Duncan Teague remembers working for the Lambda Center in the early 1990s with fellow LGBT activists, trying to raise enough money for the facility to have its own building.
“I was part of the first group of community people trying to put it together — that must have been 1991 or 1992 — and what I am most proud about is that we were as inclusive as possible,” Teague said this week.
Providing space for meetings and events was a key goal at the time, Teague said.
“That was the biggest issue and still is,” he said.
“When I went around asking people for $1,000 and $5,000, people came up with it. I wasn’t with [the Lambda Center] when they decided to take the seed money and opened on West Peachtree on the same floor as Positive Impact and AIDS Survival Project,” he recalled.
Atlanta has seen several attempts at an LGBT community center, some more successful than others. Now a new group of activists is debating whether to attempt what the others never achieved: a large-scale, state-of-the art facility that could become the hallmark of the local LGBT community, but would also cost millions of dollars to create and run.
Before the Lambda Center opened, there was the Atlanta Gay Center, founded in 1976. The Gay Center, which eventually became the Atlanta Gay & Lesbian Community Center, provided support groups, a health clinic and a newsletter, but always remained relatively small.
At one time the Gay Center was located on 12th Street. It later moved to 159 Ralph McGill Blvd., where several HIV/AIDS service organizations, including Positive Impact and AIDS Survival Project, were located. The Lambda Center also located there, and the two efforts joined forces.
But the “159 Center” broke up when that space became too expensive, and in February 2003, the Gay & Lesbian Center moved to a house located at 170 11th St. The center closed soon afterwards in the wake of a lawsuit from a former employee.
Positive Impact and the AIDS Alliance for Faith & Health are now located at 139 Ralph McGill Blvd.
Despite the troubles Atlanta has had maintaining an LGBT community center, there is no excuse for the city to not have one, Teague said.
“[A community center] is never not needed,” he said. “We have one of the largest gay communities in America and we don’t have a home. Some grassroots activists are choking on a $10 million cost, but I’d like to see us move forward without worrying about the numbers.
“When I go to the doctor’s office, I sit in a beautiful space. There is no reason for us not to go to a beautiful space,” he added.
Exploring the possibilities
At an April 22 meeting at the gay bar Mixx on Piedmont Avenue, about 20 activists gathered to discuss the idea of building or renovating a current building for an LGBT community center similar to the large facilities in New York, Chicago and San Francisco.
Attendees expressed support for the concept of a world-class center in Atlanta, but stressed there is also the need to support the Phillip Rush Center that already provides space and resources to numerous LGBT organizations. The Rush Center, located on DeKalb Avenue, is named for gay community activist Phillip Rush, who died last April.
Barb Rowland (Photo by Dyana Bagby)
Realtor Barb Rowland organized the April 22 meeting with Justin Ziegler, executive director of the Atlanta Executive Network.
With MEGA Family Project, which rents space at the Rush Center, and other non-profits including Atlanta Pride struggling to meet their annual budgets, some attendees felt that money should be funneled to these groups already in existence rather than start a capital campaign for a new facility.
“Look at the criticism HRC [the Human Rights Campaign] gets because of its fancy building [in Washington, D.C.] — a lot of people are angry because so much money goes to the building rather than to resources,” said Kathy Kelly, executive director of MEGA Family Project.
Rowland said she had spoken with wealthy local residents who wanted to invest in a gay community center similar to ones in Chicago, New York and San Francisco. A proposed budget for such a new facility in Atlanta is up to $22 million, she said.
“The saying, ‘Build it and they will come’ — there is some truth to that,” Rowland said. “There are some very monied people here who want to invest in something to make a big splash.”
Nearly everyone agreed a community center to house organizations and programs and provide services to LGBT Atlantans is a great idea. How to do that, however, remains to be seen.
Anne Barr, founder of the Decatur Women’s Sports League, said she would love to see a large community center in Atlanta.
“We have to be the leaders of the South,” she said.
A community center would attract more LGBT people to Atlanta and to Georgia and provide a safe space for those people who don’t feel safe elsewhere, she added.
“I think we’re paying all this money in all these different directions to rent facilities, if we could put it together we could own it. I’m excited,” Barr said after the meeting.