The LESBIAN/GAY COMMUNITY SERVICE CENTER OF GREATER CLEVELAND was incorporated by Arthur G. MacDonald, Michael Madigan, and Ethan A. Ericksen on 8 May 1975 as the GEAR (Gay Educational and Awareness Resources) Foundation, Cleveland's first lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community organization.
Its mission was to conduct research and educational activities in the area of human sexuality, to provide facilities and rehabilitative services for the homophile community in the areas of mental and physical health and social alternatives, and to provide endowment funding for qualifying homophile organizations, persons, and events.
The organization initially met in members' homes. By 1977 it acquired its first offices at Euclid Hts. and Coventry roads in CLEVELAND HTS. and was publishing Ohio's first gay newspaper, HIGH GEAR (est. 1975). After several additional moves, the GEAR Foundation relocated to W. 29th St. in 1987.
In 1988 its name changed to the Lesbian/Gay Community Service Center of Greater Cleveland. In 1983 the Center was receiving enough support from members and foundations to hire its first executive director, Vincent Bluett.
This increase in funding and membership donations allowed the Center to support a wide variety of programs in the 1980s and 1990s, including a telephone hotline program, a calendar of events of interest to the gay/lesbian community, and outreach programs designed to combat homophobia in the larger community.
In 1988 the center also opened the Living Room program, which provided support to persons in the HIV spectrum, and began the innovative PRYSM (Presence and Respect for Youth in Sexual Minority) which provides a forum and social support group for young gay and lesbian people. The Living Room Program was responsible for helping those struggling with HIV/AIDS during the peak of the epidemic. Notably, it provided a separate entrance so people could enter privately and not suffer judgement.
June 19, 1989, saw Cleveland’s first Pride celebration. Initially just a small celebration among friends, the 1989 Pride featured food, entertainment, and booths. The celebration took place outside of the Center on W. 29TH street. In total the Health Issues Task Force in attendance had distributed 400 of 800 condoms by 2:30 that afternoon, and expected to easily get rid of the rest. The celebration was such a success that by the next year, 1990, there was a full Pride Parade.
In 1991 the center, in conjunction with the WESTERN RESERVE HISTORICAL SOCIETY, working with Aubrey Wertheim, then the director, established the Northeast Ohio Lesbian/Gay Archives to collect and preserve the records of the lesbian/gay community. In 1995 Frank Lowery served as president of the center and Judith Rainbrook as its executive director.
The Center moved locations in 2000, relocating to the basement of the Gordon Square Arcade. As a result of this move, the Center found itself with three times as much office and program space.
In 2005 the Center underwent another name change, rebranding to the LGBT Center of Greater Cleveland, as it is currently (2020) known. Just 10 years later in 2015 the LGBT Center received a generous gift from an anonymous donor of $1.8 million. This was the largest gift the Center had ever received, and went towards building a new facility and increasing staff and program magnitude. Currently, this same donor has given equal to $4.9 million in total donations.
Controversy and “changes in the social climate” in 2016 led to a cancelation of Cleveland Pride. In response, the Center worked with elected officials, organizations and others to host the first ‘Pride in the CLE’, in Cleveland’s Public Square. This celebration repeated in 2017, and in 2018 Cleveland Pride and Pride in the CLE were able to come together in one event managed by the Center. This event consisted of a march for LGBT rights and representation ending in Public Square, and then kicking off festivities.
The groundbreaking ceremony for the new facility occurred in 2017, and on June 14, 2019, the new LGBT Center, a two-story building in the Gordon Square Arts District opened. The center is now located at 6705 Detroit Ave, with Phillis Harris serving as the executive director.