It’s that time again. Pride Season – a grand time of celebrating camaraderie, equity and identity. For many LGBTQ folks, a month or two or even three out of the year isn’t enough and safer spaces need to extend beyond Pride Parades and parties. For those of us who need more, LGBTQ Centers can offer a plethora of services, support and activities. In the Carolinas, Raleigh and Durham are home to LGBTQ Centers that provide such support and respite for local LGBTQ residents and visitors.
The LGBTQ Center of Raleigh – which just reopened in a new space in downtown – entices visitors with services and programs. According to the Center’s website, The LGBTQ Center of Raleigh has a plethora of social and educational programs in place. Among them: Queer Life, Health Works, Youth & Family, Transgender Outreach, SAGE Central of North Carolina, and more.
The Center’s Queer Life Initiative hosts programs that include: Bi in the Tri, a social and support group for bisexual, bi-friend, bi-interest and bi-curious adults. This is an important initiative when you consider the pushback and lack of understanding many of our bisexual community members often experience when looking for fellowship and support from Lesbian, Gay and Trans community members. Other Queer Life Initiative Programs offer “Game Night” and “Open Mic Night” for performance enthusiasts. But it’s not all about fun and games, there are also initiatives that cover serious issues with discussions, resources and support for those experiencing disabilities and autism.
As previously mentioned, the website indicates there are Health, Youth and Trans initiatives as well. As you might imagine, within the health initiatives you’ll be able to find program offerings on everything from HIV/STI testing to legal clinics and financial wellness. For trans individuals, there’s a Name Change/Gender Marker Clinic that can literally be an affirming lifesaving opportunity. Likewise, the Youth initiative has a Queer YA [Young Adult] Book Club, for young people who want to immerse themselves in literature written by or about Queer youth. Speaking of books, Raleigh’s Center has a library too – an important tool for a community that has historically been misrepresented.
Raleigh resident and author of “K:Rho-The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood” and “SBF Seeking,” LaToya Hankins, has visited The LGBTQ Center of Raleigh on more than one occasion prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
“I appreciated the space of the Center because it allowed different groups to come in and have meetings without being on top of each other,” she told Qnotes. “Having attended events at the previous Center it is a nice place to learn more and be part of the community. I am excited about participating in more of the activities they offer.”
The LGBTQ Center of Durham, although active and quite busy, is a center in transition. After two years of virtual programming because of the pandemic, the center remains virtual. While the facility maintains a physical bulletin board at its longtime location to keep visiting community members updated, the center itself is closed to visitors and at the moment, programming remains virtual. Soon to be relocating to a new and larger space, they continue to work towards creating community where all LGBTQ+ lived experiences are affirmed, supported and celebrated and they’re utilizing many methods to do it.
Although currently unavailable in person, Durham also has an LGBTQ library. Visitors to the Center’s website can click on the Programs Link to learn more about their library and other programming. According to the website, as is also the case with LGBTQ Center of Raleigh, the library is currently in the process of being updated, reorganized and cataloged. Durham’s Center library (opened in 2015, along with the initial founding of Durham’s Center) was designed to accommodate a diverse collection of LGBTQ focused books, magazines, CDs, DVDs and ‘zines to serve the local community.
And though cataloging is still taking place, website visitors are able to click on the catalog link for a sneak peek at well over 2700 books dating back decades.
For LGBTQ Centers, programming in a way that meets the needs of the communities they serve seems to be key. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Durham’s decision to adopt a more digital landscape to provide many of their programs and services digitally has been successful and continues to flourish. Information gleaned from the organization’s website indicates that they are in the process of structuring and creating the first LGBTQ+ Youth Center in Durham to open in the near future. They are soliciting participation for a Youth Advisory Council to assist with the process and programming – allowing LGBTQ+ youth to become fully engaged in an effort that is designed to safeguard them in what can be a complicated and stressful journey towards self-acceptance and identity.
It’s no secret that LGBTQ Centers are generally about supporting identity in some shape, form or fashion and Durham’s Center is making certain their response and efforts are diverse. Check out their FAQ section for the program Friends Aging Quirkily (FAQ). In an age and society that seems to champion youth over all else, Durham’s FAQ program is described as a collaborative effort to build community among LGBTQ+ folks aged 50+ in and around Durham. Visit their website (listed below) and Facebook page for updated information on continuing programming and progress with the new center.
In the past – pre-pandemic – Durham’s LGBTQ center has regularly offered space for community members to hold their own meetings or events. According to the website, space has been available on a sliding scale basis, accommodating anyone’s budget. In the upcoming space, it is expected the practice will continue.
In 1971 – prior to the current LGBTQ acronym becoming common place – the first lesbian and gay community centers opened in Los Angeles and Albany, New York. At that time, it was an audacious idea to create a safe public space that welcomed a community many didn’t understand and others despised. The Centers of the past laid the groundwork for what many centers are today when they provided “coming out” support groups, health services and space for community organizing meetings. For scores of LGBTQ+ individuals, these second homes were the birthplace of acceptance, HIV/AIDS support, lifelong relationships and needed social change.
Today, LGBTQ Centers nationwide continue to strive, though many fail to survive because of mismanagement and lack of funding. Regrettably, Charlotte (North Carolina’s largest city with the state’s largest concentration of LGBTQ individuals) is currently without an LGBTQ Center. Hopefully that will change in the near future.
In the Queen City, that loss has made it apparent how LGBTQ Centers remain valuable hubs, which continue to offer refuge, knowledge and connection. So, if you’re looking for family and know it’s about more than genetics, locate an LGBTQ Center and come home.
LGBT Center of Raleigh
4 North Blount Street
LGBTQ Center of Durham
114 Hunt Street (new address forthcoming)