COLUMBIA – A group of 30 people met in 2003 with the goal of creating a singular meeting place for all of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups in Columbia. Finally on Saturday, that goal was accomplished with the opening of a small building at 907 E. Ash St.
The Center Project, a nonprofit organization and the name of the meeting location, worked those six years trying to get groups like Prism, a substance-free gay-straight alliance for youth between ages 13 and 19, and PFLAG – Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays – to work together and acquire enough funding to keep the future center open for at least a year.
“We were doing grass-roots fundraising,” Center Project Board President Carol Snively said. “We did it by selling dog and cat treats and hosting our Atomic Dance Party.”
The Center Project was trying to avoid the pitfalls of two other groups that had tried to open centers in Columbia, who rushed ahead and rented a space before they had obtained enough money. The Center Project is already more than 100 volunteers strong — volunteers willing to do little things to make the organization a success. For instance, Aaron Perkins signed up to work at the reception desk at The Center.
“To me (The Center) means that the LGBT community is on the road to acceptance,” he said.
The Center Project is going to try to build that type of acceptance even more with certain programs. First, The Center is looking to establish a suicide prevention project for children and teens struggling with homosexuality. Suicide and threats of suicide are more common in the gay community because of the constant bullying that some children face for being gay, Snively said.
Second, The Center is going to host meetings for gay and lesbian parents, providing child care during those meetings. PFLAG is also going to hold meetings for parents of gay and lesbian children.
While the interest in those programs is important, most of the patrons at the opening of The Center seemed excited to finally have a common meeting place. For example, one person in particular wanted to create a knitting group.
“It’s a place to meet,” Leslea White said. “It’s good to see other families like ours.”
Lynne Clawon-Day said that having an actual building would bring people together.
“There’s just something about brick and mortar in a central location that’s going to create a real safe place,” she said.
Board member Stacy Snow talked about the business implications of The Center. She said The Center might eventually create a list of local businesses that are either LGBT owned or LGBT friendly. She said that, down the line, more businesses might work to be a part of this business directory because of the perceived untapped disposable income in the gay community.
The Center Project is also looking at the possibility of expanding to different parts of mid-Missouri. Snively said Jefferson City would be the most logical first destination for a satellite location, but that they were looking to extend into each of the seven surrounding counties.
Yet this location had to be opened first. Mayor Darwin Hindman did the honors by cutting a red ribbon out in front of a large crowd of the LGBT supporters.