If you drive past the corner of 3rd & Hamilton Streets, you’ll see GLO - Harrisburg’s first community center by and for men who have sex with men (MSM) and trans women of color ages 14-29.
Based on the Project Silk model out of Pittsburgh, this drop-in center is a recreational space, an HIV/STI testing site, and a resource center for counseling and social services.
I first learned about the Project Silk model in the summer of 2018, when I reached out to Valley Youth House looking for housing resources for a participant. The center was in the final stages of writing our 2019-2021 Strategic Plan, and this model aligned perfectly with our strategic focus on Community Building, Racial Justice, Mental Health, and Housing.
We were not alone in our interest, and soon found ourselves at the table with three other partner organizations - UPMC Pinnacle, Valley Youth House, and Hamilton Health Center. After over a year of intensive work to make this project a reality, we were proud to stand together at GLO’s ribbon-cutting ceremony on November 18, 2019.
I am thrilled that the center is a part of this new and exciting collaborative program, which fills a critical need in our communities, and I want to name three important things that make GLO unique.
First, GLO is an unapologetic, dedicated space designed by and for young trans women of color and young men who have sex with men of color, who are the priority communities for this program.
We know that the vast majority of our LGBTQ+ spaces, in Harrisburg and across the country, are created by and for white people and prioritize the needs of white people - further marginalizing LBGTQ+ people of color. That is why it is so critical for there to be a space here specifically for men who have sex with men and trans women of color to create community and access services.
This kind of space does not exist anywhere else in Harrisburg. For those of us who are white or who don’t identify as part of those communities, it is important that we respect this space and recognize that it is not FOR us - is it for those who live at these intersections of identity.
Second, GLO is participant-led-informed by and accountable to a dynamic group of young people from the priority communities. In January of 2019, we held focus groups to learn: 1) if there was a need for the Project Silk model in Harrisburg, and 2) how they would want to see it implemented.
From those initial conversations, the Youth Advisory Board (YAB) was born - with members meeting monthly since the spring of 2019 to provide guidance on all aspects of the program - which they named GLO. They participated in site visits and staff interviews, set the hours of operations and the methods of engagement, selected paint colors and furniture, and advised on programming.
I have appreciated getting to know some of the YAB members and learning from them, and I was thrilled that we got to present them with the Rising Star Award at FAB this fall. I continue to be so impressed with the passion, insight, and dedication that each of them brings to GLO.
Finally, GLO is a collaborative space. We would not be here today if our funders at the University of Pittsburgh had not had the foresight to invite all four organizations who had applied for the grant to come to the table and develop GLO together - and if each of us had not said “yes”.
I am incredibly grateful for each of our partners - UPMC Pinnacle, Valley Youth House, and Hamilton Health Center. The scarcity model tells us that by bringing more organizations to the table there would be less in it for each of us, but we have experienced the opposite. By each of us bringing our different resources to the project, we have been able to make this much stronger than any of us could have on our own.
What does this collaboration look like in practice? One of the unique aspects of GLO is the shared staffing. As a collaborative program, there are seven staff on-site from all four partner agencies that work as a team under the leadership of Amanda Carter, Director of Youth Programs for the LGBT Center and for GLO. They collectively staff the center and providing programming, as well as have specific functions including peer engagement, case management, HIV/STI testing and education, and program coordination.
The space has been open to participants since December 2, 2019, with programming ranging in topic from healthy relationships and holistic wellness to HIV/STI education and financial literacy. Drop-in hours for youth (ages 14-17) are Mondays and Fridays from 3-8p.m., and for young adults (ages 18-29) are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3-8p.m.
GLO’s mission is to maintain a space in which men who have sex with men and trans women of color have access to the support and resources necessary to create holistically healthy lives, relationships and communities by offering HIV and STI education, testing, prevention, and linkage to care. Its vision is to empower members of our communities to live healthy, authentic lives.
If you’re part of GLO’s priority communities, we encourage you to come during drop-in hours to 1701 N. Third Street. If you have a friend, family member, or client who would benefit from this space, please share this information with them. If you have ideas about how you or your organization can collaborate with GLO, we’d love to hear that too.
For additional information go to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 717-925-0744.
Arbor is executive director of the LGBT Center of Central PA.