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The Los Angeles LGBT Center held an in-person Thanksgiving feast for the first time in three years on Nov. 22, welcoming approximately 300 community members to its Anita May Rosenstein Campus in Hollywood.
During the Intergenerational Thanksgiving Celebration, sheltered and unhoused residents of all ages dined on food prepared by members of the LGBT Center’s culinary arts program, sipped festive mocktails, posed with “RuPaul’s Drag Race” alumni and cheered during a performance by Charles Galin and Salina Estities.
“In the gay community, we’ve created the term chosen family. Hosting this Thanksgiving was about providing an opportunity for chosen family to be together,” said director of senior services Kierra Pollock.
When it first opened in 2019, the Rosenstein Campus was envisioned as a space to bring together clients of all ages, Pollock said. The COVID-19 pandemic halted those plans, but after years of social isolation and the Nov. 19 shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado, gathering for the holidays was especially important, Pollock said.
“We’re feeling the need even more so to get together as a community and feel connected to each other,” Pollock said. “More of our older adults as well as our youth don’t actually have family of origins, and they might not have families to be with for the holidays. It makes it even more important to be able to come together,” Pollock added.
The LGBT Center usually holds separate events for its senior clients and its youth clients, and Pollock said the older community members were excited for the opportunity to socialize with their younger peers.
The celebration was also an opportunity to enroll more people in the LGBT Center’s services, said director of events and production Tui Lyon. Community members needed to enroll with the center to attend the Thanksgiving feast, making them eligible for the center’s services, she added.
“The center has a wraparound model of care, which means that all of our services are very focused on providing holistic care for our clients,” Lyon said. “Someone is not just going to come for a meal and only get connected to that particular need for food insecurity or just wanting a social occasion. We’ll also be checking in with them about their health care, mental wellness, housing, benefits and a variety of different services to support them and make sure they’re taken care of.”
On a monthly basis, the LGBT Center has more than 50,000 client visits across its 10 locations, she added.
As a nonprofit, the LGBT Center frequently works with a limited budget, and staff have to rely on their own creativity to hold events like the Thanksgiving celebration, Lyon said.
Staff members arranged flowers and decorated the space for the event, while the food was prepared by the LGBT Center’s kitchen, where many of the chefs are graduates of the culinary arts program, she said.
While guests ate and socialized during the dinner, former “RuPaul’s Drag Race” contestants June Jambalaya and Kerri Colby walked around the venue, stopping to chat with fans and pose for photographs.
“Right now, coming together and just celebrating thanks and seeing everyone from the youth and elderly together, it’s very inspiring,” Jambalaya said.
For Colby, being invited as a guest to the LGBT Center was personally impactful.
“In the past I had to rely on the LGBT Center when I first moved to L.A. To be able to come full circle by giving back is so amazing,” Colby said. “I think that having a sense of community right now is so important.”
Gwendolyn Smith has lived at the Rosenstein Campus for approximately a year, where she stays involved in the community by making art, repurposing bicycle parts into frames for her pieces.
Smith said she loves living at the campus, and hopes to remain a resident as long as possible.
“I’m thankful because I got a roof over my head … and I really love being with the family of the group here,” Smith said.
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