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Jim Huggins and Randall Forester, Persad's Founders

Persad Center, is the nation’s second oldest licensed mental health center specifically created to serve the LGBTQ+ community.


Founded in 1972, Persad was created in response to the demand for specialized, nondiscriminatory services expressed by LGBTQ+ individuals through an underground Pittsburgh gay hotline. Started by a group of gay activists in Allegheny County, the hotline was originally established to provide LGBTQ+ people with information regarding safe places to meet one another, and as a communication network to make LGBTQ+ people aware of happenings in the community.


In an effort to meet the community’s requests for safe, non-judgmental mental health services, our founders, Dr. James Huggins and Randal Forrester (pictured above), along with their friends, sketched out the plans for Persad while traveling on a bus headed to DC to protest the Vietnam War. The name Persad was chosen by merging the words “personal” and “adjustment”. The agency was established by a board of directors formed at a meeting that took place at Calvary Episcopal Church and included among its members two clergy, a University of Pittsburgh Social Work Professor and a physician who all recognized the need for this unique agency.  

A brief timeline of Persad Center’s milestones and community impact:

1972 • Persad Center is founded in Pittsburgh by Randal Forrester and James Huggins; the nation’s second licensed counseling center specifically created to serve the LGBTQ+ community, with a commitment to making services available to economically challenged clients.

1982 • The Center for Disease Control defines AIDS. Persad creates the first AIDS support program in the tri-state area.

1982 • Director Jim Huggins creates a training program for professionals regarding facts about HIV/AIDS to combat rampant fears about the disease and refusals among the medical and human service community to treat people known to be HIV+.

1987 • Persad co-founds Pittsburgh’s first area council on AIDS.

1987 • Persad begins offering training services to promote LGBTQ+ competence for human service professionals.

1990 • Persad helps found PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).

2000 • Persad begins a domestic violence treatment program for same-sex couples.

2001 • Co-founders Randy and Jim retire.

2003 • Persad Center obtains a license from the PA Department of Health, Division of D/A Program Licensing to offer substance abuse treatment services.

2004 • Persad opens an outreach center in Washington, PA.

2008 • Persad responds to a growing community of LGBTQ+ seniors by offering Senior Conversations – an ongoing series of educational and social events.

2008 • Creating a safe space for LGBTQ+ youth, Persad opens an afterschool program in the Gay and Lesbian Community Center, offering homework support, snacks and support groups.

2008 • Co-founder Randal Forrester dies.

2009 • Persad is awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Human Services, Administration for Children and Families to help runaway and homeless youth by providing direct street-level outreach and intervention.

2010 • Persad launches the Community Safe Zone program to combat LGBTQ hate crimes and discrimination in Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland Counties.

2011 • Persad is named a regional affiliate of the national SAGE (Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders) organization.

2015 • Expanding services to the community, Persad Center moves to a brand new facility at 5301 Butler Street in Lawrenceville.

2016 • Persad launches and rolls out its new community programming.

2020 • Persad launches the first LGBTQ competent dual-diagnosis Intensive Outpatient Program in Western Pennsylvania for people struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues.

two young people smile wearing Persad t-shirts

Your support makes a real difference for LGBTQ+ people.

100+ seniors bonded over coffee, conversation,

and other events

875+ people received food from the food pantry

12,000+ hours of therapy

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