LGBT Community Center weathers money crunch

At a time when the nation is mired in debate over all things gay, Charlotte nearly lost its hub for LGBT affairs.

The LGBT Community Center of Charlotte threatened to close at the end of Februarybecause of a funding crisis that leaders said left them unable to pay the rent, insurance and utilities for the group’s 2508 N. Davidson St. location and salary for one staffer.

It seemed to foretell a quick, unceremonious end to a nonprofit that opened in 2003 and settled in its current location only last year.

That the center remains open is not because of a surprise corporate rescue but a more grassroots plan to stage a regular series of small fundraisers, including bingo nights, cabaret nights, trivia nights and talent shows.

Money shortages have dogged the center as far back as 2007, resulting in cutbacks in staff and hours. But leaders say the current financial crisis can be traced to the group’s 2012 split with PRIDECharlotte, a former committee of the community center.

PRIDECharlotte presents the city’s annual LGBT pride event that had been a financial supporter of the center, donating thousands of dollars each year, officials said.

When that changed “we had to relearn how to make money,” said center Board Chair Roberta Dunn, who believes the change will prove to be for the best. “We had become too overly dependent on that (PRIDECharlotte) funding.”

Nationally, LGBT centers have found themselves in a time of transition, including financial troubles and struggles to refocus their missions. Some have resorted to being an online-only resource, which experts say has largely proven a failure.

Terry Stone of the Florida-based nonprofit CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers said the rapidly evolving issue of gay marriage has ironically led to challenges for LGBT community centers.

“Some funders give to community centers believing a big part of their work is bringing full rights to all citizens, and when marriage is made legal for the gay community, it is assumed that those rights have been accomplished,” Stone said.

“We’ve seen some pullback in donations from larger funders as a result. We believe marriage may be an important piece of the puzzle, but it’s only one piece. Just because you can get married doesn’t mean you won’t get fired for being gay.”

Stone said he has offered to help Charlotte’s LGBT center come up with a strategic plan, much as he did with the city’s Time Out Youth program for LGBT youth. He said the center’s financial troubles are common among organizations that might have been overly dependent on one big source of money.

Charlotte’s center has weathered a variety of challenges, including recent criticism that it has not been transparent enough in its dealings. The center’s leadership recently voted to open board meetings to the public, and Dunn noted the public admission of financial troubles is another example of the group’s efforts to be more transparent.

Dunn said the group’s budget is about $7,000 a month. In addition to the ongoing string of fundraisers, the center is also selling memberships that offer discounts on activities.

The center currently attracts about 1,000 people a month with activities including support groups, clinics, workshops and play rehearsals.

Participation will likely grow now that the Freedom Center for Social Justice has opened a satellite location at the Community Center to help the LGBT community with legal and employment services.

“It wasn’t an idle threat that we were near shutting down,” said center director Glenn Griffin, who is the only paid staff member at about $30,000 a year.

“We decided to tell the community when we only had about $5,000 in the bank. Saying it was scary, but not telling the community would have been a lie. To close and not explain it would have been detrimental the (gay) community.”

The center is not yet financially stable, but the situation is “slowly improving,” he said.

Darryl Logsdon is among the founders of the center, though he is no longer part of its board. He believes losing the center would be a blow to Charlotte because its a rare example of the LGBT community having a public space devoted to its affairs.

Logsdon likens it to “a gay town hall” where ideas are exchanged and collaboration begins.

“A center is a true catalyst for building community,” Logsdon said. “As gay communities – like the general culture they exist in – become more digitized, virtual and fragmented, a physical center becomes even more important … to bring people together.”