Just a few months ago, the HDR office welcomed some new neighbors next door. A vibrant cultural hub home to many nonprofits and local businesses, the Ice House building is now also home to an organization advocating for a largely underrepresented community within our region. The Friendly City Safe Space (FCSS) aims to make downtown a destination where all LGBTQ+ people thrive through inclusivity, programming, and a unique space that celebrates community.
Celebration and support for the LGBTQ+ community is not merely a monthly occasion, and now that Pride month has come to a close, this momentum is as important as ever. This work remains a top priority for HDR all year round, and we recently sat down with our new neighbor, Hyacinth Bellerose, the founder of FCSS. We spoke about their story, their journey with identity, and the long-term goals of the organization they have built. Take a look at some highlights from our conversation below.
What is the Friendly City Safe Space?
FCSS works to make Downtown Harrisonburg a safe space for LGBTQ+ people and aspiring allies of all ages, racial and ethnic identities. Most LGBTQ+ work focuses on providing what Bellerose calls “bandaids’ ‘–they address harm and fight injustice. And although these components are undeniably important and are in part what FCSS does, they take it further than that. FCSS focuses on creating a place where LGBTQ+ people are empowered to flourish through providing resources, education, and community.
“We’re…literally making history”
How Did FCSS Come To Fruition?
Bellerose came out at age 23 while living in Harrisonburg, and they described how lonely they felt. “I definitely felt like there was a lack of community and a place to go to,” and so, they sought to change that. After struggling to find a space, Bellerose was able to push against adversity and team up with the Shenandoah LGBTQ Center in November of 2021. Within six months, they were able to raise over $10,000 dollars to put towards the project. Bellerose describes being “astounded” by the amount of growth the initiative had in such a short amount of time, and they have no plan to slow down. Bellerose envisions a big and bright future for the FCSS: they want to offer training in the space, affinity groups for different identities, and more mental health support. Bellerose specifically wants to be able to provide free counseling which does not currently exist as a resource for anyone in the Harrisonburg community.
What Resources are Currently Available at FCSS?
When you walk into FCSS you’re warmly greeted with natural light and an abundance of color. In the space, you’ll find a curated library with a multitude of books and resources that people can read or check out that might be otherwise difficult to locate in other places around town. Office and meeting rooms are set up for anyone to use, there’s a zen room for yoga and meditation, and a large common area for people to gather- complete with cozy couches, free coffee/tea, and calming decor. Most notably, FCSS offers a free clothing closet for people to browse and explore their own style, a vital part of navigating identity. By making all this accessible to people, FCSS is building community in ways that Downtown Harrisonburg has never seen before.
Additional resources and supplies available include lists of LGBTQ+ friendly counselors, free monthly STD testing, seminars, affinity groups, special events, and so much more. Check out our TikTok for a tour of the space.
“We’re growing faster than I ever could have expected. Our dream is that Harrisonburg is the LGBTQ+ destination in Virginia”
In many ways, HDR and FCSS have a shared mission of celebrating community, supporting local, and building the downtown community together. What started as a passion project has quickly turned into an initiative that’s changing lives and making huge strides toward inclusivity and support for all people in our community.
Find Ways to Be Involved Year-Long
If you enjoyed downtown’s pride events this past June: the Queer Dance Party, the Pride Film Festival, the Family Friendly Drag Show (just to name a few) then you’re in luck because our community celebrates pride year long.
Be sure to check out the following LGBTQ+ friendly activities happening downtown:
With Friendly City Safe Space: 7/15 Queer Writer’s Group, 7/23 Board Game Night, 7/29 Queer Theory Writing Club
With Sage Bird Ciderworks: Pride Night, Last Wednesday of Every Month from 8-11pm
With Court Square Theater: A Night of Illusion Drag Show- Red, White & Blue Party on Saturday, July 16, at 8:30 p.m