Marching Orders For...
Are you newly out? Have a loved one who is? Need health care? Other vital services? Looking for the latest edition of the Advocate (for FREE!)? An apartment to rent? A place to volunteer and get involved? Want to check out some queer art? Or do you just want to crash and read a book on gay politics, travel, or rent a queer movie? Or... do you have a committee, group, or organization that needs office or meeting space to rent?
Have you heard about the LGBT Community Center?
The spark that created the Center was Queen City Community Development (QCCD), founded in 1996. QCCD's original initiatives were affordable LGBT senior housing and a community center. In June 2002, we opened our doors, and have been going strong, now with 70 organizational members, ever since.
Since the 1969 Stonewall Riots, LGBT communities around the country have grown and changed dramatically. Many have built an infrastructure where none existed before—organizations that serve those in crisis: the young, the elderly, people living with HIV and AIDS, survivors of anti-gay violence, people struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues, and those struggling to come out. Seattle had numerous such organizations but it wasn't until 2002 that Seattle opened its LGBT Center, a place of collaboration, where the community can come together to work for fairness and equality in programs, services, and life. By opening its own LGBT Center, Seattle joined the ranks of cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
Today the Center is being asked to do more than ever before. More people are accessing the Cyber Center and even more are calling and walking into the Center. There is greater use of the meeting spaces. People are visiting the LGBT Center to get information about health issues, coming out, and getting involved in the community. In 2004 alone we served nearly 6,000 people who came to us for resources, crisis information, a kind ear, support, or referrals—all through our Resource and Referral Network. We also manage 13 fiscal projects, including Equal Rights Washington. We have five nonprofit tenants. We have an art gallery and volunteer arts committee—QArts—that hold monthly art shows and receptions. And we are a place for people to just come in and get resources, visit, chill, borrow a book, or just find a place where they can connect in our Queer-mmunity. They count on us and we count on you.
Our Seattle community is infused with an activist and collaborative spirit that other progressive communities envy. The Center provides a safe and welcoming place to come together and plan, advocate, participate, share our knowledge and expertise, and shape our future. We provide a civic face for Seattle's LGBT community, ensuring awareness of LGBT individuals and organizations in the city in which we live.
I know how important a queer community center can be. On October 14, 1997, the LGBT Community Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, closed its doors. Unfortunately that was just when I needed to find my community. I had been "halfway" out for many years, but came to the realization I needed a community of people to support me, to integrate into, and to connect with. A community center offered a doorway into the LGBT community—a place where I could find some safety, get information, and connect—but it was too late for me. My life might have been different had the resources available at the Seattle LGBT Community Center been available to me as a teenager. I might have accepted myself much sooner if I had found a place where I was valued for the butchy dyke that I was and still am.
The one thing I've heard over and over since becoming the executive director at the Center is that the LGBT community is fragmented. Well, there's now a place where we're starting to all come together—the Center. I'm a dreamer, and I envision a strong LGBT community in Seattle, and one day soon I see a new, bigger Center, greater collaborative power, more funding, more connections, and more engagement with all the other communities in our city. I dream of a stronger LGBT community.
How can you help? Stop by and visit. Check out our website. Then take out your checkbook and support our efforts. Having a highly visible and successful LGBT public space—a place—is vital. Your support will help create a stronger LGBT community. ■
Shannon Thomas is the Executive Director of the Seattle LGBT Community Center.