By Maria Rocha-Buschel
On Monday, a groundbreaking ceremony was held at the location of what will be a new 18-bed residence for homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth at 222 East 13th Street. The residence will be named for the late television and Broadway star, Bea Arthur, who was especially sympathetic to the plight of LGBT young people.
When she died in 2009, Arthur named the Ali Forney Center, an organization that helps LGBT youths, as a major beneficiary in her will, leaving $300,000 to the center. Executive director Carl Siciliano wrote in a column posted on Huffington Post on Tuesday that the center, then struggling due to the recession and a lack of donations, and the money helped them make payroll for months. Siciliano had pledged that if the Ali Forney Center ever owned property, he would name a building after her, and he will soon be able to fulfill that promise, thanks to the $3.3 million city-funded project.
The building on East 13th Street between Second and Third Avenues is a former single-room occupancy and notorious crack house that had been vacant for almost 20 years. Following a recommendation from Community Board 3 in 2011, the city-owned building was transferred to the Ali Forney Center in partnership with the Cooper Square Committee. The City Council awarded the two organizations $3 million for the project and then-Borough President Scott Stringer funded an additional $300,000 in 2012.
A number of local representatives were at the event to celebrate the new residence, including Councilmembers Rosie Mendez and Corey Johnson, as well as State Senator Brad Hoylman. Johnson, who is the head of City Council’s LGBT caucus, said that it was particularly fitting to name a residence for LGBT young people after Arthur since she is an icon for so many in the gay community.
“I came out in high school and was captain of the football team at the time, but it shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone at home that I was gay because I was such a huge fan of the ‘Golden Girls,’” he joked. “There were 60,000 homeless LGBT youth last year. Just because we have marriage equality doesn’t mean that the fight is over, especially with homelessness and parental rejection that young people still face.”
Hoylman also joked that he had a similar experience growing up, but his Arthur sitcom of choice was “Maude.” He added that he’s grateful the residence named in her honor will be able to help LGBT kids who are struggling.
“She was a shining light to a lot of LGBT kids in her work so it’s great she will remain a shining light through this door,” he said. “We need to look after the kids coming after us. That’s our job as LGBT elders and seniors, and this formerly blighted building will be a great addition to the neighborhood.”
Alan Roskoff, a friend of Arthur’s, was at the ceremony and emphasized that Arthur was an enthusiastic supporter of the work that the Ali Forney Center does.
“Bea was a very loving woman,” Roskoff said. “She could not understand how parents could turn their back on their child for who they were. She loved the Ali Forney Center and loved that LGBT youth had a place they could call home.”
The ceremony held on Monday was more symbolic than literal, as no actual ground will be broken for a new building, but renovations on the current building will begin this week and the center is expected to open in 2016. Having been abandoned for almost two decades, inevitable ghost rumors about the building have popped up, but Siciliano said he isn’t worried.
“I don’t think that will scare off our young people,” he said. “A lot of them have seen worse.”