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
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.