A common bond. A sense of identity. A source of support and therapy. That’s what a small group of community members hope can be accomplished as they sift through possibilities for an LGBT community center in Winston-Salem.

Home to almost a quarter-million people, Winston-Salem is most known for its cigarettes and doughnuts, banking and manufacturing, arts and education. In the midst of a seemingly sleepy, small town, there’s a progressive community working to bring awareness to issues of racial and ethnic diversity, social justice, poverty and LGBT people.

Winston-Salems increasingly vibrant downtown and LGBT-friendly arts scene could sustain a viable LGBT community center. Photo Credit: James Willamor, via Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons.
Winston-Salem's increasingly vibrant downtown and LGBT-friendly arts scene could sustain a viable LGBT community center. Photo Credit: James Willamor, via Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Therapist Louise Hahn, who’s spent years focusing on the needs of transgender people, thinks a community center could be a way to bridge gaps in an often fragmented LGBT community.

“We just thought it would be a wonderful idea since the community here is kind of scattered,” she said. “There is nothing cohesive that seems to bind us all together or give the community a sense of identity.”

Hahn and Andy Hagler, another local therapist, have only met once to toss around their ideas, but their discussions follow similar conversations other community members engaged in last fall.

In September, about 25 community members met to brainstorm possibilities and solicit feedback. A Facebook page was created and more than 100 people have fanned the page.

Michele Lewis, involved in the initial fall meeting, says organizing efforts from September have largely stalled, but the idea remains very much alive.

“The interest is great but the time commitment is not there for many just yet,” she said in an email to qnotes. “I am still very interested in being involved with anyone who wants to try.”

Hahn said the town used to have a psuedo-gathering spot for the LGBT community. In particular, a lesbian center existed near the old Rainbow End Cafe, a popular coffee shop and bookstore on the edge of downtown at Broad St. and Brookstown Ave. Like the old Rainbow End and lesbian center, Hahn said she envisions a physical space that could function as the LGBT community’s “home.”

“I could see a small storefront or small building already zoned for business close to the downtown area,” she said. “That would make it convenient for people who live downtown or didn’t have transportation and have to take public transit. They could even walk to it if they wanted to.”

The push for a local LGBT organizing and community center in Winston-Salem follows years of similar trends nationwide and in the Carolinas. Cities large and small have begun centers to varying degrees of success.

In the Carolinas, Charlotte’s Lesbian & Gay Community Center has been open since 2002 and Columbia’s SC Pride Movement has long operated the Harriet Hancock Center. Recently, community members in Raleigh celebrated the opening of their center’s first location. Wilmington once had a community center but was forced to close due to funding concerns. In March, a similar story played out for Myrtle Beach’s Center Project — they’ve closed their physical location but will keep some programs and activities operational.

If the idea for organizing a Winston-Salem center gets off the ground, Hahn hopes the community there will stick around to support it. From her personal work experience, Hahn thinks reaching out to the transgender community can be a key toward future growth.

“Some people I’ve run this by say the gay and lesbian community is fickle, that they will support something for a little while but then they won’t give it their constant support,” she said. “I’m more of an optimist. If we expand services to include transgender folks and offer them a place that is welcoming, providing resources they will go.”

Hahn said her transgender clients have always been appreciative of and loyal to organizations and people who include them and offer them a space.

Pamela Jones, the programming co-chair of the Charlotte Center’s board of directors, said she attended the fall meeting when original thoughts for a Winston-Salem center were discussed. “I was quite impressed that they were so open to transgender outreach from the get-go,” Jones said.

She agrees with Hahn, and thinks the key to success will always lie in connecting groups of people who have, for whatever reason, been divided in the past.

“I know for a fact that prior to the Charlotte Gender Alliance moving to the Center, folks there didn’t know about trans people and trans people didn’t have a lot to do with gay people. It’s all about bridge-building. We have to build those bridges within our own community.” : :

Matt Comer

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