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Speeches from the Summit: Robert Woodworth of NY LGBT Center

Robert Woodworth: Opening Plenary Speech
National Summit on Putting the B in LGBT-Sat May 30

Thought you might like to see this moving speech from Robert Woodworth of the LGBT Community Center that mentions long-time bi and LGBT activist, the late Brenda Howard and underscores the significance of the Summit:


"As we mark the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, I can’t help but reflect on community building and change. Stonewall is most remarkable in its use as a symbol, a marker for changes that were already brewing before the last weekend in June 1969. Stonewall became significant because people decided to create the Christopher Street Liberation Day March in 1970 and then to repeat it. Every year since, we have marched and mythologized the rebellion so that it has taken on a meaning greater than was evident as it was happening. 


The most profound change of that time, it seems to me, is that we started telling a collective story. We moved from being isolated sodomites to having a common public narrative. Sodomy was till a crime, but we changed the story we told ourselves about our crime; we celebrated being outlaws. And most important of all, we told the story and celebrated in public.


I wasn’t in New York at the time of Stonewall, but in later years I came to know people who were part of the riots and the organizing that happened afterward. I’ve scanned the photos mounted in the corridor outside to see whom I recognize. One of the people, not surprisingly out and laughing in the middle of Washington Square Park, is Brenda Howard. Brenda brought her activist energy under a banner that at first had only one descriptor in it: gay. If Brenda were alive today, I’m certain she would be here as a fierce bi activist, and she would be marching with all of us in June under a banner that includes all the words: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender. 


After years of organizing and prodding by some people in this room – Sheela can tell you stories – the Center changed its name in 2001 to include the words “Bisexual” and “Transgender”. Words used publicly – like “gay” in the early 70s and “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender” today – have the power to spark awareness as they are absorbed into the culture. But awareness is not true understanding. That comes with connection and dialogue. That’s why we need a Center where we all bump into each other day in and day out, and why we need this summit. 


Like Stonewall, today’s event is not what makes a movement. What will matter is what happens over the years afterward, and I hope that in 20 years some of us will be around for an exhibit marking what you all start today. 


I’m sure that Sheela Lambert and Ector Simpson are both proud and relieved that today has come.  They and the others from the community and the Center who worked with them have created a moment. It is up to us to make the most of it. Best wishes on behalf of the Center for a powerful conference and new beginnings."

Robert A. Woodworth, Director of Meeting & Conference Services and Capital Projects began his association with the Center as a consultant in December 1983, just as the Center was negotiating with the City of New York to purchase a former school building at 208 West 13th Street. He became the Center’s first Building Manager in 1985, Deputy Director in 1989, Director of Institutional Services in 1998, and Director of Meeting & Conference Services and Capital Projects in 2006. In 1984 the Board of Directors elected him Secretary of the Corporation, a position to which he has been re-elected every year since. 


The focus of Robert’s work has been operating the facility and making it available to the thousands of people who come to the Center’s programs and to the meetings and events held at the Center by hundreds of community organizations. A key component of the community organizing aspect of the Center’s mission is Center Happenings, the monthly calendar of events at the Center, which Robert edited and produced from 1987 to 2001. He was intimately involved in design and construction of the major renovation that concluded in 2001 and he oversees current capital projects totaling about $3 million. 


Robert received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Amherst College, served as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army, studied city planning at Cornell University and worked as a city planner in Connecticut before coming to New York. In the city, Robert co-owned a retail business and worked as a paralegal before becoming a consultant to the Center. His early community involvement included the presidency of Greater Gotham Business Council and co-founding the Community Council of Lesbian and Gay Organizations, for which he served as secretary.

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