Director the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender community
center in New York City
by Nikki Dowling
On September 15, Glennda Testone, a life-long LGBT activist
and leader, was named the first-ever female executive
director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender
Community Center in New York City. The Center has been
around for 26 years and is home to more than 300 health-related,
civic, and cultural groups. Its events calendar reaches
over 60,000 people each month. Syracuse, New York-born Testone
is now in charge of the largest LGBT multi-service organization
on the East Coast and second largest LGBT community
center in the world.
Even calling Testones appointment
a big deal sounds like an understatement. Her job is
huge. Thousands of people depend on The Center for support,
entertainment, fun, and help. The Center also hosts
numerous events for everyone, from the Queer Mens
Erotic Art Workshop and Mastering the Manly Art of Seduction
to book discussion groups, GED classes, and bingo. The
Center is not afraid to tackle difficult issues, holding
yoga sessions for HIV-positive men, bereavement groups,
and networking events for women with cancer. Wherever
folks are in their life path theres something
for them to connect to and get at The Center,
When Richard Burns, the executive director
for 22 years, decided to end his run, a group of board
members conducted a nationwide hiring search and picked
Testone. They said, We found a dynamic leader
who we believe will be at the forefront of the next
generation of advocacy and services for the LGBT community.
Glennda inspired all of us and we cannot wait to begin
the next chapter of The Centers history under
Testone didnt come from nowhere
and suddenly get appointed to this important position.
She received her masters in Womens Studies from
Ohio State University and soon afterward began working
at GLAAD (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation).
Interestingly, she began as a straight ally and didnt
come out until she was 27. The change came when Testone
fell in love with a woman while working at GLAAD. It
picturing my entire life differently,
Testone remembered. The two were together for five and
a half years.
One of Testones first big accomplishments
came at GLAAD in 2003 when she convinced the New York
Times to include same-sex marriage announcements on
their wedding pages. It wasnt easy; the Times
had resisted prior attempts to change this policy. We
really, really had to convince them, Testone reminisced.
Newspapers all over the country have since followed
After GLAAD, Testone moved on to the
Womens Media Center, an organization devoted to
making women visible and powerful in the media. For
the past three years, she served as the organizations
vice president. During her time there, Testone started
the Progressive Womens Voices Training Program,
which helps train forward-thinking women to be spokespeople
for themselves and the LGBT community. About 60 women
have been trained but there are about 100 to 150 applicants
for every ten openings. Students there learn to blog,
stay composed during panel discussions, write op-eds,
speak on broadcast news programs, and get their message
to a large audience. Past participants have included
financial analysts, teachers, writers, scientists, activists,
lawyers, bloggers, and more. Thanks to this training
program these women have been published in the New York
Times, New York magazine, and the Wall Street Journal,
and have aired their views on Good Morning America,
CNN, MSNBC, CBS Nightly News, Fox News, ABC News, and
Testone approaches her job as executive
director of The Center with the same unparalleled energy,
passion, and enthusiasm she uses to tackle everything.
Its a big job, but Im just excited
to take it on, Testone said, Im just
over the moon that my job is to make sure other people
know how important The Center is.
Of course, nothing is perfect, including
The Center, and one of Testones big tests will
be how well she improves it. Testone plans to completely
immerse herself in her new environment. She wants to
understand The Center from all perspectivesdonor,
user, worker, and volunteerso she can figure out
how to best serve everyone. Her immediate goal is to
get the word out, make sure that people all over the
city know what is going on at the Center and are aware
that there is something for them.
Knowing there is something for you is
especially important for lesbians. In a city as large
as Manhattan sometimes lesbians get lost in the shuffle.
Although Testone loves NYC she said, I wish there
were more bars that catered to women specifically.
Testone said bars that do have lesbian events, hold
them on inconvenient nights, like Wednesday and Sunday.
For busy, working women, drinking and dancing on weeknights
is not an option. Where the New York City lesbian bar
scene is lacking, The Center is picking up the slack.
Theres a lot more going on for women than
I think most people know or expect, Testone said.
The Center has free mammography screenings, lesbian
cinema, and Sistahs Sex Series, a program thats
all about fantasies and fetishes. Last November, Testone
herself was introduced at one of these female-focused
gatherings. The occasion was Womens Event 12,
a gala dinner with cocktails, and a silent auction.
Kelli ODonnell and actress Molly Ringwald were
Even in New York, often seen as a mecca
of openness and forward-thinking people, Testone knows
there is still more work to be done. Homophobia is everywhere,
even in the Big Apple. Testone remembers how people
acted when she held hands with a man on the subway and,
now, with women, she notices reactions are markedly
different. She doesnt say how but I dont
have to ask. The look on her face says clearly that
the change has not been for the better. I know the looks
well. Or, rather, the stares. In Manhattan, lesbians
cannot kiss on a street corner without hearing catcalls
and dirty remarks. People gawk at and hit on women,
even if the two women are obviously together.
Testone, an attractive, feminine-looking
woman, experiences problems with this often. She gets
annoyed when, because of her feminine look, people make
a lot of assumptions that arent true. Occasionally,
she says, her butch and trans friends get harassed on
the street. Some days LGBT couples are left alone, but
other days lesbian couples are offered threesomes at
every turn and men holding hands are met with looks
So it should come as no surprise that,
sometimes, Testone likes to get away. She doesnt
go too far because, she said, Im really
an East Coast girl at heart. Lately, Testone and
her girlfriend have been taking weekend trips to quaint
areas within driving distance of New York City. She
enjoys going to New Hope, Pennsylvania, a small village
located about an hour outside Manhattan. New Hope is
nestled near the Delaware River and is filled with shops,
historic sites, and art galleries. While in New Hope,
Testone likes to stay at the Wedgwood Inn Bed and Breakfast,
which she described as, very gay-friendly.
When Testone does leave the East Coast
she likes places with fresh food, hiking, and the ocean.
Im a strange New Yorker in that I love Los
Angeles, she said smiling. Testone also likes
visiting her gay and lesbian friends in San Francisco,
Atlanta, and Seattle. Once, she went to St. Croix, part
of the US Virgin Islands, and stayed at Sandcastles,
which, she said, was very gay-friendly. Testone seems
an easy-going traveler who enjoys quaint towns and good
times with friends. However she did have one important
travel rule: If Im going to go away, I never
want to be worried, she says firmly.
Despite the fact that Testone has devoted
her life to making changes in favor of the LGBT community,
she doesnt seem to have an overly negative view
of the world and isnt pessimistic. When I asked
if she had ever suffered or been slighted because of
her gender or sexuality she went quiet then answered
with a resounding, No. It is this good fortune
that has inspired Testone. I feel compelled to
give back because
I feel very lucky and I feel
like that means that I need to look around me and make
sure that everybody else has the same opportunities.