Across the Carolinas, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals constantly search for options for support and socializing. Some enjoy the bar scene, while others would prefer gathering together to do social action projects. But, the one consistent theme that they all share is a need for connecting with like-minded people.

Many of the smaller towns and hamlets do not have a regular, growing meeting spot that is specifically targeted to house the LGBT community’s resources and more.

However, in places like Charlotte, Raleigh and Columbia, as well as a unique option in Wilmington, volunteers and paid staff are working constantly on providing LGBT seekers meeting rooms, classes, exhibits, resources and a myriad of other items to satisfy even the most demanding palette.

Of course, each of these resources always welcome contributions to help them sustain their work with the community. And, when applicable, sponsorships are obtained to assist in their selected efforts to champion LGBT causes and more.

Coastal organization sets new direction

Bowling is a favorite event for New Out Wilmington participants. Photo Credit: OutWilmington.

Off with the old, on with the new. And, that’s just what has happened. Out Wilmington has a new name and a new direction. It is called New Out Wilmington (NOW). It has set a new course in working with the LGBT community along the southern North Carolina coast. And, more importantly, it’s the only center in the Carolinas that operates totally virtually.

The non-profit’s new leadership says it will play a more active role, supporting issues that go outside those concerning LGBT initiatives. They target fundraising events to support local and national charities, as well as scholarship opportunities for LGBT students enrolled at Cape Fear Community College and the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.

Membership is available at three levels: Gold, Silver and Bronze. Gold and Silver receive a free Frank Card (a local discount card) and discounts on events.

NOW is in the planning stages of implementing a toll-free gay crisis helpline for Southeastern North Carolina. According to Tracy Holbrook, they are “in negotiations with various groups such as [The] Trevor Project and local businesses that are interested in supporting this initiative. We definitely plan to have a physical location for the Helpline when it is implemented and this introduction will also quickly allow our organization to have a physical presence in our community.” The target date to go live is in early 2012. According to NOW, there are only around 50 across the nation, surveys report. Contact Ben Rose, organizer, at to volunteer or for more information.

On Oct. 21-23, NOW welcomed the Leather History Conference 2011. The conference is a project of the Carter/Johnson Leather Library which is based out of Willow Grove, Penn.

Current activities include a bowling league, wine tastings, film screenings and more. Family Fest 2011 was held from Sept. 30-Oct. 2 with a health fair, screening of “Gen Silent,” dinner cruise, worship service and tea dance.

NOW held its Winter Ball on Dec. 10 at Cameron Art Museum, 3201 S. 17th St. This charity event supported the work of Good Shepherd Center.

On the horizon are a photo opportunity with a male adult entertainment star to raise money for scholarships for LGBT students, a charity event fundraiser to support the local homeless shelter and soup kitchen, monthly film screenings and more.

The organization is always on the lookout for committee members and volunteers. Additionally, they are are open to working with neighboring cities to strengthen their work and that of other centers and initiatives.



Capital city heads call

The LGBT Center of Raleigh constantly expands its services on a community needs basis. Seen here is a gathering of the Trans Initiative which started out with 12 attendees and now boasts about 50. Photo Credit: Center Archives.

To the northwest is the LGBT Center of Raleigh, 411 Hillsborough St.. This brick-and-mortar facility has established itself in its brief history as a strong resource for the Triangle area.

Its mission is to provide a safe, caring place for all members of the LGBT community and to provide services to it, as well, said Linda Snyder, executive assistant.

Over its short history, the center has grown from a single idea into a broad organization that provides a rash of services. It has not strayed from its original direction, however, it may have had to alter some things due to financial needs or availability of funds.

“The LGBT Center of Raleigh was only an idea three years ago, when two interested groups [the center and Triangle Community Works] came together and put their joint efforts into making a physical center happen. Sharing funds and plans, the groups merged into one non-profit and took the step of renting a space, hanging out our sign and sending emails all over the area to friends and business friends, seeking their input and financial help. We created the Founders Triangle and have continued to fundraise and provide events that have drawn positive results. In one year we went from an 800 square foot meeting space with a small office, to a 1,700 square foot facility that has meeting space, offices and a library that is the largest LGBT library in the state outside of the universities. Our calendar is continuously full of events, meetings, and gatherings of outside groups interested in the LGBT community and we are a part of the larger community through participation in such events as the First Friday Art Walk run by the city of Raleigh. We have also been approached this year by two universities wishing to partner with us to have their students intern at the Center, so we are making an impact and becoming known for the work we do and the people we support,” Snyder shared.

Membership is not a function of the center. It is open to the public.

It hosts the OutRaleigh Festival and became the home to the M Club for young gay and bisexual men. It also provides meeting space and/or support for Silver Roses, No Accidents in Life!, HIV testing, open mic events, Transgender & Allies Support, Primetimers and Gay and Gray, Rainbow Reading Groups, game nights, potluck socials, drag brunches, lesbian book club and more. Additionally, it offers fitness-related activities through Healthworks, which was originally a Triangle Community Works program.

The center relies on contributions from individual donors, plus several corporate sponsors, such as Duke Medical, Workplace Options and others, Synder added. It also reaches out via its website to people all over the country. And, it holds a variety of activities across the Triangle to ensure inclusivity.



Queen City center continues to grow

The LGBT Community Center of Charlotte host a number of special events during the year, such as gallery exhibits. Photo Credit: Center Archives.

Moving to the southwest is the LGBT Center of Charlotte at 820 Hamilton St., Suite B11.

Its basic mission of serving the LGBT community through programs, services, events and collaboration hasn’t changed over the years.

John Stotler, board chair, said that they listen to the community. “We’ve asked the community to tell us what they want from the center. Some of this, we’ve been able to do. But, every event requires resources and sometimes those are scarce, whether that is money or volunteers. We’ve worked hard this past year to recognize the importance of both and to make better efforts to recognize donors and volunteers for their extraordinary contributions. We need to continue to cultivate both to meet the needs of the community,” he continued.

When the facility was on Central Ave., it ran a full-time schedule. Because of a shortfall in monetary resources over recent years, the center was forced to downsize its staff and volunteer hours. Stotler shared that they hope to one day be able to be a full-time center againand have increased their hours.

“In three years time, we fully expect that the center will be hosting multiple events every night of the week and be ‘the center’ of the LGBT community in the region,” he said. He indicated that the board even wants to expand staff. They have one part-time employee now and hope within the next few years to add a full-time executive director. They would like to occupy a larger space with the projected growth for more events. On their wish list is to see Pride Charlotte host 100,000 attendees In five years. “The Pride Committee may laugh about that, but Charlotte is a top 20 city. We can host 100,000 people at Pride!” he concluded.

The center currently hosts free HIV/syphilis testing, knitting classes, P90X shape up sessions, art exhibits, men’s and women’s support group, LezView Live (a radio show) and more.

Its website offers a comprehensive community directory of goods and services across a broad spectrum.

Of course, contributions are always welcome to help sustain the center’s work, as well as volunteers.



Palmetto State’s center hangs tight

Celebrations are part of the normal fare at The Harriet Hancock Center for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, & Transgender Community of South Carolina. Seen here is center president Ryan Wilson enjoying his birthday party with other participants. Photo Credit: Brock Henderson.

The Harriet Hancock Center for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, & Transgender Community of South Carolina, 1180 Woodrow St. in Columbia, is the only one in the state.

Ryan Wilson, the foundation chair, said that this center “has continued steadfastly since opening its door in 1994.” Growth has necessitated its expansion to meet the needs of those it serves.

Unlike the other two facilities in North Carolina, this center is an actual home. Under its umbrella is SC Pride, which has netted over 10,000 attendees in recent years.

Organizations, such as SC Black Pride, the SC Gay + Lesbian Business Guild and the Palmetto Transgender Association, make use of the free meeting space. “Countless educational forums, support groups, book clubs, religious study groups and social events” take place there, as well, Wilson continued.

He also said, “Our other project that gives us a lot of Pride is the grant funded Youth Empowered Against HIV! (YEAH!) — a project that trains young, self-identified gay, bisexual and queer males between the ages of 18-24 to be peer leaders and educators about HIV risk and ways to protect yourself. The peers of YEAH! have provided over 40,000 condoms to the local community through free condom dispensers. South Carolina and Columbia in particular rank tragically high for new cases of AIDS and HIV infections, so this project is a direct response to local community’s need for services that address HIV in a GLBT-affirming project that boost’s the peers’ pride in who they are while giving them skills to protect themselves and teach others. YEAH! has been funded for two years by the Central Carolina AIDS Partnership, AIDS United and the AIDS Benefit Foundation of South Carolina.”

In 2009, the center conducted an assessment and found that there were a number of programs that needed to be addressed in the area of health. Lesbian health concerns will be reviewed and expanded services will be made available once the requirements are identified. Additionally, they will focus on smoking and substance abuse and same-sex relationship violence and need volunteers to work on these initiatives. They are currently working with local law enforcement and emergency services and will have information available in the near future.

Anyone can use the services of the center for free. No memberships are available. Funds are always needed to cover the cost of running ads in newspapers and online, as well as on the radio. “We rely heavily on email, Facebook and Google searches that bring people to us when they are in need of resources or support,” Wilson commented.

Partnerships are important to the center. One major one is South Carolina Pride Movement, which provides constant and daily support and helps fund some of the operations with monies from Pride Festivals. Some of the Guild members donate to the center, too. SC Equality and South Carolina Black Pride are valuable allies. Grant funding comes from the City of Columbia Community Promotions.

“Thankfully, we also have a good relationship with the GLBT students and staff at the University of South Carolina. We also work with Elke Kennedy and the folks at Sean’s Last Wish,” Wilson added.

He also said that they have garnered great success from their growth and financial stability during the recent economic downturn. Conversely, he shared that they should have made moves that would have enabled them to hire paid staff. Over the next few years, their strategic plan is to hire a director.

The Harriet Hancock Center Foundation plans to launch a new website with updated logos and graphics, as well as publish an annual report and the South Carolina LGBT Needs Assessment in early 2012.