Others brought up the fact that Atlanta’s LGBT community is divided into different groups. If there was a large community center where everyone could congregate and come together, bridges could be built between different groups.
But the idea of building a community center in Atlanta is one that has been attempted before several times and never worked out, pointed out Rev. Paul Turner of Gentle Spirit Christian Church of Atlanta.
“To be honest, this is the third or fourth meeting I’ve been to where we’ve taken a shot at this,” said Turner, who has lived in Atlanta for 15 years.
“I think before long it gets to push and shove because the leadership really doesn’t know what the community wants and needs,” he added. “Sometimes we don’t utilize the resources we have. I think we have to be intentional of literally going out to the community and asking what they need.”
Kiki Carr, founder of MondoHomo Queer Fest, pointed out that no people of color were at the meeting and it would be important to get feedback from various communities on what and if a community center is needed.
“We need to ask people what they want. When I hear ‘first class,’ I hear something in Midtown for rich, white gay men,” Carr said.
Teague believes Atlanta has needed a true LGBT community center for a long time, but it will take work for such an idea to come to fruition.
“This community has enough creativity and energy to do it. We need a center. We needed a center 10-20 years ago,” he said.
But to do so, there will have to be even more bridge building.
“There will have to be collaboration and compromise between groups that have never spoken to each other,” Teague said.
“It’s time we joined other major urban centers for gays, lesbians and queers and open something we can be proud of.”
‘Incubator’ at Rush Center
Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, and Linda Ellis, executive director of the Atlanta Lesbian Health Initiative, discussed what they are attempting to do at the Rush Center. It is the office space for their organizations and MEGA Family Project, but it also provides meeting space for dozens of other organizations and groups, such as the Black Lesbians Cancer Survivors Group, Weight Watchers, AID Atlanta’s Evolution Program and the Atlanta Pride Committee.
When the Rush Center was opened last year, it was intentionally not called a community center but rather is described as an “incubator.” Plans are in the works to expand the center if possible when new space comes open in the building.
The facility currently has 2,500 square feet and is nearly at capacity, Graham said. Another space may come open in the building soon, which could add another approximate 1,000 square feet to the center. But rent for that space would be approximately $1,500 a month and Graham said the goal is to have at least nine months of funding secured before expanding, or about $15,000.
Graham said this week it was nice to see some enthusiasm people had at the meeting for raising funds for a world-class center and he remains hopeful people will come together.
“I do think it is important to point out that this kind of project will take years at the very least,” he said.
“It’s also nice to see the meeting organizers acknowledge the Rush Center and that it could serve as an incubator and possible model,” Graham added.
Ziegler suggested that the community try to raise $100,000 – enough to fund the Rush Center expansion for five years at a cost of about $90,000, with $10,000 to spend on assessing whether a larger scale center is needed, and what people would want from such a center.
A mission of any community center is to bridge gaps and bring people from different communities together. Graham and Ellis said the Rush Center is doing that organically and right now they hope to be able to add a cultural space for such events as small art shows.
Rowland said the vision of the donors she has talked to is very different than the ideas of those behind the Rush Center, however.
“I could go to 10 different fundraisers this weekend, but there is no focus to it,” she said. “But if we have the money go toward a gay community center, there is a focus. But we need to do it from a groundswell of support.”
Kelly said asking non-profit groups to raise funds for a community center when the economy is down is not likely to happen.
“Most nonprofits can barely keep their doors open. There is no way they can divert their attention to fundraise for this,” Kelly said.
Kelly also noted that she worked on the campaign to fight the state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in 2004 and only $100,000 was raised. Most of that money, she added, came from the straight community.
“And this was the biggest attack our community faced,” she said.
Rowland said after the meeting that while she hoped for a more definitive plan of action, she is optimistic the community will rally behind a professional needs assessment to be taken to gauge what the entire Atlanta LGBT community wants.
“It’s time for us to do that,” she said.
— Laura Douglas-Brown contributed
Photo: The Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center’s headquarters features 44,000 square feet and cost $7 million to purchase and renovate. (Courtesy photo)