Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center Is Founded Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, the oldest and largest GLBT community center in the world, pioneered social, cultural, educational, and health programs and services—including those addressing HIV-AIDS—that laid the foundation for the formation of other GLBT centers around the United States and abroad.

Summary of Event

Inspired by the community centers created by minority populations in the 1960’s and the GLBT community center in San Francisco, which opened in 1966, the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center (the Center) was founded in 1971. The opening of the Center was part of a wave of GLBT rights advocacy that hit many cities of the United States in the decade following New York City’s Stonewall Rebellion of 1969. [kw]Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center Is Founded (Mar., 1971) [kw]Gay and Lesbian Center Is Founded, Los Angeles (Mar., 1971) [kw]Lesbian Center Is Founded, Los Angeles Gay and (Mar., 1971) Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center Gay and Lesbian Center, Los Angeles [c]Organizations and institutions;Mar., 1971: Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center Is Founded[0840] [c]Health and medicine;Mar., 1971: Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center Is Founded[0840] [c]HIV-AIDS;Mar., 1971: Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center Is Founded[0840] Kight, Morris Kilhefner, Don

The original name for the Center was the Gay Community Services Center (GCSC), which had been cofounded by gay activists Morris Kight and Don Kilhefner. Kight also founded, in 1969, the Los Angeles chapter of the Gay Liberation Front, and Kilhefner was a cofounder of the Radical Faeries in 1979. Closely affiliated with the GCSC from its beginning was the Gay Women’s Services Center, and although the GCSC added “lesbian” to its name in 1984, the two finally merged in 1996 to form the current organization.

Relying solely upon private donations until 1974, the Center’s early years addressed the most desperate and basic needs of the gay and lesbian community, such as housing, employment, and health care, and it pioneered a number of GLBT-oriented human service programs along the way. The Center provided low-cost emergency housing for run-away and homeless youth, free counseling and support groups, and free or low-cost diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). These services were offered at little or no cost to people of any sexual orientation.

Upon seeking and acquiring government funding in 1974, the Center became the first organization in the United States with the word “gay” in its name to be awarded federal 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. With these funds, the Center added more services to its cadre, including legal counseling, employment services, and assistance to former prison inmates.

With the Center’s growth came drug and alcohol counseling in a safe and nonjudgmental environment. Men, women, and youth created a number of gender- and age-appropriate rap groups and participated in peer counseling. The Center provided women with referrals and resources on issues ranging from abortion and abuse to education and self-awareness. By the late 1970’s, the Center served more than 200,000 people per year, a number that dramatically increased in the 1980’s during the height of the HIV-AIDS HIV-AIDS[HIV AIDS];GLBT community centers and crisis.

When AIDS was named as a “new” disease (first called GRID, or gay-related immunodeficiency) in 1981, Los Angeles was home to one of the three largest GLBT populations in the world and was, consequently, one of the cities hardest hit by the disease. When the Center’s STD clinic program proved inadequate to address the quickly increasing medical needs of gay men, especially, the Center expanded its services to include counseling, prevention, referrals, and, when it became available, HIV testing. The Center also extended services for lesbians, added more beds in its youth shelter, and expanded its mental health services.

During the 1990’s, the Center experienced exponential growth in its physical space, budget, and programs. The Center acquired a 44,000-square-foot building in 1992 and a 33,000-square-foot structure in 1996, providing space for increased social and cultural programming. The Center currently employs a full-time staff of more than 250 individuals, owns five buildings in the Hollywood area of Los Angeles, has an annual budget exceeding $30 million, and serves an average of 18,000 visitors each month, making it not only the oldest but also the largest gay and lesbian community center in the United States.


The Center’s comprehensive and innovative services have served as models for many of the gay and lesbian community centers throughout the United States and the world. During the 1970’s, dozens of GLBT centers opened across the country, using the Center in Los Angeles as a guide.

From its founding, the Center has served an ethnically, economically, and sexually diverse population of both youth and adults, acknowledging their often very different needs. A number of pioneering services for youth, women, people of color, and seniors came out of this focus on inclusion.

The Center’s STD clinic also proved influential as it joined a small number of community health clinics in the 1970’s that served the gay and lesbian population specifically. These clinics worked to test, treat, and educate the people they served about a variety of sexually transmitted diseases that existed at epidemic proportions in the GLBT community in the 1970’s. Many of these early gay-health clinics were the first to respond to the HIV-AIDS crisis of the early 1980’s. The large numbers of gays in Los Angeles and the Center’s proximity to major medical research institutions also allowed the Center to play a major role in identifying and addressing the needs of people with HIV-AIDS and to set the standard for HIV- and AIDS-related services.

The Center’s growth and innovation in services and programs for the GLBT community as a whole, including those who are HIV-positive, exemplifies the increased development of comprehensive centers for the gay and lesbian community in cities throughout the United States. Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center Gay and Lesbian Center, Los Angeles

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Burns, Richard, and Eric Rofes. “Gay Liberation Comes Home: The Development of Community Centers Within Our Movement.” In The Sourcebook on Lesbian and Gay Healthcare, edited by Michael Shernoff and William Scott. Washington, D.C.: National Lesbian and Gay Health Foundation, 1988.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Marcus, Eric. Making Gay History: The Half Century Fight for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights. New York: HarperCollins, 2002.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">National Association of Lesbian and Gay Community Centers. National Directory of Lesbian & Gay Community Centers. New York: Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center, 1996.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Osborne, Torie. Coming Home to America: A Roadmap to Gay and Lesbian Empowerment. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996.

June 5 and July 3, 1981: Reports of Rare Diseases Mark Beginning of AIDS Epidemic

1982: Lesbian and Gay Youth Protection Institute Is Founded

July, 1982: Gay-Related Immunodeficiency Is Renamed AIDS

Spring, 1984: AIDS Virus Is Discovered

May, 1988: Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center Opens

1994: National Association of Lesbian and Gay Community Centers Is Founded

Categories: History