Group Plans Regional LGBTQ+ Center

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A group of 30 to 40, including members of the LGBTQ+ community and allies gathered to envision a place where they could learn, teach and feel safe, they said.

After the meeting people gather to the back of the church to ask more questions on Monday, Jan. 23, 2017. (Michael Swensen/WOUB)
After the meeting, people talk at the Church of the Good Shepherd to ask more questions on Monday. (Michael Swensen/WOUB)

At an initial meeting at the Church of the Good Shepherd on University Terrace, Mike Straw led the discussion on how the planned community center would become a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization and move into a facility.

The main goal of the center, Straw and others in the group said, was to give those outside of the student community and outside of uptown Athens a place of their own.

“Southeast Ohio is a big region, and we need to have support and resources for the entire region,” Straw said.

Talk of an LGBTQ+ community center was started in collaboration between Straw and Ohio University LGBT Center Director delfin bautista.

“I emailed them (with interest in starting the center) and they emailed right back saying ‘yes, I am completely on board with this,” Straw said of bautista, who uses they/them pronouns. The idea had been floated by bautista in the past.

The OU LGBT Center is open to all while the community center works to become a reality, bautista said, but they are happy to see the start of something new.

“I’m always open to experimenting and trying new things, so when we say dream big, we mean dream big,” bautista said.

The community center idea is still in it’s infancy, and first on the list of needs is donations. In order to become a 501 (c) (3) charity, the group needs to raise $525. After that, a location will be identified, along with the needs of the group.

“I’m thinking the center could also potentially be a mobile center, so we could reach out to Athens County and

Jason Hernandez, left, talks with an attendee of the LGBTQ+ community center organizational meeting. (Michael Swensen/WOUB)
Jason Hernandez, left, talks with an attendee of the LGBTQ+ community center organizational meeting. (Michael Swensen/WOUB)

the areas outside of Athens,” Straw said.

Several others who attended the meeting on Monday liked the idea of a mobile center or chapters of the center, along with a centralized location.

The group talked about potential programs and ideal uses for the center, including housing for LGBT youth, events in rural areas, resources to provide counseling, legal and medical services, and places for allies and parents to learn as well.

“We need to find a way to communicate with allies who support us but don’t really know how to talk about it,” Jason Hernandez said at the meeting.

Sarah Hodges Grace attended the meeting and was asked to be a part of the organizing committee. She

said she is eager to help, but as an ally she needs guidance on being a part of the work.

“I can only guess unless you tell me how to help,” Grace said.

Other attendees offered ideas such as free classes and workshops, identifying grant writers to help find funding sources, and touching on other issues within the LGBT community.

“We would also like to see outreach for other issues, like substance abuse,” Douglas Koala Robinson said.

Straw was quick to emphasize that organizers are not trying to compete with the OU LGBT Center in any way, and hope to work with city leaders and community members to make the center work.

The goal is to have a center with minimal services open by July of this year. A GoFundMe has been started for the cause, and a Facebook page has been created for the group.