The late Bea Arthur left more than just an enviable entertainment resume behind after passing away in 2009. Thanks to her generous donation of $300,000, the Bea Arthur Residence at the Ali Forney Center in New York will open in 2017. The 18-bed shelter will provide housing and counseling services to members of the LGBTQ youth community.
The Ali Forney Center (AFC) was founded in 2002 by Carl Siciliano after Ali Forney, a young man who left home at the age of 13 because of his refusal to conform to expected gender standards, was shot and killed in Harlem in 1997. Throughout his life, Forney fought tirelessly to ensure the protection of LGBTQ youth who were homeless, either by choice or because they were kicked out of their homes after coming out. Siciliano chose to carry on the tradition by forming the shelter in Forney’s honor. What began as just six beds in the basement of a church has grown to become the largest LGBTQ homeless shelter in the country, serving more than 1,400 young people each year through various locations and centers. For his continuously admirable work, Siciliano was named a White House Champion of Change by President Barack Obama.
Ms. Arthur was best known for her roles as Maude Findlay on ‘All in the Family’ and later ‘Maude’ and of course, the beloved Dorothy Zbornak on the 1980s classic sitcom ‘The Golden Girls.’ In addition to winning Emmy Awards for both roles, she also received a Tony Award for her original portrayal of Vera Charles in the musical ‘Mame’ in 1966. Apart from being a powerhouse talent, she was also an avid animal rights activist and steadfast supporter of the LGBTQ community. She stipulated in her will she wanted to donate the $300,000 to the AFC, having said prior to her death, “These kids at the Ali Forney Center are literally dumped by their families because of the fact that they are lesbian, gay or transgender. This organization really is saving lives.”
She donated money to the center on a regular basis since it began according to Siciliano in a blog written for The Huffington Post. He wrote, “That such an icon would stand up for us, would use the power of her celebrity to call attention to the needs of homeless LGBT youth, was invaluable.” Construction on the site is nearing completion, with its doors expected to open sometime after February 2017.
Though frustrating to think young kids are being forced out of their homes simply for being their authentic self, the reality of it can’t be ignored. Per year, an estimated 1.6 million youth are homeless in America; 40% of them identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. While these statistics are frighteningly high, there is comfort in knowing places like the AFC and countless other shelters dedicated to serving all homeless youth throughout the country exist. It is also inspiring to realize just how many people dedicate their lives to helping others in need.
When it comes to Bea Arthur and her activism, she has certainly earned her title as a truly “Golden” girl. What a wonderful way to leave a lasting legacy that will continue to touch the lives of so many.