LGBTQ community center to open at the Collingwood Arts CenterWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
The walls have been scrubbed, old carpet removed and new curtains hung. A name has been chosen, supplies donated, events scheduled and a grand opening planned.
There’s still more to be done, but the pieces are coming together on a long-held dream of many in Toledo’s LGBTQ community — an event space and resource center focused on the needs of local lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning people.
Equality Toledo and the Pride of Toledo Foundation are working in conjunction with Toledo Area Rainbow Association, a network of LGBTQ organizations, to launch the center, located in a rented room at the Collingwood Arts Center, 2413 Collingwood Blvd.
Pride Center 419 will officially open Sept. 5, with an open house set for 6-9 p.m.
One of the center’s major focuses will be referral services, said Lexi Staples, executive director of the Pride of Toledo Foundation.
“It’s somewhere to call to figure out where you can reach out if you’re a young trans man and you don’t know where to go or if you’re a youth without any familial support,” Staples said. “There are different groups that work inside of our LGBT community here in Toledo that are already dealing with these issues, so it’s not so much that we need to create a way to deal with it but more to guide people to the right spot to get them the services they need. We’re going to try to work on making sure some of those services are more readily accessible.”
Organizers plan for the center to be open at least one day a week, but hours could expand depending on response.
“If that one day goes well, we could be open four or five days, depending on what the need ends up being,” Staples said. “The main goal is to make sure there’s sustainability in what we’re trying to do.”
The room will be used as a meeting and event space for local LGBTQ groups. It will also offer a hygiene pantry. A food pantry could be added in the future, Staples said.
“There’s a lot of young adults and youth who are either couch surfing or unable to provide for themselves right now due to multiple reasons, including being disowned by their families,” Staples said. “A lot of that is going on. So we just want to be able to offer that support.”
There are also plans to create a lending library of LGBT books and movies, host movie nights and more.
Sherry Tripepi, executive director of Equality Toledo, said preparations for the opening have been in the works for about six months.
“We in the community have been talking about it for years, but as far as actually doing something probably the past six months or so,” Tripepi said. “It’s great. We have the space. It’s a step in the right direction. Hopefully we can have some events on a regular basis to get the community connected with it and using it. There’s so much potential.”
Young, Gay & Proud
One group that plans to use the space is Young, Gay & Proud, a newly formed peer support group for African-American males ages 13-24. The group will hold its first official meeting 6-7:30 p.m. Aug. 26.
Christopher Coleman, who founded the group with Kennyetta White, started hosting the group informally in his home a few months ago.
“We’ve had four or five kids come already,” Coleman said. “I’m looking forward to moving into this facility and having a safe place for them. It’s very unique. There’s nothing like this in Toledo. It’s something totally new and we’re excited about it.
“A lot of it really has to do with that key word support,” Coleman said. “They don’t get a lot of that at home. There are economic issues, school issues, employment issues. Basically [they just need] love. Because lots of times if they come out in the African-American community and family, they are rejected. Some are kicked out of the house and don’t have a place to go.
“Hopefully, with this first meeting we can target how to help some of these individuals get the things they need.”
The idea has been tried at least once before in Toledo. Recollections on dates differ, but in the late 1990s or early 2000s, a group of local activists, including Ed Hoffman and his late partner Dick Flock, launched the Toledo Area Pride (TAP) Community Center, in an Old West End building owned by Hoffman. The organization lasted for about five years, he said.
“The idea was to unite the LGBT community and all the various facets of it,” Hoffman said. “It never really got off the ground. It was frustrating and disappointing. There was a need there and a group of people who put a lot of time and effort into it, but it wasn’t enough.”
However, Hoffman — one of the founders of the Collingwood Arts Center — said he thinks the current effort has potential.
“Organizations seem to be working together more than they were in the past and that’s a very important step in the right direction,” Hoffman said. “The younger community is more apt to work together as one. I see that happening.
“It’s a different time we’re in right now. I’m happy with what they are doing. I think we definitely need it.”