Everything seemed rosy when Charlotte’s Lesbian and Gay Community Center opened in 2002. One gets the impression things went pretty smoothly for the first year under the guidance of original Executive Director Dan Kirsch, who had successfully brought along financial supporters from his work with the now defunct OutCharlotte Festival.
Early board members left operations and instructions behind to guide a successful Center, but it appears nobody bothered to crack open the pages.
Now — two executive directors and countless board members later — the Center is in serious financial trouble with a tight budget that’s resulted in hours cut back for both the Center and staff.
With a small amount of funding currently coming from only a handful of private donors the very future of the Center is at stake.
“There is a possibility the Center will close if it doesn’t increase finance and community support,” says Board President Joseph Campos.
According to Campos, the Center is in its dire state for a variety of reasons.
“I would say a lack of administrative strength and daily operations and the lack of resources for the Center has lent itself to that. Limited staff, limited financial support, limited strategic planning and development fundraising have all contributed to the state we’re in.”
But Campos goes even further — pointing a finger at Charlotte’s LGBT community. “I sometimes get the impression the Charlotte LGBT community doesn’t want it; they don’t find a need for the center. There are individuals who support it, but collectively, I’m just not sure.”
Laura Witkowsi, the current executive director of the Center, echoes some of Campos’ sentiments, but also looks at the Center itself for not making the community aware of specific needs.
“I don’t think the community supports the Center as much as they could. I think a lot of people in Charlotte have taken the Center for granted, they think, ‘oh they’re doing just fine.’ But I don’t believe this community wants to see the Center fail. The Center has done so well with the resources it has we have given off the impression we are rolling in dough, which is not the case.”
Under the current budget restraints, the Center has cut back to three nights a week — Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday — with operating hours from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays the Center is open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Witkowski voluntarily agreed to take on a part-time schedule to help cut back Center expenses. “I believe in this organization very strongly,” she says matter-of-factly. “I’m still here because I want people to feel secure and comfortable. We’re really trying to turn the place around and bring it up to its potential.”
Both Campos and Witkowski are optimistic about the future and new board members, despite the challenges. “There are a lot of fresh new ideas and that’s gonna be helpful,” says Witkowski.
So what can the community do to help?
“Financially support, volunteer with duties, in-kind donations, cleaning, answering the phone, utilizing the center,” says Campos. “If you think the Center should be doing something, then come in and do it. The community has to make this happen.”
A handful of community members have thrown house parties in an effort to raise funds, as well. “All efforts are greatly appreciated,” says Witkowski.
Campos and Witkowski are equally concerned about the impact the closing of the Center will have on the city — and the impression it will leave residents with.
“If this Center closes, it’s a prime example that we don’t support ourselves,” says Campos. “What kind of message are we sending out to the city at large if our own community can’t support itself?”
“It’s exceptionally important for Charlotte — which is one of the fastest growing cities in the country — to have this Center,” says Witkowski. “Especially when there are so many new people moving here everyday from blue state areas to work in the banking industry. They need to know they’re coming to a gay-friendly place. It’s crucial for this city and our community that we continue to exist.”