ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many businesses and organizations to close their doors, one in particular being the Roanoke Diversity Center.
The center functions as a safe space and a learning space for members of the area’s LGBTQ+ community. On Sunday, June 28, the center officially reopened its doors in a new downtown facility.
With the cut of the ribbon on Sunday, LGBTQ+ members in Roanoke got a new space where they can meet, on the corner of Fifth and Campbell in downtown.
“This is really the first space they can truly call their own,” said Roanoke Vice Mayor Joe Cobb, one of the founding members of the center.
The old center was created in 2011 in the basement of the Metropolitan Community Church. Cobb, who was one of the speakers at the ribbon cutting, says having a storefront space in downtown is a dream come true for Roanoke’s LGBTQ+ community.
“We want to be a welcoming city for everyone,” Cobb said. “We want everyone that lives here to feel safe here, to feel at home here.”
“It’s very important to show that we are strong and we are proud,” added Garland Gravely, one of the center’s founding board members.
Gravely is a lifelong Roanoke resident and remembers a time when having a place to go as an LGBTQ+ member was hard to come by in this area.
“You pretty much had to go to the more larger cities to get that, so here in Roanoke we actually have that for people, not only for my generation but also future generations that are coming up,” Gravely said.
Both Cobb and Gravely say there’s still work to be done in LGBTQ+ relations in the city, but for the time being they’re going to take a step back and enjoy the moment.
“Today is really… a call for all of us to let that courage well up inside of us and take the step that each of us need to take, working together to continue to make Roanoke the best place to live.”
“Just to know the history of how it started and how we’re here and the fact that Roanoke has a community center like this it’s a major milestone for us.”
Sunday also marked the 51st anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. The Stonewall Inn is a gay bar in New York City that was regularly raided by police. On the night of June 28, 1969, bar patrons fought back as police officers tried to arrest them.
Many people point to that night 51 years ago as the start of the modern gay rights movement. Organizers of Sunday’s event in Roanoke say this made it a fitting date to hold the ribbon cutting for the Roanoke Diversity Center’s new location.
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