If you’re straight and not running for office, there probably hasn’t been much reason for you to visit the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center on West 13th Street—what City Council Speaker Christine Quinn calls “a combination gay Elks Lodge–visitors center–social-services hub.” This Tuesday, Billie Jean King, Harvey Fierstein, and Kate Clinton will fête Richard Burns, who’s led the center for twenty years. Burns talked with Tim Murphy.
What was the city like when you took this job?
A lot of talented, creative, ambitious people were still in the closet. Lots of our friends were sick and dying, but Ronald Reagan wouldn’t say the word AIDS. In March 1987 the first ACT UP meeting was held here. There was so much anger and loss but also tremendous vitality and sexiness.
Eliot Spitzer supports gay marriage. Does it annoy you that Hillary Clinton does not?
We have to keep educating people.
What doesn’t she know?
[Pause] She’s been a good friend to the center.
Did you take any satisfaction in Ted Haggard’s downfall?
Well, a perverse kind that I’m not proud of. I feel compassion for him. The closet is a prison that twists you.
Does sex happen here?
The Gay Male S/M Activists just did a demo here. I don’t know whether you’d call that sex or not.