About 50 members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community met at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd Monday night to discuss future plans for the Southeast Ohio LGBTQ+ Community Center.
The meeting, which was led by the center’s organizer Mike Straw, was held to identify the needs of the LGBTQ+ population in Athens, Athens County and Southeast Ohio as well as what resources are needed to meet those needs.
Straw reached out to delfin bautista,* director of the OU LGBT Center, who agreed that the region needed another center and who has since joined the center’s board. Previously, the Ohio University LGBT Center was the only center in Southeast Ohio, which comprises 19 counties.
Straw said the new center will be synergistic with the one at OU and will work to accommodate the needs of those who are either uncomfortable using a center on a college campus or who live too far away for the campus’ center to be convenient.
“This is not a competition at all. As a matter of fact, it’s the opposite. ” Straw said of the future center’s relationship with the existing one at OU. “We’re working together to give Southeast Ohio the best we can . . . We’ll be dividing our labor, we’ll be pooling our resources, we’ll be endeavoring in cooperative efforts to make things happen.”
According to Straw, the first step the organization must take is to become a 501c3 registered charity, which grants tax-deductible status. This presents a financial obstacle, which Straw and the board are hoping to overcome through donations to their GoFundMe campaign. In total, the organization will require $525 to file the articles of incorporation with the state and with the IRS. Once it reaches this goal, it will need funds to rent or purchase a physical facility and to pay a staff.
“Ironically, to be identified as a nonprofit, you have to have money,” Straw said.
Straw hopes to have a temporary facility by July of this year and a fully operational community center by January 2018. In the meantime, the organization is working on its website, which is expected to be launched in February.
Attendees shared their hopes for what they thought the center could and should offer after discussion in small groups. In addition to outreach across the region, rather than just in Athens, many wanted to see increased accessibility to counseling, mentorship and medical care, while others suggested organizing social events and creating a resource center.
Editor’s note: *bautista uses they/them/their pronouns and does not capitalize their name.