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Phyllis Harris on LGBT rights in Northeast Ohio: 'I cannot say we have done enough'

Executive Director for the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland talks advocacy and navigating new and existing crises.

CLEVELAND — As Executive Director of Greater Cleveland's LGBT Community Center, Phyllis Harris knows her community faces unique challenges.

"We are some of the most vulnerable folks in our society when it comes to immunodeficiency, when it comes to access to adequate medical care, when it comes to support around basic needs," she said a recent interview with 3News' Maureen Kyle. "[We are vulnerable] in terms of the consequences of COVID-19, in terms of the consequences of racism and oppression, and so we need to let folks know that we will not be left behind."

It is Harris' job to make sure her community is not forgotten. now, she's facing the unexpected challenges of a global pandemic.

"We understand that the center is a physical location that is a beacon of hope for many of us, and so we had to pivot our programs in a way that we could stay engaged with those that we serve," she explained.

The LGBT Community Center staff must also continue to confront existing crises -- like the alarming number of transgender murders happening in Northeast Ohio in recent years. A recent op-ed in Cleveland Scene by Harris' colleague Eliana Turan called Cleveland an "epicenter of trans murders in America."

"When we look at statistics and we look at the challenges and the ongoing annual uptick in numbers of trans murders...and as the administration rolls back federal protections for trans individuals...it's really a call to action," Harris said.

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That advocacy is just a piece of the work the LGBT Community Center takes on, on behalf of those still facing so many challenges.

"It's housing, it's access to adequate medical care, it's being believed, you know, by your doctors when you talk about some of the challenges that you might have in navigating medical systems and legal systems, it's housing insecurity," Harris explained. "It's looking at the institutionalized systemic oppression that happens across our systems and calling them out and making change."

Change, Harris says, isn't happening quickly enough.

"I want Cleveland to be better i think Northeast Ohio is great. LGBTCleveland.org, this is my home, this is where I raise my children, but I cannot say that we have done enough." she said. "I do want to appeal to, you know, the greater Northeast Ohio leadership to not be afraid of this hard work. We are non-profit practitioners, we're used to hard work and let's address these issues head on together in a way that we can. Make this place a better place for everyone."

If you're interested in getting involved, visit LGBTCleveland.org

The Center has volunteer opportunities to get involved with throughout the year. Everything from Front Desk support to Pride in the CLE. Denise Astorino is Center Community Engagement Coordinator dastorino@lgbtcleveland.org.

Please also check out some other area organizations doing great work with the LGBT community.

Colors+ Youth Center 

B. Riley Sober House 

Plexus the LGBTQA Chamber of Commerce 

PFLAG Cleveland