CHARLOTTE — The LGBT Community Center of Charlotte got new board leadership in July. Newly-appointed chair Scott Coleman and vice chair Roberta Dun say they’re encouraged by the organization’s recent growth and future endeavors.
Coleman, who replaced departing chair John Stotler, has lived in Charlotte since 1990. A native of Greenville, S.C., Coleman saw his first stint in community involvement during the Human Rights Campaign Gala in 2009. Later that year, he began volunteering for the center, joined the board in 2010 and was appointed vice chair last year.
In the time he’s been involved, Coleman says he’s seen a change in how the community interacts with the center.
“I think we’ve changed the perception of the center,” he says. “People are starting to get what the center’s for. They see where we’re at. I think we’re doing a better job of listening to the community and being a part of the community, which is what the center is all about.”
Dunn, too, believes the community has rallied around the organization. Over the past 18 months, she says, the center has seen a “doubling and trippling” of activities and volunteers.
“It used to be an empty shell and now it is full and robust,” Dunn says. “I find it much more welcoming to people than it was in the past.”
The center, Coleman notes, has expanded into full-time hours and recently hired O’Neale Atkinson as a full-time center administrator. Atkinson, who worked briefly as qnotes’ editor this spring, had worked part-time for the center previously.
Dunn and Coleman credit Stotler for their ability to increase programming and center hours.
“John Stotler did a phenomenal job at the center and got the center back into a good fiscal responsibility,” Dunn says. “People are donating money, though we still need more, but that has grown because more people are coming into the center. We’ve seen great growth in our financial outlook and bottom line. Look at it two years ago or a year-and-a-half ago and there’s no comparison.”
As the center continues to build its finances, leaders there say they are turning their attention to future growth.
“We’re looking for a new location,” Coleman says. “We’ve enjoyed our space here at the NC Music Factory, but we’ve done a good job of growing our programs and we’ve outgrown the space.”
Parking has also been an issue. Dunn says it is a mix of both “good news and bad news.”
“When we moved here, it was empty,” she says of the Music Factory complex. “Now it is at 100 percent and that has taken away one of the convenient things — we had drive-up parking.”
Dunn says the parking situation has impacted programs like HIV/AIDS testing and several other events have had to be cancelled when Music Factory events simply overwhelmed available parking.
“When you cancel too many events, people don’t come back as quickly any more,” Dunn says, noting that a stress on parking makes it more difficult for those who have received free testing at the center . “When they get here and there is no parking, they leave and they don’t get their results. That is a problem.”
But, parking isn’t the only consideration.
“We’re looking primarily for something with more space,” Coleman says, noting the organization’s need for increased capacity. “We’re also looking for something with more visibility. We’ve heard comments made that it is a little bit hard to find us. We’ve had a lot of people in the community express interest in us moving back into the Plaza Midwood area, so that is where we are focusing our efforts right now.”
Dunn and Coleman also see great potential in the upcoming Democratic National Convention. The center plans to open for extended hours and provide resources and services to visiting LGBT delegates and other visitors.
“We’re inviting delegates to come over and use the center as a rest area,” Dunn says.
A group of community members are also planning an LGBT delegate welcome party. “The center wants to be very supportive and we’re looking at taking a leadership role on that,” Dunn says.
Coleman thinks the recent passage of North Carolina’s anti-LGBT constitutional amendment has sparked people to action. The DNC, he says, provides an outlet for action.
“People are more fired up about the convention, especially since Amendment One passed in May,” he says. “I think people are becoming more politically active, which is a good thing and I think people want to see more political events at the center where they can get involved.”
Coleman says he’s hoping LGBT or LGBT-friendly politicians will feel welcome to stop by the center for events and to meet and greet local community members and convention-goers.
Ultimately, Coleman wants community members to know that the center can be like home.
“I think the center should be the hub of the community,” he says. “It’s nice for people to just come and let their hair down and relax and just talk with their friends and enjoy it.”
For more information about the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte, its location, hours, programming or more, visit gaycharlotte.com. : :