Building a Rainbow of Communities
The LGBT Center of Raleigh
By Andy Bradshaw
Photography courtesy of the LGBT Center of Raleigh
Walking down South Harrington Street in Downtown Raleigh’s Warehouse District, a pink brick building whose entrance is flanked by rainbow flag-adorned windows naturally catches the eye. Home to the LGBT Center of Raleigh, the organization serves as a resource center for the area’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. One of three all-purpose LGBT Centers in the state, it fulfills many roles for its visitors. It is a library and performance space, a classroom and a coffee shop, a discussion forum and a health center – through each of these different functions there’s a common thread of support and advocacy for the diverse friends, families, and members of the Triangle’s LGBT community.
“We try to help everyone under the sun – everyone from age four to 90,” says James Miller, Executive Director of the Center. “Anyone who shows up, we won’t turn away. We are a community center first. It’s important that our center takes care of all kinds of people – because people are people.”
Now in its ninth year, the organization hosts social events, run programs, and provides valuable resources to the community. Through its expansion in scope and size, the Center reaches a widening array of communities, allowing it to make valuable connections within the LGBT community and beyond.
A PLACE TO CALL HOME
More than four walls and a roof, for much of the Triangle’s LGBT community it is a haven of tolerance and engagement. Those lacking a safe, welcoming environment at home, work, or any other areas of their life can find one at the Center. Additionally, it provides an educational oasis of information on LGBT life through its library.
“I would consider the library to be the crown jewel of the Center,” says Miller. Featuring nearly 3,000 volumes of novels, countless DVDs and CDs, non-fiction works, and self-help books all focusing on a celebration of the LGBT community, the library provides a unified space to share the stories, research and constructive advice that many LGBT folks may struggle to find elsewhere.
Keeping in line with the Center’s dedication to inclusion, the library also includes works that detail advice for friends and family of LGBT people. “Fear of the unknown is what most often drives people away from the community,” says Miller. “So we want to help ease that fear and engage them in topics that will help them better understand our community.” By providing information and support to friends and family of LGBT folk, Miller says he hopes to see them transform from passive supporters into active allies for the community.
The library is open to residents of Wake, Durham, and Orange counties for a $5 membership fee; youth under 18 can check out books for free. The library has the same business hours as the Center: noon-8pm Monday-Friday and noon-6pm Saturday-Sunday.
BUILDING DIALOGUE, BUILDING COMMUNITIES
The Center provides multiple programs and forums spanning all age groups and encompassing many different facets of LGBT life. Studies confirm that the most confusing and vulnerable times fo an LGBT person are during youth and old age. Younger LGBT people often feel frightened and confused about their identity, while elders often face a sense of isolation, each group typically seeking answers, kinship, and above all – support.
That’s where the Center comes in. Through its SAGE Raleigh Program (Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders), they plan weekly get-togethers, outings, educational lunch-and-learns, and more. “Senior LGBT people tend to be isolated; sometimes, their younger counterparts don’t pay as much attention to them,” says Les Geller, former Vice Chair of the Center.
Providing a space for LGBT seniors to socialize with their peers, the group also advocates for services, education and initiatives to protect the “Gay & Gray” set. Discussions are currently underway to develop a Senior Housing Initiative locally. Such a community would be the first of its kind in the area, offering a safe, welcoming environment for LGBT seniors to live out their life.
On the flipside, the Center also works to create programs to help LGBT youth to enhance the adolescent experience with a combination of social and leadership programs, connecting young members of the Triangle’s LGBT community and empowering them to take on larger roles within their own communities.
“It’s really amazing to watch these kids develop into young leaders,” says Miller. “We get to see them become strong assets not just for the LGBT community, but for their own local communities as well.”
REACHING OUT TO THE TRIANGLE
“A rising harbor raises all ships. If we can work to make positive changes in the communities around us, the world gets better,” says Miller. With their eye always fixed on assisting the most vulnerable in our community, the Center’s endeavors do not simply begin and end with the queer community.
Partnering with Haven House, InterAct, and the Raleigh/Wake Partnership to End Homelessness, the Center helps bring in much-needed supplies on others’ behalf. “We put together an Amazon Wish List for them, and I was shocked to see how quickly people were buying tents, sleeping bags, blankets – all to help total strangers. It was really awesome to see,” says Miller.
The Center has also teamed up with ReachOUT NC to connect the LGBT community and its allies with volunteer opportunities. With a wide range of opportunities – from building houses for needy families to preparing meals for families with sick children – the aim is always consistent in promoting goodwill and uniting communities.
In many ways, that’s what the Center is all about: welcoming folks of all ages, communities, backgrounds and orientations to create a more colorful, kind City of Oaks. The work is often tough, rarely glamorous, and never fully done. But the upside to it is priceless, says Miller. “Just helping to initiate a dialogue or break down a barrier – it’s really incredible to see the development.”
YOU CAN HELP
The LGBT Center could always use some more “people energy”, says Miller. Opportunities for volunteering include:
• Greeting visitors
• Answering calls
• Assisting in the library
• Responding to inquires
• Assisting during special events
For financial donations, please visit the Center’s website lgbtcenterofraleigh.com. Every dollar donated helps the Center improve its visibility and expand its aid to our most vulnerable communities in the Triangle and beyond.