LGBTQ community center marks first yearWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org
Almost one year ago, a community center focused on the needs of Toledo’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) community opened at the Collingwood Arts Center.
The space, called Pride Center 419, was a long-held dream of many in Toledo’s LGBTQ community and its organizers hoped to offer a place to hang out, referral services, meeting space, a hygiene pantry, an LGBTQ library and more.
“It’s not exactly what we thought it would be, but it’s been so successful in a way we didn’t really expect,” said Toledo Pride Foundation Executive Director Lexi Staples. “We expected to have to run a lot more programming, but I think just the space is what was needed — a safe space for people to be able to use and have their meetings.”
Toledo Pride Foundation member Torie Thorne agreed.
“It’s going not how we thought it would go, but not in a bad way,” she said. “I think because we never had a clear-cut idea of what it would be, it got to turn into what it is without us being like, ‘No, that’s not what we wanted to do.’ You don’t always know what the community needs and it was able to become what was needed kind of on its own.”
The Pride of Toledo Foundation and Equality Toledo worked in conjunction with various local LGBTQ organizations to launch the center, located in a rented room at the Collingwood Arts Center, 2413 Collingwood Blvd. The center officially opened Sept. 5 and is coordinated by Sherry Tripepi of Equality Toledo along with Staples and Thorne.
The center is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays, staffed by Thorne, during which time people often stop by to pick up or drop off hygiene products, browse the library or drop off donations and more.
One limitation has been there isn’t someone available to staff it daily, Tripepi said.
“It’s been well-utilized, but I think it definitely has more potential,” Tripepi said. “Hopefully we’ll continue to grow.”
A one-year anniversary party for the LGBTQ community and allies is planned for 6-8 p.m. Sept. 11. Refreshments will be served.
The space gets used an average of 15 times per month, Staples said.
Among the groups that have utilized the space are Equality Toledo, Why Marriage Matters Ohio, Young Gay & Proud, Holiday with Heart Charity Gayla, Toledo Pride, Owens Community College Gay Straight Alliance, AIDS Resource Center, Rainbow Area Youth and more.
The space has been used for meetings, movie nights, HIV testing, parties and more. Any nonprofit group can use the space for free, Staples said. The group does not have to be affiliated with the LGBTQ community.
The space is open for use on a first-come, first-serve basis by emailing email@example.com.
Besides serving as a meeting space, Pride Center 419 offers an LGBTQ book and video lending library. A hygiene pantry is also available with many free items for both men and women.
Donations to the library and the hygiene pantry are welcome.
The center also serves as a resource for information and referrals for LGBTQ support groups, churches, charities, health services and more. Any LGBTQ group is welcome to leave brochures, business cards, newsletters, magazines and promotional items. A community bulletin board is also offered to post announcements and notices on upcoming events.
The hygiene pantry has been a much-utilized resource, Staples said.
“We thought when we started it we would, and it has definitely turned out to be something that’s very needed,” Staples said. “People can usually get assistance or money to get food, but to get those things to make sure you’re clean and fresh are harder to come by.”
One group that regularly uses the space is Young, Gay & Proud (YGP), a peer support group geared toward African-American males ages 13-24 led by co-facilitators Christopher Coleman, Kennyetta White and Marlon Barbour.
The group, which is open to anyone, started a year ago with three attendees meeting at Coleman’s home. Now it averages 25 youth at monthly meetings at Pride Center 419, Coleman said.
“If they are having problems at home, once a month they can come and be themselves, get some food, some health products, maybe some health services they didn’t know were in the community,” Coleman said. “We try to be a one-stop shop as far as life skills and life needs for them.”
“They need somewhere to go and someone to believe in them. YGP offers a safe place to express what they are going through that day, week, month, year. To be able to have a voice, to not hide behind a curtain of sexuality, to bring a boyfriend and just live, laugh, enjoy.
The group’s recent one-year anniversary party included a candlelight vigil for 16-year-old Tyler McIntoush of Toledo, who was shot and killed in July. Although to Coleman’s knowledge McIntoush never attended a YGP meeting, he considered him a member of the group and many of his friends were regular attendees.
Possible safe house
Coleman hopes one day to be able to offer a safe house for local LGBTQ youth without a place to stay.
“One of the No. 1 demographics experiencing homelessness not just here but in the country are gay youths,” Coleman said. “In a perfect world, they would come out and their parents would be accepting and talk about it and process it with them, but that’s not always the case. Many are kicked out by those who don’t understand it and don’t want to hear it.”
During the upcoming Toledo Pride, a CD of music from the past five years of Toledo Pride will be made and sold for $7 with proceedings benefiting Pride Center 419, Staples said.
Other groups, including a men’s support group and a transgender support group, are talking about meeting at the space, Staples said.
“There’s talk of all kinds of stuff and I believe people will make it happen,” she said. “We’re very excited to promote our one-year anniversary party and we’re very excited that we’re 1 year old.”