How the Fresno LGBT Community Center Is Bringing the Central Valley LGBT+ Community Together
It is sometimes vital to stop, pause for a moment and take the temperature of a situation or movement. Where are we going? What are we working toward? What are our shared goals, aspirations, dreams?
But before we can consider our present as a way of planning our future, we must be cognizant of our past.
In our case, we don’t have to go that far back; 2008 and 2009 were exciting and active years for the LGBT community in the Central Valley. It was a time when defining the focus was clear and simple: It was all about marriage equality.
On June 17, 2008, thanks to a ruling by the California Supreme Court, same-sex couples were allowed the right of legal marriage in the state. That right, however, was short-lived and ended on November 5. Prop 8 was passed by the voters (by a 69% majority in the Central Valley), which overturned the court’s decision. The uproar began shortly afterward with lawsuits being filed against the passage, but ultimately the California Supreme Court upheld Prop 8 on May 26, 2009. A few days later, on May 30, Meet in the Middle, a massive rally against Prop 8, took place. The next day, local LGBT activists infiltrated and protested a rally put on by Jim Franklin (of the Cornerstone Church) in celebration of the upholding of Prop 8.
Also in 2009, in part due to the anger in response to Prop 8, the Gay-Straight Alliance Network held its annual ENS (Expression Not Suppression) event, which generated participation of almost a thousand LGBT community members. Activities like that and the Courage Campaign drew crowds and passionate activists from all over the Valley. The community was united. Angry, bitter, sad, but united.
In the years since Prop 8, we have watched as our fight for equality has taken steps forward, steps back, again and again, until it can sometimes feel like we are on a treadmill of progress, constantly running but not getting anywhere. The passion that was so present at the end of 2008 and for much of 2009 has waned. Some point to this diminishment as a sign of a change in the times with less active youth, whereas others point to a lack of the emergence of a strong unified leadership.
Much of the wane in political action can be attributed to the issue of marriage in California being taken over by the courts. After the California Supreme Court upheld Prop 8, the question was whether to go back to the ballot box. Love, Honor Cherish was the group that took up that effort, despite the objections of most other LGBT organizations, only to announce in April 2010 that it couldn’t get enough signatures to get the initiative on the ballot. Then, after a federal court case held here in California, Judge Vaughn Walker declared Prop 8 unconstitutional, only to be halted on appeal. That appeal, and the standing of those bringing it, is currently working its way through the court system; it won’t be until at least December of this year before a decision is made. In the meantime, same-sex marriages in California are on hold.
As the issue of marriage equality has stayed in the court system, other issues have risen to the surface. Issues like transgender rights, LGBT history and recognition, the increase of bullying, the change in attitudes toward AIDS and HIV, and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell have all been given the spotlight. Instead of one major issue (civil equality epitomized by marriage equality), the community is spread now on a variety of social issues. Sad, but true, the LGBT community has become fractured as priorities shifted and the younger generation became bitter about the lack of progress.
So here we are, 2011, gearing up for next month’s Pride, and the community is loosely connected, and in many ways unfocused. Marriage equality is stuck in the courts. It is still unsafe in many ways to come out in Fresno, and our transgendered sisters and brothers still face blatant discrimination. We are surrounded by conservatism that chips away at our passion, and we are, in many ways, a fragmented community.
Case in point: We took an informal poll of community leaders about what are the most pressing challenges or issues facing the local LGBT community. The results were a venerable smorgasbord of responses. The fact is that equal rights still remain the most necessary goal, but because we are such a diverse eclectic community, we all have different priorities and different opinions about the best way to go about obtaining them.
Instead of lamenting that though, we can choose to see this as a time of limitless opportunity. Let’s take a breath, take a moment and work together to strengthen our ties to each other and to our community. Let’s call for and support new leaders in the LGBT community, leaders and projects that will evolve with the growing trends of the youth while still maintaining the passion and activist fever of the older generation.
Our community needs help. We were once strong, motivated and visibly active. Today, with the advent of social networking and the strides the older activists have obtained, there is a growing sense of blasé. We need to feel inspired again, to come together, to redefine our community.
What our community needs is for us to be vocal, visible and active.
And thankfully, we have a new local community center primed and ready to help us do just that.
Tucked away in an unassuming parking lot near the Tower District, the small but mighty LGBT Community Center is open for business. A firm foundation has been set and as community involvement continues to grow, the center will become an even bigger beacon for our community, a physical place that can help us draw closer together.
The Fresno LGBT Community Center already has a wealth of information, pamphlets, notices and resources. There are also books and movies available to borrow. In the coming months, the center will host a variety of community events from social gatherings to support groups, from workshops to hands-on support for local organizations.
The LGBT Community Center is the epitome of what our community needs. It isn’t enough to “like” something on Facebook, to consider attending a rally, to share a link. For our community to be strong enough for the battles that are coming our way, for our community to be cohesive enough to make change possible and for our community to be active and useful for its members, we need to come together. And we need to come together physically.
Built by and for the community at large, the Community Center is a safe place, a place for information, for relationship building, for focused attention. No one personal itinerary gets to dictate action. No one group gets to rule the roost. With this in mind, the goal of the center is not to direct the community efforts of other local groups but to provide a space for them to enlarge their scope, to gather for meetings and to hold social activities. The mission is to provide a home base for everyone in the community.
As we prepare for Pride, we should remember that however difficult it may be, the most important tool in our arsenal, amid a civil rights battle that tends more and more toward a federal debate, is to be out and open in the Central Valley. The minds of that 69 percent that voted prejudice into law will be altered, in varying degrees, by our simple visibility. The Pride Parade and Festival is our most visible action every year, but we need to carry that over into our daily lives, to let others know that we are here and that we are no different than anyone else.
Ultimately, the goal of our community is clear—equal civil rights for all. That being said, we are a community that is full of many different people with many different social needs. These differences don’t have to separate us; after all, we are all still under the same unequal umbrella. By acknowledging our differences and coming together despite them in order to be a visible, vocal and active part of the Central Valley community, we can reaffirm our ties to one another and become a more cohesive and powerful force.
The mood for many in the community is optimistic. For the first time in more than 30 years, we have a physical place, a Community Center created for and by the LGBT community thanks to the ongoing efforts of groups like the Gay Central Valley, a local grassroots organization that has grown every year since its inception. The fact that there is a center like this in such a conservative part of the state leaves little doubt to the power and drive of our community.
ALL ABOUT CARE
BULLDOG PRIDE FUND
Fresno State scholarship program
CENTRAL CALIFORNIA ALLIANCE
LGBT education & support
LGBT education & entertainment, Pride Parade & Festival, News Link, Pink Pages
DIVERSITY CLUB AT FRESNO CITY COLLEGE
LGBT student organization
FRESNO COUNTY HEALTH DEPT.—HIV/AIDS
HIV/AIDS information and testing
1221 Fulton Mall, Fresno, CA 93721; 559-445-3200
FRESNO LGBT COMMUNITY CENTER
Serving the gay, lesbian, bisexual & transgender community; Operated by Gay Central Valley
1055 N. Van Ness Ave., Fresno, CA 93728; 559-325-4429
FRESNO STONEWALL DEMOCRATS
A chartered club of the Democratic Party’s county central committee
GAY CENTRAL VALLEY
Serving the gay, lesbian, bisexual & transgender community
A unique group for older lesbian & gay members of the community
IDC FRESNO—IMPERIAL DOVE COURT
Charity fund-raising through Fresno’s Drag Community Court
MARRIAGE EQUALITY USA—FRESNO CHAPTER
Working to secure marriage equality for all
Parents, family & friends of gay, lesbian, bisexual & transgender persons
Provides rainbow bracelets to encourage LGBT awareness
LGBT film festival
Straight Advocates for Equality
THE LIVING ROOM
901 E. Belmont Ave., Fresno, CA 93701; 559-237-3420
Transgender support group
559-285-0795 or 559-307-9908
UNITED STUDENT PRIDE
LGBTQ student organization at Fresno State
WE C.A.R.E (Committed Advocacy Respect Empowerment)
290 Wayte Lane, Suite 2200, Fresno, CA 93701; 559-459-5106 or 559-577-7109
Health & human services