05/08/2012 11:48 am ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

Change, Five Years in the Making

Real change doesn't come easy; it's a process that takes time. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community knows this all too well. The current debates in this country over marriage didn't happen overnight. Forty years ago we were fighting for recognition that we even existed. In Chicago police officers would regularly and publicly beat openly gay and transgender individuals, often with the tacit support of our city's institutions.

In the shadow of Stonewall, our community found its voice and led the charge not just to beat back discrimination and abuse but to establish our own permanent, affirming, safe space in society. Through the years we've come together to make real change: We brought a nation together to fight AIDS, we decriminalized homosexuality, we won our right to serve in the military, and we've made our ways to the top of the corporate, political, and entertainment worlds.

Five years ago in Chicago we took another great leap forward. Our community built that permanent, affirming, and safe space: Center on Halsted. Since opening our doors to the public in 2007, we have grown alongside the people we represent, reaching out and doing more to build and strengthen the LGBT community. Today we are the Midwest's most comprehensive LGBT community center. More than 1,000 people walk through our doors every day. They come for social services like HIV testing, group therapy, crisis intervention, and warm meals. They come for public programs like yoga, volleyball, art classes, book readings, and dance performances. Mostly, they come for community, because together we have built a place for community.

As we celebrate our five-year anniversary, we are also looking forward to our next chapter. Our community has already established centers like ours across the nation, providing permanent, affirming, and safe spaces. And even though we've made tremendous progress, we still face challenges. There are young people killing themselves, ballot measures in North Carolina and Minnesota questioning our relationships, and legislation in Missouri and Tennessee removing our very existence from schools statewide.

Now we must take the lessons we've learned and break through our own doors and our own community, transforming our entire nation -- and world -- into that space that is for everyone regardless of sexual orientation and gender expression and identity.

At Center on Halsted, we're doing our part. Next year we plan to break ground with our partners at Heartland Housing to build the Midwest's very first affordable housing facility for LGBT seniors. We're working more closely with partners across the city, from hospitals to police stations, to provide LGBT-competency training so they can become safer, more affirming places. We're expanding our HIV programs to help stop the spread of HIV across the city, particularly in communities of color. And we continue to increase our community outreach, building stronger partnerships to help make our entire city more inclusive and welcoming for all people.

Change takes time. When we opened our doors five years ago, it was clear that we were standing on the shoulders of giants, building on the change they had already started more than 40 years ago. Our goal today is to continue that great tradition and create more change until Chicago and the entire world become a permanent, affirming, and safe place for us all.

Center on Halsted is celebrating our five-year anniversary May 12 at our Human First gala, featuring k.d. lang and hosted by Bravo's Andy Cohen, host of Watch What Happens Live. Visit our website for more information and tickets.