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What Defines a Community Organization?

This commentary is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect that of the other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin

Timothy Kincaid

November 25th, 2008

Tonight there will be a “townhall meeting”, a 90 minute online forum to address “Prop. 8: The Facts and the Future”. It is hosted by the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center and will feature its CEO, Lorri Jean.

At first glace this seems like a reasonable organization and individual to take charge and really address this situation. After all, what could be more representative of the gay community than “the world’s largest LGBT organization”?

But is this really the world’s largest LGBT community organization? And what makes an organization “community”?

I would argue that for an organization to be “community” it has to fit some criteria: it must be where the community is, provide services to the community, be welcoming to all members of the community, and be a home, a place of security and warmth, a shelter.

Sadly, the LA Gay and Lesbian Center fails on nearly all accounts.

The heart of Los Angeles’ gay community can be found in West Hollywood on the corner of San Vicente and Santa Monica. Although today that portion of West Hollywood plays social host to a mostly white male gay crowd of a certain age and dynamic, it is to that location that our community gravitates in time of protest. Yes, there are other parts of the city that play host to various subsets of our community, but West Hollywood is ours. It is our safe spot.

Hollywood is not.

A lone gay man or woman would not feel completely safe at night on Hollywood Boulevard towards the eastern end of the cruise strip. This is straightsville, and not a very safe part of it at that. Yet it is on a side street off Hollywood, three miles from the community, that the LAGLC’s chose to purchase a four story office building. And while it may be safe to wander around the neighborhood streets during the day, parking is only available for a hefty price.

If there is one thing obviously missing from the neighborhood in which the Center is located, it would be gay people.

But they also have another site – used mostly for fundraising. It has an art gallery, a theater, and rooms your organization can rent for occasions. It’s also in Hollywood and has no parking and I’ve yet to meet the person who wanders over to spend the afternoon.

But one might overlook the location if the draw was adequate. If they offered a service that was communal, that drew people together, that created a bond, a common meeting space, a feeling of unity.

Well, perhaps a glance at the Center’s revenues and expenditures can give us some sense as to whether LAGLC has the unification of the community as their primary goal.

According to LAGLC’s Form 990 for the year ended 6/30/07, the Center allocated their program service expenditures as follows: 77.0% as a pharmacy, 5.8% as an AIDS information clearinghouse, 5.7% for health education, for combined health services of 88.5% of their overall expenditures. Perhaps that’s why health care is featured so prominently on their website.

But healthcare is not their only function. They also provide care for homeless youth, free internet access, programs for seniors, and legal advice. All told they spent $32,895,161 doing good deeds.

For which they received reimbursement of $36,711,446 by the state, insurance companies, and fees.

Even after paying all administrative and fundraising expenses, the Center was in the enviable position of being able to reserve 43% of their direct public support away for a rainy day.

As for the average Joe or Jane gay person, for you there is not so very much.

Now you may be new in town and wander down Rand Shrader Place wondering what that brightly colored building is. And you may even go inside thinking it would be cool to maybe meet other gay people. But unless you are here for medical services (what’s your insurance?) or have an appointment, there’s no seating provided in the marble lobby and loitering isn’t allowed. (While once waiting for a friend who was receiving “legal advice” I was informed that there was a bench outside).

If you’re new in town and want to hang out with other gays, try either Starbucks on Santa Monica across from the gym or the new coffee place on the corner of Robertson. Or visit a church, join a club, or have a cocktail in any of dozens of bars scattered throughout the city. But don’t go near the Center.

Now don’t get me wrong. I very much appreciate the medical services they provide to those who are indigent or uncomfortable with another health care provider. And it’s awfully nice that someone is caring for youth and seniors. Truly. We need to better address the issue of homeless gay youth.

But I’m not sure why an adjunct of the State Health Department thinks that it is qualified to speak for me on issues of civil equality or why Lorri Jean has anything to say about the passage of Proposition 8.

Comments

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mattymatt
November 25th, 2008 | LINK

The gay center in SF has the same problem. It’s located on the windswept outskirts of the Castro, at the foot of a freeway offramp. Most of my friends are totally unaware of it; and even the people who know that it exists aren’t really sure what it’s for.

Ken R
November 25th, 2008 | LINK

Timothy, I used to go to the Center on occasion before I moved to Vegas 10 years ago from Glendale. And that was only when my friend was looking for work. They used to have a job board and job counseling back in the mid 90′s which I heard by the late 90′s was done away with. He did go for free counseling when he had some issues. Not sure if that is being offered anymore.

The neighborhood is pretty scruffy I agree. The people that live around there are either dirt poor immigrants, homeless, drug addicts, or prostitutes. I only went to the Center during the day time and parking is just horrendous. I’m offended by any business that charges to park in their parking lot even if you have to do any lengthy business with them. While there is parking on the street good luck finding a space.

I’ve always believed the Center should be in the middle of West Hollywood. Having it in the worst parts of Hollywood just makes no sense. Am I correct in remembering that the Center was on Fairfax close to Santa Monica Blvd back in the 80′s? That was so long ago.

David C.
November 25th, 2008 | LINK

Now, contrast this with the Centers in San Diego (www.thecentersd.org) and New York City (www.gaycenter.org), which are essentially in the heart of the respective gay communities they serve. The NYC Center is a model other gay community centers should strive to emulate.

These are genuine Gay Community Centers, with all of the services and social opportunities someone would expect in something for a “community”.

Clearly, if people want a different manifestation for their GLBT centers, they should consider working to make that happen. Centers don’t need to be in just one place (yeah, I know, that sounds contradictory), and different services could be located at different places.

Still, I can sympathize with Timothy’s position. Certainly, the population center of the gay community in LA is in West Hollywood, and in SF, it’s the Castro. Of course, there is the problem of finding a building suitable for a GLBT center exactly where you want it. Were the centers in these two cities looking to relocate to a more “community friendly” location, now would be the time to start shopping for the real estate.

Jim Burroway
November 25th, 2008 | LINK

I’m very proud of Tucson’s own Wingspan LGBT Community Center. It’s conveniently located, plenty of parking, the lobby is made for hanging out (complete with a library and comfortable couches), and it provides an array of vital community services based on a community-focused needs assessment.

I really do think it provides a good model for what a community center ought to be.

Louie
November 25th, 2008 | LINK

Does anyone know if Phoenix has an LGBT center?

Considering that Phoenix is the Capital of Arizona and 5th largest city in the country, you would think that we have enough gays in the Phoenix metro area to warrant an LGBT center!

cowboy
November 26th, 2008 | LINK

If it were not for Bruce Bastian (the guy who donated a million dollars to the No-on-Prop-8) we would not have a Utah Pride Center. It’s a nice building too!

It is also where, hopefully, the SLC WinterPride will get their act together for the event in 2009. It’s just a couple of months away. Oh, yeah, I forgot. Some people are boycotting us. Which probably means this year only a few of us will Après-ski at the Stein Erickson lodge at Deer Valley where we will sip an overpriced hot cocoa or a hot toddy…take your pick.

kevin
November 26th, 2008 | LINK

How can anyone be unaware of the LGBT Center in SF? Not only is it on Market Street (THE main thoroughfare of the city), but it’s at the crossroads of Market and Octavia, which everyone has to pass when they come off the freeway to go into the Haight and Castro or on their way to the Golden Gate Bridge.

You know? It’s that HUGE half-modern, half-Victorian building with the letters “LGBT Center” prominently displayed on the front fascade? Right across the street from It’s Tops, where all the gays have to wait in line for Sunday Brunch?

Anyway, San Francisco doesn’t really have a “heart” of the gay community, as we have queer enclaves in the Castro, SOMA, Hayes Valley, Bernal Heights/Mission, and Polk Gulch…all of which are unique.

I don’t know why I’m defending the center: I don’t work there or hardly use it. However, I’ve been to numerous events inside and demonstrations in front of it and I think it serves it’s function perfectly.

Their only issue seems to be keeping a cafe running.

Timothy Kincaid
November 26th, 2008 | LINK

Ken R

Am I correct in remembering that the Center was on Fairfax close to Santa Monica Blvd back in the 80’s? That was so long ago.

I don’t recall the exact address, but yes it used to be much more available. And it also used to have community information and community services and a place to hang out.

David C,

These are genuine Gay Community Centers, with all of the services and social opportunities someone would expect in something for a “community”.

Some years back the LA Center officially removed the word “community” from their name.

Alex H
November 26th, 2008 | LINK

I love the observation, Timothy! I had no idea that the LAGLC provided medical care.

And you’re right, it isn’t much of a hangout place.

In the 80s, the GLCSC was on Highland, just above Santa Monica Blvd.

PDQ
November 28th, 2008 | LINK

Timothy Kincaid wrote:

“But I’m not sure why an adjunct of the State Health Department thinks that it is qualified to speak for me on issues of civil equality or why Lorri Jean has anything to say about the passage of Proposition 8.”

I agree with you that the assclowns who managed the No on 8 effort were badly outmaneuvered, and I agree that we should look for someone other than the HRC and The Center types. But WHO? It’s easy to criticize those who made an effort and failed, but no one seems to be addressing WHO would be qualified to step up to the plate and do it better.

Timothy – do you have any suggestions?

Timothy Kincaid
November 28th, 2008 | LINK

PDQ:

That is a good question and one for which I do not have an easy or immediate answer.

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