Searching for a Center

LGBT group raising funds to re-open community center

Tom Giffey, photos by Andrea Paulseth

POINTED COMMENTARY. The Backwards Thinkers Society, UW-Eau Claire’s improv troupe, performed Aug. 1 at The Plus as part of the Big Gay Variety Show, a fundraiser for the Chippewa Valley LGBT Community Center.
POINTED COMMENTARY. The Backwards Thinkers Society, UW-Eau Claire’s improv troupe, performed Aug. 1 at The Plus as part of the Big Gay Variety Show, a fundraiser for the Chippewa Valley LGBT Community Center.

The Chippewa Valley LGBT Community Center wants to come out of the closet – quite literally. The LGBT center’s physical belongings – which consist of gear for Bingo fundraising nights and other paraphernalia – are currently crammed into a closet at the home of Jason and Dan Bennett-Hardy, the group’s president and secretary, respectively. But wanting to reclaim closet space isn’t the real issue: Instead, group leaders want to see the Chippewa Valley LGBT Community Center once again become just that – a center – with an actual physical office to host meetings and events.

The status of the organization, which exists to advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their allies, has ebbed and flowed over the years. Founded in 2001, it maintained a physical location for about a decade – first on Farwell Street, then on Woodland Avenue – before closing its doors in 2011, in part because of lack of funds.

Now, group leaders are working hard to re-open a physical location, ideally by next year. The lack of a space has hindered the group, and many LGBT people in the Chippewa Valley don’t even know about the organization, Dan Bennett-Hardy says. Members of the LGBT community are usually pleasantly surprised to learn the center exists, he explains, but then they ask, “Oh really, where is it?”

“And I say, ‘Well, right now, it’s nowhere,’ ” adds Kyle Lancette, the group’s media liaison.

“There are so many different aspects of the community. It’s important to bring them together.” – Dan Bennett-Hardy, secretary, Chippewa Valley LGBT Community Center

The organization does have a core group of board members, more than 400 Facebook likes, and sponsors Pride events each August, including a well-attended picnic (which this year is Aug. 9). However, the lack of a location has contributed to a lack of vitality. Now, the group wants to raise $13,000 – one year’s worth of operating costs – before opening a center. Monthly Bingo nights, assorted fundraising events (including some during Pride week), and sporadic donations have brought them to about one-third of that total. Bennett-Hardy hopes that sufficient funds can be raised by the end of the year so the group can start searching for an office, which ideally would be open in time for next year’s Pride festivities.

Bennett-Hardy dismisses the notion that American society’s increasing acceptance of LGBT people has negated the need for a community center. “The specific LGBT issues haven’t changed, and in some cases they’re amplified,” he notes. For example, fast-changing state and federal laws and court rulings pertaining to marriage and domestic partnership can make filing taxes confusing for same-sex couples. LGBT people also may have legal or medical concerns and needs for other resources that aren’t met elsewhere in the area. Moreover, there’s the desire to foster community amid the diverse range of people who fall under the LGBT umbrella.

“There are so many different aspects of the community,” Bennett-Hardy explains. “It’s important to bring them together.” It’s also important to offer space to gatherings – for everyone from LGBT Alcoholics Anonymous chapters to youth groups – in an environment that is alcohol-free and open to all ages. And, it’s important to note, a place open to all people – even those who aren’t LGBT.

To contact the Chippewa Valley LGBT Community Center, call (715) 552-LGBT (5428), email info@cvlgbt.org, or visit facebook.com/lgbtcommunitycenter. For listings of remaining Chippewa Valley Pride events, visit VolumeOne.org/events or see this issue’s Full Slate.

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