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29 July 2009, 12:00 pm No Comments

What If This Door Had Stayed Open?

doorThis post was written by David Mariner, Executive Director of The DC Center.

This is a typical door to a small warehouse space, but for us, it’s a little piece of history. Complete with a Frank Kameny signature ‘Gay is Good’ bumper sticker, this was the door to our first Washington DC LGBT community center, which first opened in March 1972. Sadly, this center founded by the Gay Activists Alliance closed this door for good just 18 months after it opened.

This was the first attempt to build a permanent home for the LGBT community of DC, but not the last. The current DC Center, of which I am proud to serve as Executive Director, represents our third time at bat.

I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if this center had survived its nascent period and had the chance to grow. Would we have a permanent home for our community? How would the center have grown over the years? Would we be like community centers in other cities?

DC ranks in the top five metropolitan areas in terms of same-sex couples according to census data, along with Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and San Francisco. Yet, for some reason, we are the only one of these cities that doesn’t have a permanent home for our LGBT center. Each of these cities has LGBT centers with multi-million dollar buildings and multi-million dollar annual budgets ranging from over two million to well over forty million. Our entire operating budget this year, in contrast, is less than 10% of the lowest of these budgets.

We have a long way to go. But the proposed changes to the 2010 District budget, which would cut all city support for The DC Center by 60%, are moving us backward, not forward.

There are over 180 community centers in the United States. The average center has 10,000 square feet of space. We are operating on less than half that amount. We make do with what we have, but it is hard to imagine making do with less.

With the proposed budget cuts I find myself, much like the founders of the first center in 1972, wondering how exactly we will be able to keep our doors open.

You may not know that much about The DC Center, but chances are, you know a lot about the work that goes on here. DC for Marriage has it’s home at the DC Center. The DC Fukit/DC Toolkit safer sex campaign is part of our HIV Working Group. GLOV, DC’s LGBT Anti-Violence Organization is also a task force of The DC Center.

The DC Center is a place where these advocates, and many others, come together to plan, to organize, and to improve the lives of LGBT people in the District.

It’s also a place where we celebrate LGBT people through our art and culture: like the current J. Aiden Simon Photography Exhibit, or the recent OutWrite book reading featuring CD Kirven, Lambda Literary Foundation nominee for best lesbian fiction.

The DC Center is a place where LGBT come for career coaching on Mondays afternoons, and help with quitting smoking on Thursday evenings. A place where many diverse social groups have come together like The Bisexual Men’s Alliance, Women in Their Twenties, and Onyx DC.

I want the DC Center to be a place for all of this and much more, for many years to come. But we can’t do it without the support of The City. It is my great hope that the city council will reject this 60% cut in support for the DC Center, and that we are able to keep our door open for many years to come. If you share this hope now is the time to let your city council member know.

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