. Was that part of the original vision that we started with today? Did you think, when you were starting -- AS: We have far exceeded the original vision. I mean, the original vision was getting a physical space. We said we were going to revolutionize the programs and services available to the LGBT community. That&#039 ; s language we used in 2014. I think we have absolutely done that. And that does not mean that there&#039 ; s not more that&#039 ; s needed. Absolutely. There is always more we can do for our community. Our current director of development, Matt Easterwood, likes to say, &quot ; More money, more mission.&quot ; So as Bradbury-Sullivan Center continues to grow, more can be done for the community at large. But, you know, part of my decision to move on from Bradbury-Sullivan Center is because I feel like sometimes I can be clouded by my original vision. And I think leadership changes are good over time. And there&#039 ; s an opportunity for new ideas, for new leadership that comes with different expertise, different backgrounds, different passions. And actually, I think that&#039 ; s good for organizations over time. We have absolutely grown past my wildest dreams. I didn&#039 ; t say at the beginning, but before starting the center, when I was in my first year at Muhlenberg College as a student, I remember asking if there was an LGBT center, and there wasn&#039 ; t. And I was really wanting it. I was looking for ways to access community, and I couldn&#039 ; t find it. And we have that now. So opening the center was really a dream fulfilled, a dream realized, and I think not just for me, but for a collective community. And now it&#039 ; s time for new leadership to chart the next part of that journey. And I&#039 ; m really excited to continue to see the organization thrive. I also know that we have an amazing team here of staff members, board members, community members, volunteers, program participants, people who are just so dedicated to seeing this organization continue to thrive, that I feel good about leaving, because I feel like the organization is in good hands. MF: Well, we&#039 ; re right about at the end. You ended with this lovely statement about, you know, it will continue with new leadership and wonderful people that are still here. And it leads me to, maybe, a final question or two. Do you want to talk about the people that have really made this organization into this incredible support for our community? AS: Yeah. Why don&#039 ; t you pause for a minute and give me a minute to think about that? AS: Throughout the journey of opening the center, there&#039 ; s been so many people who have been part of that journey, and there&#039 ; s no way I could possibly name every single person. But I do want to share some names of folks that were critical to the start, the opening, and the growth of the center over time. So from the very beginning, Liz Bradbury and Patricia Sullivan, and Liz Kleintop, original board members of Pennsylvania Diversity Network, at the time, that really were willing to go with me on this journey. We had a community center creation committee that also included people like Basilio Bonilla, and Patrick Fligge, and Kari Kirchgessner, now Kari Alvaro. We had volunteers like Don Kohn, who was our design team chair, and brought together a design team of pro bono folks willing to work with us to try to get into that original building. Robert Sandoval was an architect who did all of the architectural work pro bono for that first building that we ended up not taking. Rob Ritter. Rob Ritter was our realtor who helped us to get into this space. We had pro bono lawyers at the beginning, like Tim Brennan and Mike Recchiuti, who helped with the real estate transaction and the zoning needed for us to get into the space. Hundreds of volunteers who -- I cannot name all the volunteers. But I would say we had specific volunteer groups from IBEW Local 375, to Air Products and Olympus, to Habitat for Humanity and Home Depot. I mean, really all corners, right? Churches and synagogues. So many groups came together. We had a coven who came, and also we have humanists, and people of all religions and none that were helping us to get into this space. Over time, though, in this organization, as we continued to grow, yeah, there&#039 ; s absolutely been some really pivotal folks. Judy Ochs was the director of the Division of Tobacco Prevention and Control, and she really took us under her wing and championed us, and gave us the infrastructure that we have today. Dr. Scout of the National LGBT Cancer Network taught me so much that let us work with government funders. Other community center partners like Denise Spivak at CenterLink, who has been with, really, since day one. One of the first calls I made was to her, saying I wanted to start the center. Chris Bartlett in Philadelphia at the William Way LGBT Center, who called me right after he heard that we were opening, and gave me some incredible advice right from day one. Louie Marvin, who was at the Central Pennsylvania LGBT Center at the time, was also super supportive. And then, you know, as we continued to grow, folks like Rob Hopkins and Shawn Bausher, who were with Pride of the Greater Lehigh Valley, were instrumental not only in supporting the start of the center, but then in having Pride merge in with the center. The two of them, as well as Mark Stanziola, who was very supportive as well. Rob and Shawn, though, were really the leaders of Pride who were really pushing for the merger to happen. And they really made that happen. Some of our early board members -- Barb Baus. Barb Baus was an incredible leader in this organization at a time when we were just getting into the building. And then Liz Kleintop was board chair after her. And as the organization continued to grow, so many more people got involved. We have so many current staff, board members, community members. And there are some highlights of visitors, special visitors, too, to the center. Governor Wolf signed a bill into law here in our first year. Former Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has visited our building. Admiral Rachel Levine. Senator Casey came and took a tour of our building. Former Congressman Charlie Dent. You know, we&#039 ; ve had a lot of wonderful visitors and guests over time. And that&#039 ; s been part of, also, building credibility in our community. People are really seeing that what we were doing was really important here. We&#039 ; ve hosted public hearings here for the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, for example. We had a town hall here with the former Pennsylvania Secretary of Aging, Teresa Osborne. There&#039 ; s been some just incredible, incredible moments over the years here at the center. MF: We&#039 ; re at the end, but is there anything that we didn&#039 ; t talk about today that you just think, Mary, we&#039 ; ve got to talk about this, I really wanted to address this today? AS: I think I&#039 ; m all set. MF: Okay. I just want to say at the end of this interview that I think everyone here is wishing you well in California, and you are beloved by so many of us. And I know you won&#039 ; t be a stranger. I&#039 ; m so glad you did this interview today. Thank you very much. AS: Thank you. Copyright for this oral history recording is held by the interview subject. video This oral history is made available with a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0). The public can access and share the interview for educational, research, and other noncommercial purposes as long as they identify the original source. 0

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“Adrian Shanker (Part 2), March 4, 2022,” Lehigh Valley LGBT Community Archive Oral History Repository, accessed April 19, 2024, https://trexlerworks.muhlenberg.edu/lgbt_oralhistory/items/show/51.