News, announcements and insight from the Center on Halsted community.

Nov 29

Shiane’s Story

Posted by Modesto Tico Valle, CEO

This week, we give thanks for the blessings in our lives. At Center on Halsted, our greatest blessings are the people who make our building such a special place – including those who donate their time and skills to help us advance the LGBTQ movement – people like Shiane Wilcoxen. 

Shiane is a proud lesbian and professional chef who is always looking for ways to get more involved in the LGBTQ community – specifically for our youth.  She first volunteered for the Center this August providing tasty snacks for more than 100 women at our By Women, For Women rooftop party. There, she met 3 other lesbian chefs, with whom she shared her desire to do more.  “I just thought here are four accomplished, talented women – how can we take these gifts and give back to our community? I know what a difference it makes to LGBTQ youth to have adults reach out.”  Before long, I got an email from Shiane, asking if she and her new friends could prepare a special Thanksgiving dinner free of charge for our young people. But Shiane didn’t just want to give out food, she wanted to provide lessons on cooking and etiquette and provide opportunities for other adults to build new relationships that could turn into mentoring opportunities. How could I say no? 

Shiane quickly got to work: planning menus, reaching out to community organizations for donations and lining up partners like Affinity to join her and her new friends at the dinner. 

This Sunday, more than 70 young people and volunteers joined together to celebrate the holiday at the Center’s first Youth Pre-Thanksgiving dinner. In addition to the great food, attendees were treated to musical performances and presentations. One young person, who is estranged from his parents, told our staff that it was the best Thanksgiving he ever had because he was able to be himself and enjoy a good meal with his ‘real family.’ Shiane, meanwhile, is already thinking about her next step – she’s interested in creating a home economics course to teach young people how to best secure their individual health and well-being. 

There are so many people involved with this dinner to thank including the phenomenal young people who came together to celebrate and learn.  But most especially I would like to give special thanks to Chef Shiane, along with Chefs Toni, Charlene and Lupe, whose vision and commitment made this a holiday to remember. 

If you have ideas for new programs or volunteer opportunities, we would love to hear from you. Feel free to email us at

- Tico

Nov 14

Juan’s Story

Posted by Modesto Tico Valle, CEO

Last month, I shared with you an inspiring story about Jimmy, a young gay person who was able to build a better life for himself thanks in part to the services we offer here at Center on Halsted. Jimmy’s story is special, but it is not unique. Center on Halsted’s programs and services enable people of all ages to grow and succeed in a number of ways. We also provide space and support for smaller LGBTQ organizations – our Resident Partners – to create and share their own stories. Stories like Juan Bernal’s of the Windy City Rainbow Alliance of the Deaf (WCRAD).  

WCRAD has been one of the Center’s Resident Partners since we first opened our doors in 2007. We provide them with desk space, administrative support and meeting rooms so they can provide a voice for deaf LGBTQ people. As one of WCRAD’s co-presidents, Juan has worked hard to ensure deaf LGBTQ people have a space to be themselves. “As a deaf man, a gay man and a Latino immigrant, I know firsthand the discrimination that people can face – both inside our own communities and in society at large,” Juan shares. “It’s necessary for those of us in the deaf LGBTQ community to speak up for ourselves and each  other.” 

WCRAD is definitely speaking up, bringing two international conferences to Chicago and Center on Halsted this past year alone. In July, Center on Halsted helped host the Deaf Lesbian Festival, and in August we were home to the Deaf Queer Men Only conference. Hundreds of deaf LGBTQ visitors and their friends traveled to Chicago for the multi-day events, full of workshops, networking events, parties and more. 

“The conferences changed my life as I saw how much can be done when a group of people work together for a common goal – winning equality for all people,” Juan said. “And we couldn’t have done it without the constant support of Center on Halsted. The Center gives WCRAD a safe place to be ourselves and an opportunity to invite others to do the same.”


Oct 16

Jimmy’s Story

Posted by Modesto Tico Valle, CEO

Every day, more than 1,000 people walk through our doors – each with their own story to tell. As members of the LGBTQ community, many of those stories are full of challenges, but they are also full of hope as we work to move our community forward. I would like to share one such story with you today. 

Jimmy was born and raised in Chicago. Just over a year ago, his boyfriend convinced him to move to Davenport, Iowa, away from his friends. Unfortunately, Jimmy’s boyfriend quickly became abusive: mentally, emotionally and physically. Then this past March, Jimmy decided he had enough. He would no longer take the abuse and was ready to return to Chicago – so he started walking. He walked nearly 200 miles back to his hometown. When he finally arrived, he was alone and in pain and remembered hearing Center on Halsted’s doors were open for anyone looking for help.  

Lex and JimmyHe found his way to the Center and was met by Lex Lawson from our youth team. Lex helped Jimmy get the medical attention he needed. After recovering from his injuries, Jimmy returned to the Center, where he met other young LGBTQ people in our breakfast program. Lex connected Jimmy to a housing program so he could find a home. Jimmy then joined our vocational training program. After graduating, we were able to help him secure a summer internship, where he received rave reviews as a young person with great potential. We then helped Jimmy get an interview with a local grocery store. Not surprisingly, Jimmy got the job and has been working there for the past few months. 

In just half a year, Jimmy has turned his life around – and we were glad we could be there to help. But that’s not all. Jimmy is already making plans for his future. He signed up for our new G.E.D. program to help him meet his goal of becoming a store manager within the next five years.  Jimmy also wants to give back to other young LGBTQ people and is looking at starting his own organization to provide housing for young people working to overcome similar challenges. 

As Jimmy says, “When I walk into the Center, I feel love. I feel welcome. I want other young people to have that same feeling so we can all have a new way of life.” 

Jimmy fell into an abusive relationship, but turned his life around by reaching out, making connections, finding a home and taking the steps necessary to get a good job. Jimmy made his own path to a brighter future. His story is special, but it is not unique. Join us so we can help individuals like Jimmy secure their own health and well-being, and in turn advance the entire LGBTQ community. 

- Tico

Oct 3

Celebrating Bisexuality

Posted by Modesto Tico Valle, CEO

At the Center, inclusion is a core value, meaning we not only welcome everyone, but we build robust programs that appeal to each group under our diverse rainbow – including the Bisexual community.

Recently, Chris’ work garnered national attention when he was invited to an LGBTQ summit at the White House, where he met Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden. Chris credits this opportunity to a meeting right here at the Center, where he brought national author and activist Robyn Ochs, who then put him in contact with White House organizers to ensure Bisexual voices were heard.Last May, Chris Pierce became our new Bisexual Liaison. In this role, he designs and hosts a series of Bi-specific activities every month. Under his leadership, attendance at events and partnerships with other organizations has continued to grow. Last month we hosted Celebrate Bisexuality Day – bringing together nearly 100 community members for an afternoon of presentations, performances and networking.

Chris is helping advance the Bisexual community here in Chicagoland and beyond. And he does it not as a staff member, but as a committed volunteer! Click here to find out how you can volunteer for the Center and be sure to check out all our upcoming events including theMidwest LGBTQ College Fair, a special conversation with global advocate Boris Dittrich and our next Fireside Chat featuring Dr. Lourdes Torres.

Thank you to Chris and all our volunteers who ensure we include every member of our community every day. 


Sep 26

Advancing Policy

Posted by Jane Merrill, Advocacy and Policy Fellow

Hello Center on Halsted community! My name is Jane and I want to take a moment to introduce myself and my work here at the Center. I am Center on Halsted’s new Advocacy and Policy fellow. As you may know, the Center recently released our new strategic plan, and one of the priorities we’re focusing on is advancing the impact of COH through advocacy and public policy. This means that in addition to the wonderful services already provided by the Center—from training in Culinary Arts to meeting mental health needs—we will pursue larger, more systemic change in order to create a more just and equitable world for all LGBTQ people.

Some things we think of as products of culture are in fact products of public policy. With tenacity and persistence we can change public policy, and in turn change our culture. In the future, COH will work in support of policies at every level of government that advance community and secure the health and wellbeing of LGBTQ people, complementing our mission. For now, we’re figuring out how best to go about this. We have a great deal to learn, and welcome ideas and feedback during this formative time. Over the next year, I will be focusing on building the capacity of our staff to incorporate even more advocacy and public policy work into their already busy work days. You can build your own capacity to do this work with me by registering to vote—we have our next registration drive in the lobby on 10/1 from 5pm-7pm (more information here) or you can email me at to set up another time. I look forward to seeing you around the Center!

- Jane

PS—Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming seminar on Hate Crimes on November 27th in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice and a number of local agencies!

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