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May 4th, 2005 Meg Daly | News Stories
 

Home, Queer Home

Progress resumes on community center for Portland's sexual minorities.

     
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A plan for a community center where Portland's queers can take in a concert, get a health checkup or find a lawyer is re-awakening after two years in hibernation.

"People are anxious for tangible results, and rightly so," says City Commissioner Sam Adams, Portland's first openly gay council member.

Adams, who took office in January, says he will use his new perch to help advance the project. While Adams cannot commit any city money to the proposal, center organizers are optimistic about finding other sources.

No doubt Portland's gays and allies could use a central organizing space as the Legislature takes up a civil-unions bill after voters and the courts quashed same-sex marriage. But progress on getting that space has been long in coming.

Adams led the first round of planning in 2003 with an outreach campaign and a survey of the city's queer community (more than nine in 10 respondents said a center would be very or somewhat helpful). When Adams stepped down that same year as then-Mayor Vera Katz's chief of staff to run for office, the project's momentum slowed.

But it didn't lose steam entirely. Organizers Gwenn Baldwin and David Martinez worked on a preliminary budget and began seeking possible spots for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning Community Center.

Dick Levy, a commercial real-estate agent volunteering on the project, says one likely space is the old Jantzen swimwear headquarters on Northeast 19th Avenue and Sandy Boulevard.

A preliminary annual budget of about $250,000 includes about $4,000 in monthly rent, Levy says. The plan: to attract queer organizations as renters to offset costs. The rest of the budget will come from a mix of individual donations and grants.

Since the first queer community centers opened nearly 35 years ago in Los Angeles and Albany, N.Y., their number has swelled nationwide to 100, according to the National Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Centers.

In the 1980s, many offered HIV/AIDS care and advocacy. Centers today address a range of queer issues, including parenting classes, legal referrals, lesbian health care, singles nights and arts programming.

Cascade AIDS Project is a possible renter-if the center is located downtown near the bustle of Southwest Stark Street gay bars, says CAP executive director Thomas Bruner. The group has just launched a new department dedicated to prevention and wellness for gay and bisexual men which, Bruner says, could dovetail nicely with the community center.

Some of Portland's lesbian and bi women say they would prefer the traditionally dyke-centric Southeast, away from downtown booze and bars ("the sleazy bars which many of us boys love," notes Levy).

But a business plan for any center still must be developed, says Susan Remmers, volunteering on an interim basis to help with development and fundraising. Remmers likens the process to level-headed romantic courtship: "First you do coffee, then you date, and if it is a fit, you commit,'' she says. "We are at the commitment phase. Now we need to get clear on what kind of place we want to call home."

 
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