ASHEVILLE, N.C. — LGBT activists in the Asheville area have dreamed of a community center for decades, and, over the years, several attempts have been made, without success. Now, those dreams are stirring again, and it seems, this time around, there are reasons for optimism.
“The enormous success of Blue Ridge Pride is the bellwether,” said Yvonne Cook-Riley, a founding member of the International Foundation for Gender Education. Cook-Riley, who serves on the board of Blue Ridge Pride, says that attendance at Asheville’s annual LGBT celebration has burgeoned. Since its inception in 2009, which saw an estimated 2,000 attendees, the number has increased every year, growing to 11,000 in 2012 and gaining national recognition. But, Blue Ridge Pride isn’t the only indicator of a growing LGBT community in the mountains. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 12 percent of the Asheville-metro area are same-sex households. Moreover, Asheville regularly draws LGBT visitors from Upstate South Carolina, northern Georgia and eastern Tennessee, as well as LGBT tourists, both national and international.
Area support and social groups for the LGBT community range from potluck dinners in peoples’ homes to various religious and spiritual organizations, which meet in local houses of worship. A youth support group, groups for LGBT elders, hiking and book clubs and political organizations abound, dispersed throughout the city and the surrounding countryside. But, it is precisely this dispersion that calls for a center, a facility that is not borrowed or leased, but one which the LGBT community owns. “Ownership is of primary importance,” said Cook-Riley. “You can’t rely on charity forever; it’s time for Asheville’s LGBT community to stand on its own. The interest is there; the money’s there. It’s time to start building.”
The LGBT Service Center is in the planning stages. A community forum hosted by Blue Ridge Pride will be held on Sept. 22, 3 p.m., at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, Humanities Lecture Hall. (A campus map is available online at maps.unca.edu//campusmap for exact location.) Rebecca Chaplin, L.S., M.A., will serve as the moderator. Chaplin is the group facilitator and chair of LGBT Elder Advocates of Western North Carolina.
The objective is to have input for a needs assessment. Those who have expressed interest and representatives of LGBT support and social groups, as well as the general public, are encouraged to attend. Attendees should come ready to answer the question: Why does Western North Carolina need or not need an LGBT community service center?
According to Cook-Riley, this facility could house a library and education center, a gallery, performance spaces, meeting rooms, spaces for fellowship and socializing, daycare, counseling clinics, and especially important for sustainability, retail areas. And, those retail areas need not be confined to shops and cafés. Organizers hope that law and real estate offices catering to the LGBT population will recognize the business opportunities the center affords. Feasibility studies are still to be done and funding will ultimately determine the size and scope of the center.
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