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Looking to meet trans people's basic needs, a new LGBT center opens on the North Side

Jillian Forstadt
90.5 WESA News
Aristotle Martinez (left) is part of the group working to transform the Q-MNTY Center into a home for Pittsburgh's trans, non-binary and queer youth. He says the space brings together "trans people our age, meaning we can have people who know what we're going through."

On any given day at the Q-MNTY Center, teens like Aristotle Martinez can be found huddled around pizza and crafts, alongside people who look like him.

Pittsburgh nonprofits Proud Haven and Trans YOUniting joined together to open the new LGBT space on the North Side last month. Its directors say the Q-MNTY Center — pronounced like “community”, but with a Q — doubles the space they have to create an inviting spot for all to convene.

The two previously shared offices in a smaller space a few doors down on East Ohio Street. Martinez said it was in that space, which a friend introduced him to shortly after recovering from top surgery, that he first fell in love with the community there.

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“I've always had trouble connecting with people, but a lot of the other people here were also neurodivergent,” he said. “And so I was able to find people, talk to other people who had the same communication styles as me and were interested in the same things as me.”

Within that space, Martinez said he had room to figure out his identity with support and free of judgment from others. Now, he’s part of the group working to transform the center’s new home into a place that provides the same comfort to others.

“We all need other people, and it's especially important to have people who we can relate to,” he said. “Being around other trans people our age, meaning we can have people who know what we're going through, but also having older trans people, so that we know that there is a future for us.”

Martinez led the effort to fill the main room’s library with books on LGBTQ history and theory, as well as reference books on everything from nursing to electrical wiring.

“Anything that we thought somebody could use to get at least some entry information for something that they're interested in, we grab those to help,” said Alex Smithson, Resident Advisor at Haven House, the transitional shelter operated by Proud Haven and TransYOUniting.

The main space will also host events and public programs. Smithson said the center is partnering with local groups to host weekly yoga classes, and practices and competitions for Pittsburgh’s ballroom scene.

Deeper into the center, the walls are lined with shelf-stable pantry items and hygiene products for trans, non-binary and queer youth to access. Downstairs, there is a gender-affirming clothing closet, separated by masculine and feminine-presenting wear.

Trans YOUniting Executive Director Dena Stanley said they plan to add a computer lounge, showers and washing machines for community members to use as well. The center, after all, is meant to serve as a “backbone” for trans, non-binary and marginalized people struggling to meet their most basic needs.

Stanley said the demand for these services continues to increase as more trans people move to the Pittsburgh area from states like Florida and Texas, where politicians are targeting trans youth.

“That was one of the main reasons why we are here — to make sure that folks know that this is a safe space for you to come to, and that you will be okay," Stanley said. "Because we are going to continue to fight to make sure of that."

The center will host a fair, flea market and donation drive from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 29.

Jillian Forstadt is an education reporter at 90.5 WESA. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she covered affordable housing, homelessness and rural health care at WSKG Public Radio in Binghamton, New York. Her reporting has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.