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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 25, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 47
Seattle activist Van Cleve says proposed LGBT community center should focus on seniors
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Seattle activist Van Cleve says proposed LGBT community center should focus on seniors

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

You could spend hours debating the number of uses for the proposed LGBT civic center that may or may not be housed at the Broadway SoundTransit Light Rail station. If the project is going to succeed, it will need solid funding and the backing of the LGBT community. As with any project of this magnitude it will take the cooperation of the young and the old to pull this thing off - after all, experience is worth its weight in gold. So when Seattle Gay News began to report on the progress being made by Louise Chernin, executive director of GSBA, and a team of volunteers who want to see this civic center open its doors in a few years, community members began to step forward and pledge their support and service.

Janice Van Cleve is one of those people. Van Cleve, a community activist who is a former board member and funder of the city's previous LGBT community center, says that the need for a physical space for the community to call our own still exists.

'The [old] LGBT community center was supposed to be just that - a real brick-and-mortar center where the community could gather for inter-organizational decision-making meetings, where small organizations could establish a home base, where LGBT people could find help and referrals, where LGBT art could be featured, where LGBT organizations could hold their annual meetings or parties and keep the rental money in the community, and where visitors and newcomers could start their search for community in Seattle,' she told Seattle Gay News. 'A very big part of the LGBT center was to be the starting point for an LGBT senior center with facilities for seniors.'

There is a lot of attention directed toward LGBT youth, she said, citing the Orion Center, Queer Youth Space, Lambert House, and the 'It Gets Better Project.' While Van Cleve says she supports those organizations because the 'bullying and suicides are tragic' and 'resources need to be devoted to youth,' she asks the question: 'But who is doing anything for LGBT seniors, LGBT families, or helping incubate emerging LGBT groups?'

In order for a new center to thrive, Van Cleve believes we've got to look toward the past at mistakes that had been made to avoid them in the future endeavor. 'The public did support the [old] LGBT community center,' she said. 'Donors like myself gave lots of money to build it. The city chipped in a sizeable amount of cash and support and invested a lot of political capital to make it happen. Many volunteers from the community hammered and nailed, cleaned, and painted the place. A lot of heart and soul and dollars went into the LGBT center from the community.'

'What happened was that the second executive director took the center off-mission,' Van Cleve said. 'She led the board into a series of flawed decisions to devote all the center's resources into a pride parade on Broadway. We donors called her, warned her, and warned the board to no effect. So we withdrew our support and the center fell.'

She says the big job in creating another LGBT center will be to earn the trust of the community again.

'Once lost, trust is hard to recover,' said Van Cleve. 'The key to rebuilding trust and support for the new center will be a clear vision and mission statement and a strong board of directors who represent the community and who run the place with a firm hand.'

Van Cleve says that, in her opinion, in order for the proposed plan to become a reality, organizers must first 'be very clear about its vision and mission and then stick to it.'

'Deliver results that clearly demonstrate that the center is doing what it was designed to do,' she continued. 'Deliver results that clearly demonstrate to donors that they are getting their money's worth. Don't simply be a landlord for small organizations. Develop programs that engage the creative juices of the LGBT community - like arts, music, poetry slams. Deliver programs that are new, exciting, different, and not in competition with other offerings in the community.'

Van Cleve then pointed out some examples. 'Julia's does regular drag shows. Neighbours does dances and hosts the Imperial Court. ERW provides political leadership. GSBA provides business connections. But nobody is helping senior LGBT people figure out their Medicare or how the new health care plan affects them. Nobody is a clearing house for LGBT couples figuring out what benefits they can access in this state for their families. There is no place for the LGBT community to discuss their reactions to SoundTransit, the City Parks Department, or the police on our own turf. There is no place for our community to safely talk about our failings, like the demise of Verbena or the Lesbian

Resource Center. There is no place for our community to safely discuss conflicts on neutral ground that belongs to us.' Van Cleve hopes that, with the right leadership and mission statement, the proposed LGBT community center could be that place.

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