The LGBT Center of Raleigh’s new location is larger and offers more
opportunities for expanded programming says executive
director Bobby Hilburn. Photo Credit: LGBT Center of Raleigh

Organizers of the recent OutRaleigh Festival say they could have never expected the positive turnout they received when their event unrolled on downtown streets on May 14.

Bobby Hilburn, executive director of the LGBT Center of Raleigh, the festival’s sponsor, said they expected a couple thousand attendees. When the event had come and gone, organizers counted more than 6,000.

“We were definitely pleasantly surprised — one word that comes to mind is ‘overwhelmed,’” says OutRaleigh committee member Daire Roebuck. “It was really something to stand up there on the stage and look at the old capitol building and see Fayetteville St. filled with people and vendors and gay pride balloons and flags.”

The event on May 14 marked the first time Raleigh held its own LGBT community festival in years. The capital city had hosted statewide Pride events and other smaller activities in the past, but locals wanted a new event to call their own. Roebuck says OutRaleigh’s success is part of the tremendous growth the community has seen across the state. In recent years, a variety of small-town communities have organized similar LGBT festivals and Pride events.

“It’s absolutely fantastic to see it all and it is a positive consequence of our communities growth,” she says. “We have this absolute influx of population to this state from all over the country — people moving from Michigan and New York and places that have long-established Pride festivals. They come down here and to places like Salisbury and think, ‘Why can’t we have Pride here?’ I think it is great that there is this proliferation of Pride events.”

Though successful, Hilburn says the Center and the organizing committee felt their fair share of growing pains.

“It was definitely a learning experience and a very rewarding experience,” he says. “We grew as a result of this planning process.”

OutRaleigh’s success mirrors that of Hilburn’s center. The group’s initial board first met in 2008. By February 2010, the center found its first home on W. Cabarrus St. In April 2010, the group announced they would merge with Triangle Community Works, a community service and programming organization established in 1994. Two months ago, the center moved to larger space at 411 Hillsborough St.

“We’ve found a home that is three times larger than our old space,” Hilburn says. “We plan for this space to be our home for the next three-to-five years and it will enable us to provide numerous programs and multiple meeting locations for various organizations. We’re still not where we want to be but we are heading in the right direction as far as a facility goes.”

The center held a grand opening for their new space on the same day as the OutRaleigh Festival. Hilburn says that the community has responded positively and are continuing to support the center’s programming in new and exciting ways.

He says Raleigh-based Workplace Options and Duke Medicine have both given at least $10,000 to the organization.

In addition to OutRaleigh, the center has several regular programs working to reach out and make a difference in the lives of LGBTs across the Triangle area. Hilburn says the center’s “Gay and Gray” initiative has been among the most popular.

Gay and Gray chair Les Geller says the initiative seeks to serve the social, healthcare, legal and other needs of an aging LGBT population ages 50 and over. He’s been encouraged by the support the initiative has received from both younger and older center supporters.

“We’ve seen quite a bit of support from the younger generation, which has been quite a surprise to me,” Geller says. “Several members of our committee are under the age of 30 and our volunteer coordinator is 26 years old.”

Hilburn says the center has other programs they’ll soon be rolling out as the center continues to grow with its surrounding community. Those programs include a new transgender initiative.

“We look forward to serving our community in the coming year,” he says. “We invite people to come by and look at our new center. We want to make sure we welcome all members of our community. We have an open door policy. : :

more: Be sure to pick up our June 25, 2011, print edition for more on the LGBT Center of Raleigh’s Gay and Gray initiative.

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.