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Seattle LGBT Community Center Board votes yes to Queerfest, Pride Weekend
Seattle LGBT Community Center Board votes yes to Queerfest, Pride Weekend
by Nick Ardizzone - SGN Staff Writer

When Seattle's LGBT Center closed its doors on its Pike St. building last month, it took up residence in the space it now shares with Equal Rights Washington (209 Harvard E.). When the Center announced it was undergoing extensive restructuring, the Seattle Gay News interviewed Jerry Stewart, Board Co-President, and Eileen Terry, Vice President of Fund Development, about the move, the Center's finances, and what the recent decisions to stage Queerfest will mean for the Center's future.

Stewart was relieved that the Center had relocated. "I think it's wonderful," he said. "We cover expenses, we cover overhead, we have this temporary space, and we know where our new longer-term space is going to be & and we will be able [to announce its location] within a week."

Stewart also stated the Center has made financial progress. "We have made contact with all of our vendors. They have all received some payment on their bills."

Terry went more in-depth on the Center's past funding issues. "The whole economy is hitting every nonprofit, and LGBTQ is no different," she explained. "Just so I can get the record straight, [previous Executive Director] Shannon Thomas left us in great stead & in fact, she stayed on longer to help us through Queerfest and did a spectacular job."

"That being said," Terry continued, "yes, fundraising in every nonprofit is a problem right now. & When I joined the board & one of our intentions was to take a look at where we were, what our cash flow was, what we needed to do to stabilize, understand, and figure out [how the Resource Center could fill Seattle's needs]."

Stewart and Terry agreed that now was the time for the Center to play conservatively and hedge its bets. "What we're trying to do is to establish the center, get a years' reserve funded in the bank & move to another temporary location - because we're not looking for this next move to be the next five years," Terry said, and keep paying down the debt.

"The debt has been decreasing every month," she assured. "For the purpose of this discussion, I will say it has been reduced each month since the last article." Pressed further, she offered, "I will tell you that we expect to have all debt retired and be putting into the reserve by June."

The Center's most important community events - Fruitbowl Awards and Queerfest - will be held this year, though in different capacities. "What we're doing is deferring the Fruitbowl to the fall," Terry said. "Its intention will be twofold; to be celebrating leadership in the community - which is really the intention - and a little bit of a fundraiser. Now, one of the board commitments is that we're not going to enter into fundraising unless we know we can fully do it."

With successful fundraising key to the Center's survival, some have questioned the decision to stage Queerfest this year, with the Center still recovering financially and the field so crowded with other Pride festivals competing for the same demographic. Terry and Stewart were aware of the events planned for the weekend prior to the scheduled Queerfest, but they were confident they would be able to draw a crowd.

"We stepped back and said, OK, let's do some serious triage," Terry said. The Center board debated over whether or not to hold Queerfest, and the eventual consensus was "Yes, we think there is [a need] to provide - on a key weekend of a key month - opportunities for organizations, business, people, to celebrate, come together, with the addition this year of historical political opportunities."

"I think [Queerfest] is very, very different," said Stewart. "Because we're doing such a mix of the political and the grassroots, and also entertainment, it's very different than what they're trying to do down at the Convention Center." "I don't think it's competitive," Terry added.

Terry went on to explain how the politics-laden atmosphere of this election year influenced the Center's decisions. "You know, there was a party last year, and we're not gonna do that," she said. "There was a lot of controversy internally around [the decision]. & The twist this year - and I think it's an important one - this is the year for the LGBT population to be politically involved. We keep talking about it. We've got domestic partnership [bills passing in 2008], but guess what? The federal level still plays a big role in what we do." Terry said that she would use the political climate to do "something nobody else is really doing on a Pride weekend event."

"We will unabashedly invite the political forces to & show up and talk to us," she challenged.

Opposing political forces will have no difficulty locating Queerfest this year as the event will be stationary at Volunteer Park, and will no longer include a march or parade.

She added there was no need to bolster Queerfest with a parade or march, as she believes the political theme "ought to draw in the morning," and the afternoon would then be "carried by the entertainment and food."

Terry said the point had been raised that supporting business might prefer a march, but Terry believed an all-day event would prove more financially beneficial to vendors. "[Customers] standing on a corner facing away from a business for 20 or 30 minutes isn't the answer," she said.

Queerfest will also be an environmentally responsible "green event," aiming for less litter and less pollution. "I'm not gonna say Al Gore's gonna show up," Terry joked. "Our attempt is to continue to try to educate around the environment."

To provide its services while staying financially fit is an attainable goal, Terry believes. "Our intention, because of our refocus, is to try to [make the Center] leaner and meaner & it will be fully funded, and by that I mean we will have the sponsorship and stuff done, period. That's been our approach."

"We expect to do it cheaper, but that doesn't mean it's not gonna be a lot of fun and provide the kind of service we think the Resource Center ought to be supporting the community with," she said.

Stewart balks at the suggestion that the Resource Center is unnecessary. "When people ask, 'What does the center do?' they weren't there when we were closing down our old space and getting ready to move and having people who had been volunteers there or coming to the center and watching them actually in tears that we were moving," Stewart said. "I told them, 'We're not going away, we're just growing up.'"

"They were so happy," he said. "We've already had volunteers start signing up [for Queerfest], saying 'I want to be involved.'"

Terry feels an entity like the Center is absolutely vital, saying, "I don't know a city that has a large Gay community and doesn't have a resource center." She said she felt Seattle was unusual in "having a disparate group of wonderful organizations" which do not communicate to coordinate their efforts. "If a person comes to town with a problem, our responsibility is to get them to the right service."

Terry said strict guidelines are in place for the Center's rebirth. "I want to compliment and support what was done before, but what was done before was right for that time. It is a new day, it is a new time." There is a commitment to have a full board by the end of 2008. "We are transparent with our goals," she said. "If anyone wants to know what the Center's working on, go on the web page [www.seattlelgbt.org]."

"We will not take on debt to put on Queerfest," Terry stated, adding there is an "absolute drop-dead date" for canceling Queerfest if the board does not believe the Center is able to pay for it responsibly. "That's the truth. We will not take on debt to put on Queerfest," she repeated.

"We [now] have a three-year business plan," Terry said emphatically. "Mark my words & we shall overcome."

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