Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center named coolest space in Lehigh Valley

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Interior Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center. Photos courtesy of Adrian Shanker

Lehigh Valley Business listed Allentown’s Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center as one of 30 coolest spaces throughout Lehigh, Northampton and Carbon counties. Located in the heart of downtown at 522 West Maple Street, the Bradbury-Sullivan Center stands out for its clever use of space, design, and its special mission to make Lehigh Valley LGBTQ youth feel welcome.

The Williams Institute reported that 40 percent of our nation’s homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. Needless to say, feeling welcome in a space is vital to LGBTQ youth. 

“Our space really feels like their home,” explained Adrian Shanker, Bradbury-Sullivan Center’s passionate executive director, “For some, it is the only space that feels truly like it’s theirs. We strive to make sure that the LGBT youth we serve understand that queer space is their space, and that they have a home at our LGBT community center.” 

Shanker said the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center began as “an impossible dream.” Like all of Lehigh Valley’s old iron towns, Allentown had to reinvent and revitalize after the collapse of the railroad industry. In fact, the building on West Maple Street sat vacant for many years. Yet, in 2016, the Allentown community banded together and made an impossible dream a reality with the purchase and renovation of number 522 that now houses the center. “We are a cultural hub and a community gathering space,” said Shanker, “we provide innovative programs that rival what is available for the LGBT community in much larger cities.”

The Bradbury-Sullivan Center supports Lehigh Valley’s LGBTQ community by offering arts and culture programs, health programs, daily youth activities, support services, and an annual Pride festival that many residents of Allentown look forward to each year. Uniquely, The Bradbury-Sullivan Center also runs The Training Institute, directed by longtime LGBTQ advocate Liz Bradbury. This program provides much-needed “training, policy development, and equality audits for government agencies (including law enforcement), school districts, non-profit organizations, and businesses.” Yet, Shanker believes all essential community programming requires a functional and beautiful space to operate within. 

“Spaces are designed to reflect the values of how it will be used,” Shanker said when asked why design matters in community spaces. “Sometimes, when folks think about a community center, they might think of a building bustling with programs but lacking in aesthetics. Maybe there’s coffee-stained carpets and water-stained ceiling tiles, and perhaps it hasn’t been painted in years. For us at Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, we know that our community deserves the programs we offer, and they deserve to access these programs in a fun, clean, and innovative space that people want to visit. Design, in that sense, is really what brings people together.”

What makes this community center so cool is its respect for the people who use it. Not only does the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center boast a handsome library, but a gallery featuring local LGBTQ artists as well. “There is something new every time you walk into our community center,” said Patrick Fligge, Board Chair of Bradbury-Sullivan Center. “It’s vibrant and exciting, and it does feel cool.”

“Since day one, our vision has been that the LGBT community deserves programs and services in a space that is exciting,” said Shanker. “We are grateful to Lehigh Valley Business for their recognition of our community center as one of their 2020 Coolest Spaces of the Lehigh Valley.”

The Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center will be featured on LVB.com on March 27 and in the March 30 edition of Lehigh Valley Business. Visit bradburysullivancenter.org for more information on upcoming events and programs.