'Golden Girl' Bea Arthur Will Always Be a Friend to LGBTQ Youth

Ali Forney Center Executive Director Carl Siciliano (center) along with AFC staff, clients, local politicians and other supporters at the groundbreaking ceremony of the Bea Arthur Residence.
Ali Forney Center Executive Director Carl Siciliano (center) along with AFC staff, clients, local politicians and other supporters at the groundbreaking ceremony of the Bea Arthur Residence.Courtesy of Carl Siciliano
By Mashaun D. Simon

Homeless LGBTQ youth in New York City will soon have a new – and much-needed – place to call home, thanks in large part to Bea Arthur, the late actress best known as Dorothy from “Golden Girls.”

After her passing in 2009, Arthur’s estate willed $300,000 to the Ali Forney Center, an organization that provides housing and services for LGBTQ youth. According to reports, the TV star had become a staunch supporter of the non-profit after learning how it supports this vulnerable segment of society.

The gift has garnered much attention over the past several years, and it is very much welcomed attention, according to Ali Forney Executive Director Carl Siciliano.

“I see Bea’s support as enhancing our work,” Siciliano told NBCOUT via email.

The funds initially helped the organization survive the recession, but Siciliano was committed to doing more – and acquiring ownership of the organization’s first residential building was among his top priorities.

Steve Herrick, executive director of Cooper Square Committee knew of the perfect location for Siciliano’s dream – a townhouse in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan.

“[It] was a city-owned building that had been vacant for about two decades,” Herrick told NBCOUT. “Given that it is a modest-size, four-story townhouse, I thought it would lend itself to a congregate living situation similar to what Ali Forney has done at other sites.”

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Herrick reached out to Siciliano to gauge his interest partnering to develop the property for homeless LGBTQ youth – and he was indeed interested.

“The building was turned over to us by the New York City Department of Housing and Preservation Development,” Siciliano explained. “The funds for the gut renovation were provided by the New York City Council and the Manhattan Borough President.”

The total funding for the project is estimated to be around $3.3 million, and renovations are expected to be complete in time for a February 2017 grand opening of the Bea Arthur Residence.

Daily life at the Bea Arthur Residence will be similar to Ali Forney’s other transitional housing sites, according to Siciliano.

“Young people [will] live in nurturing and supportive environments, and [will be] offered clinical support to overcome the trauma of family rejection and homelessness, [while also being] assisted in gaining education and employment and [preparation] for independent living.”

In the U.S., there are up to 1.6 million youth who experience homelessness each year, and LGBTQ youth make up roughly 40 percent of this population, according to the True Colors Fund.

Advocates for these youth, including Siciliano and Rick Westbrook, executive director of Atlanta-based non-profit Lost-n-Found Youth (LNFY), say there is a shortage of space for these young LGBTQ people.

“Many people do not realize the problem [of homeless LGBTQ youth] even exists,” Westbrook told NBC OUT.

There are a number of organizations across the U.S. doing great work on behalf of homeless LGBTQ youth, but the Ali Forney Center, according to Siciliano, is unique in terms of its size and scope.

“Currently [there are] 12 residential sites housing a total of over 100 youths per night, and a 24/7 drop-in center offering a vast array of services including a medical and mental health clinic and extensive educational/vocational training and placement program,” Siciliano explained.

The non-profit also offers technical assistance to other grassroots and start-up organizations around the country, free of charge, to assist in developing similar programs in other cities for homeless LGBTQ youth.

Westbrook noted the attention that has been paid to Ali Forney since the announcement of Bea Arthur’s gift, has had widespread benefits.

“Anytime the story or plight of our youth can be told it is a wonderful thing,” he said. “Telling the story and how it resonates is incredible valuable.”

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