To the LGBT Community Centers During this Difficult Time: Thank You

Coauthored by Alex Sheldon, Research Analyst at the Movement Advancement Project

There are more than 200 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community centers in the United States. As LGBT communities in Orlando and across the country struggle to come to terms with the horror of the attack on Latinx Night at Pulse, the LGBT nightclub that was the scene of the largest mass shooting in our country's modern history, LGBT community centers have been there, as they have for more than 47 years when the first LGBT center, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, opened its doors.

Today, the Movement Advancement Project and CenterLink released the 2016 LGBT Community Center Survey Report: Assessing the Capacity and Programs of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Centers. The report surveyed 143 LGBT community centers from 40 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, and provides a detailed picture of centers' staffs and boards, program priorities, constituencies and services, and financial information.

Most notably, the report finds that centers serve over 43,500 people per week, and many centers (33%) serve hundreds of people on a weekly basis without any paid staff. They are the places that people turn to for meals and for health care, and other vital services that LGBT people rely on, particularly seniors or low-income LGBT people. But LGBT community centers are more than services and staff. From Charlotte to Cincinnati, from Sioux Falls to San Diego, LGBT community centers are, in many ways, the heart of LGBT communities.

For the past two weeks, LGBT community centers have offered a place for LGBT people and their allies to cry, to mourn, to receive counseling services, to be together in silence and in rage. The LGBT community continues to honor and mourn the 49 people, primarily LGBT Latinx people, who were murdered in Orlando. In response, Community Centers have united us in action and hope and encouraged our communities to resist animosity and fear. At the LGBT Center in San Diego, a local rabbi joined hands with a local imam as they led the auditorium in prayer. A staffer at The Center in New York City went to work last Monday, heart heavy, because she knew that, for many of the teens she works with, The Center was their only safe space. They needed to know that it was still a safe space.

In smaller or more rural communities, LGBT centers are the only resource within hundreds of miles and they often operate on small budgets with few staff members. Take the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center, which is the only LGBT community center in a 200 mile radius. The center serves nearly 10,000 people a year and is truly a lifeline for LGBT people, especially the most vulnerable members of the community. Without the center, LGBT people in West Tennessee, North Mississippi, and East Arkansas would be isolated and without crucial services and support.

In times of crisis and trauma--and joy--for the LGBT community, community centers are here to organize vigils and provide a safe space for our grief. And, they are open, safe spaces every other day, too. Centers offer a large number of programs and services, ranging from social gatherings to health services like HIV testing and individual counseling. In the last year, these centers provided physical health services to more than 272,000 people, and mental health services to more than 22,600 people, services of particular importance now for the LGBT community. LGBT centers are uniquely equipped to handle to needs of grieving LGBT communities.

And these LGBT community centers provide these services to those who need it most. Centers' clientele is diverse, and most community centers offer tailored programming: 82% of LGBT community centers offer targeted programs and services for LGBT youth, 88% for transgender people, and 51% for LGBT people of color. Importantly, the staff that offer these services reflect the diversity of the clientele; over half (53%) of paid staff at LGBT centers across the county identify as people of color, frequently reflecting the diversity of the LGBT communities they serve.

So, to the LGBT community centers who offer life-saving services every day and who open their doors when the LGBT communities need it most, thank you all you do for the LGBT community.