Wednesday marked the grand opening of the the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Center of Durham, the first center of its kind in the city.

Wednesday’s Ribbon Cutting Ceremony featured a keynote speech by Mandy Carter, a nationally recognized LGBTQ activist and co-founder of the National Black Justice Coalition and Southerners on New Ground, an advocacy group for immigrants, the working class, people of color and LGBTQ communities. The center aims to target needs specific to the LGBTQ community and provides information and a means to connect with a greater pool of sexually and gender diverse individuals.

“I think the whole point of the center is to take care of one another. Places like this give us those opportunities to be more visible together, as a community, and therefore be stronger as a community,” said Barbara Lau, director of the Pauli Murray Project, which aims to honor civil rights activist Pauli Murray through activism on race, class and sexual and gender diversity issues.

Tyler Nelson, president of Blue Devils United, an LGBTQ student advocacy group, noted that Durham already has an established LGBTQ community, but often the main community hubs are bars such as The Pinhook and The Bar. Lau added that the new LGBTQ center aims to allow members of the LGBTQ community to connect without necessarily going to bars—especially for the under-21 LGBTQ members, those suffering from substance abuse or simply those looking for a more diverse exposure to the community. She explained that until this point, the nearest physical LGBTQ center was in Raleigh and so what began as an effort by the Raleigh Center to address these needs in Durham ultimately developed into an independent center.

Lau noted that the center aims to provide resources to a community which has historically lacked support systems.

“Youth LGBTQ homelessness is a serious issue in Durham. There aren’t really a lot of resources for the LGBTQ youth who happen to be homeless or who find themselves in difficult situations,” Lau said. “The statistics tell us that almost 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQ, so it’s a particularly important resource that needs to be available.”

The center’s website includes a community feedback survey in an effort to gather information to improve its programming, which currently includes a referral list for LGBTQ-friendly community services, a library of LGBTQ materials and a calendar of events for members of the LGBTQ community.

Nelson noted that though Duke has a variety of resources to address LGBTQ needs through the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, the inauguration of a center in the wider Durham community still offers incredible potential to expand the pre-existing network to a more diverse group of individuals.

“I think this will be really interesting and strategic to see how Duke partners with the center, because often Duke finds itself very insulated from Durham,” Nelson said. “But I think that a partnership between the LGBTQ center in Durham and Duke’s Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity could be very beneficial in widening the scope of how we perceive the LGBTQ community here at Duke.”

Today the CSGD is sponsoring the National Coming-Out Day celebration at 11 a.m. in the Bryan Center Plaza, which will include free shirts, food and music.