First City Network Joins with Partners to Plan LGBT Community Center

On June 22, several community leaders representing various local LGBT groups, gathered at the lovely home of Jamey Espina and Jim Ashman in the Victorian District to begin forming a partnership with FCN to make an LGBT community center a reality here in Savannah.  Partnerships come in different sizes. Some partners want to consistently use space, others don’t need space. Some want to help with expenses, others don’t have extra money. Some want to offer services while others want to sponsor services. FCN wants to accommodate as many organizations and opportunities as possible. With this initial partnership meeting, our groups can now come together as we move toward finding an LGBT welcoming space.

In 1987, the board of FCN first mentioned an LGBT Community Center. The membership organization, now in its 31st year, has discussed the concept off and on since then. But we have done more than talk.  For many years FCN had office and meeting space at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Harris Street in downtown Savannah. From that space, eight different groups operated. It was a mini-community center that had an office, a library, was open certain hours for the public, and was used four nights a week by various groups. There was storage space and a kitchen.  From that space on Harris Street, PRIDE, StandOut Youth, the LGBT Film Festival, and several other local groups got their start.

FCN began the LGBT community center campaign 20 months ago. After many discussions among the board, a decision was made to make the effort to raise the money and reestablish a focal point for our LGBT community. Among the resources FCN is using are CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers, and MAP:  the Movement Advancement Project.  FCN also is using the results of a statewide survey, commissioned by Georgia Equality In 2012 as part of an effort to better understand the needs of LGBT communities across our state.  The survey had 2,124 responders in 94 counties, and found that:

  • LGBT Georgians are interested in having points of connection with other LGBT individuals.
  • There is an interest in LGBT community centers and the services they provide. Only 10% say they are not interested in utilizing an LGBT center.
  • At the top of the list: Support services, legal advice, meeting and socializing space
  • On the list of most important issues facing LGBT communities are: access to health care, increased support for LGBT seniors, increased services for people living with HIV/AIDS, safe spaces to congregate, space to build a support network, additional activities, access to LGBT-welcoming mental health services, and AA/NA LGBT-welcoming services.
  • 86% said an LGBT focused community center was somewhat to very important.

A local LGBT couple, knowing the value of a community center and wanting to help improve the quality of life in Savannah, issued a challenge; raise $25,000, develop a strategic plan and budget, and we will match it. We have held two major fundraisers, a number of smaller events, several raffles, etc. FCN has had more than $24,000 donated, with another $1,000+ pledged, from 31 individual, family and business donors. We have established an LGBT community center bank account that is separate from the FCN operating account. We have a bookkeeper that manages our accounts, which are housed and protected by local accounting firm Brouilette and Cowan.

Mostly recently, the organization has had or will soon have three fundraisers to benefit the LGBT Community Center Fun:  the Pop-Up Art Show (see photo in this issue),  our August First Saturday Social/drag performance/”Hairspray” movie showing in collaboration with the Lucas Theatre (also which see in this issue), and a yet-to-be scheduled dinner hosted by a couple of major supporters. FCN has not yet applied to foundations, sought government help, asked for corporate support, or established opportunities for yearly giving. So, we have many untapped options!

Currently, FCN has an LGBT Community Center committee meeting to develop a strategic plan and draft an initial budget. The committee’s recommendations will eventually come to the FCN board for discussion and formal approval. Anyone interested in joining this committee or being involved in the leadership of the community center effort is strongly urged to join us. Do you know someone who would be a good addition to this group? If so, please let us know. How else can you help? Join FCN, support the fundraisers, volunteer, serve on the board, ask individuals, businesses, and organizations to donate; there are many ways to be a supporter.