COLUMBIA — As she sat down at the piano bench, pianist Audra Sergel announced that she brought the sheet music for the Glee version of “Don’t Stop Believing” as well as the complete Indigo Girls songbook.
“I brought the Indigo Girls. I’m just saying,” she said with a laugh. “Let’s not pretend like we’re not gay here.”
As Sergel sang "gay icon pop songs" and accompanied herself on the piano, other visitors to The Center Project’s anniversary party walked around the year-old headquarters.
On Saturday, The Center Project celebrated the one-year anniversary of the opening of its first permanent facility at 907 E. Ash St. in downtown Columbia. The Center Project is a nonprofit organization dedicated to meeting the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and ally residents of mid-Missouri.
Although The Center Project only just established its headquarters last year, it has been around for much longer.
The organization was founded in 2003 after studying LGBTQ centers in other communities and researching what members of the central Missouri community wanted from a center.
In 2005, the group filed for non-profit status and began to hold regular meetings in the Unitarian Universalist Church downtown. It is a completely volunteer-run effort, though there are plans to hire a full-time director and support staff in the future.
Having a permanent facility “has helped us reach our main goal, which was to give the LGBTQQA community a safe place to meet and hold programming,” said Carol Snively, president of The Center Project. “It has also helped to organize the community. Now, we’d like to expand our programming.”
Snively explained that The Center Project serves Boone County and the other seven surrounding mid-Missouri counties. She said in the future, the Project's board of directors hopes to open up satellite centers in each of the seven counties, with the Ash Street location being the main hub.
Additionally, the board will hold an annual meeting in July to set the priorities for the next year. Snively said there is interest in developing a program to train speakers to educate the community about LGBTQ issues.
Current programming at The Center Project includes various support groups for parents with LGBTQ children, for same-sex parents and for people who are coming out, as well as social groups such as a knitting and crochet circle and a newly formed vegetarian and vegan group.
Alejandro Morales, an assistant professor at MU's College of Education, met Snively through the university where she encouraged him to get involved with The Center Project. Now, he is a co-facilitator of the Coming Out support group.
“We just talk," he said. "We share coming-out stories. We talk about what was difficult, that sort of thing."
Travis Johnson, a board member and the founder of the vegetarian group, said that if there is an interest for a group and someone wants to start one, they could do so. He is anticipating the first meeting of the vegetarian and vegan club, which will be a potluck social gathering.
“We’ll just see what people want from it and go from there,” he said.
Steve Brown, a volunteer at The Center Project, moved to Columbia four years ago after living in Ohio for much of his life. He witnessed different gay, lesbian and alliance groups in Ohio struggle to establish a central facility that served the LGBTQ community.
“Seeing this center finally getting together is very encouraging,” he said. “It’s nice that several groups have a single, identifiable, safe place.”
Brown was a librarian back in Ohio and helped to establish standards and acquire books for The Center Project’s social justice library. The library is a collection of more than 1,000 volumes dedicated to civil rights, gender studies and LGBTQ issues. To check out books, you have to become a member, which costs $10.
The Ash Street location is not only home to The Center Project, but three other partner organizations as well.
Prism, a community for youth that focuses on LGBTQ issues; Parents and Families of Lesbians and Gays, an organization for parents and families of LGBTQ people; and the Mid-MO LGBT Coalition also have offices in the Ash Street location.
“Coalition attempts to be an umbrella group for all the groups. The Center is the umbrella space,” said Jenny Baker, a Mid-MO LGBT Coalition board member.
Baker said that moving her organization into the permanent location has been very helpful to their cause, and her basement where the group used to store materials.
“We can publicize events better this way,” she said. “And we can store things. When we need tables or something for events, we don’t need to piecemeal them together from different people’s houses. My basement loves it, because now it’s empty.”
Mid-MO LGBT Coalition holds the annual PrideFest in downtown Columbia every June, national gay pride month.
Currently, most of The Center Project’s funding comes from private donations, but Snively said that over the summer and in the next year, the board hopes to focus more on applying for grants and obtaining funds through other avenues.
As for whether this anniversary party will be held again next year, it’s up in the air.
“It’s just nice to celebrate,” Snively said.