More than 200 people turned out last weekend to celebrate the opening of an LGBT community center in Northeastern Pennsylvania — the first of its kind in the area.
The LGBT Center of NEPA, organized by the Northeastern Pennsylvania Rainbow Alliance, opened its doors Feb. 23 in Wilkes-Barre. The space is a decade in the making.
“We ran all of our programs out of people’s homes or rented rooms,” said Rainbow Alliance executive director John Dawe. “It had come to the point where people started asking for the center. We started having programs such as support groups for those just coming out or for the trans community and they were not comfortable coming to a public venue or someone’s house.”
Rainbow Alliance stages Pride events in the northeastern region of the state, and Dawe said supporters he has encountered at such outings have been asking for a more sustainable space to fill a needed gap in the area.
“We are the one organization that puts on the Pride events and people say it is wonderful but they would ask, ‘What about the other 364 days of the year?’ So our mission was to find a location, renovate it and then put programming into place.”
The center is in Wilkes-Barre, 1174 Highway 315 Fox Ridge Plaza in an approximately 1,500-square-foot space. It will be staffed by one employee and supported by 10 volunteers.
Funding has come primarily from grants and sponsors, including the Diversity Partnership Fund of Luzerne Foundation, The Woodlands Inn, Canada Dry Royal Crown of Scranton, Raymour & Flanigan Furniture and proceeds from PrideFest.
Community members also donated money to create the center, and a community member is renting the space to the organization, which put a good deal of work into upgrading it.
“We didn’t do anything as grandiose as tear down walls but the space hadn’t been used in three or four years,” Dawe said. “It had some water damage and the carpet had to be cleaned.”
The center also received a generous donation of furniture from community members and from Raymour & Flanigan.
“We had generous donations of chairs, desks and tables — all because different members of the community see this as the next logical step in the evolution of the LGBT community in Northeastern Pennsylvania.”
Dawe said the center will have a slow start and only be open when certain programs operate.
Programs include discussion groups for both youth and adults, a book club and film screenings. The organization will also partner with area agencies to stage other programming.
“If there is a program out there that the LGBT community needs, we will find that organization and bring them into the center,” Dawe said. “We partner with an organization called Caring Communities and they come here one or two days a month and they do HIV/AIDS testing. We are not going to do testing as an organization, but we have partnerships in place to do that. The center makes it possible to bring that all under one roof.”
Because the LGBT community is spread throughout the rural areas of NEPA, Dawe said it’s important to have one central location for the community to gather for support.
“It’s all about building a local community,” he said. “You certainly could go for a support group and drive three hours to Philly or two-and-a-half hours to New York City. Are you going to? Probably not? But we know people do it. We needed that location where people can go and find others.”
For more information, visit www.gaynepa.com.