More Than a Building
LGBT Community Center may be closed, but its purpose will go on
On May 22, the Chippewa Valley Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center announced the closing of its physical location at 1305 Woodland Ave. After a decade of being a valuable progressive resource for area residents, financial difficulties amidst changing social needs have deemed the closure necessary to re-evaluate what the future holds for the organization.
At the time of its creation in 2001, the Community Center was the third LGBT community resource to open in Wisconsin, following only Madison and Milwaukee.
“The center’s priorities haven’t really changed over the years … the community’s needs have changed.” – LGBT Community Center President Jessica Janiuk
“There was already a successful youth group in town,” founding President Christopher Iannone recalls. “We were looking to fill the void for adults. We thought of creating a safe space for LGBT people and their allies.”
The project commenced with plans to provide counseling services, social and support groups, and a lending library comprised of 1,100 volumes privately donated. The center opened in October 2001 at 510 S. Farwell St. and moved to its current location in 2010.
“The Community Center has mainly served as a social space for the LGBT community, rather than a service or program-driven organization,” current President Jessica Janiuk says. “The center’s priorities haven’t really changed over the years … the community’s needs have changed. The social space that the center has provided really isn’t needed anymore. That’s a good thing for the community, but the center has had a hard time finding a focus and a purpose now that the social need is no longer there.”
Indeed, in just 10 years, social acceptance of the LGBT minority has greatly progressed. Both of Eau Claire’s public high schools have attempted gay-straight alliances and while there are certainly still social struggles, notably the teenage suicide epidemic, we now live in a post-Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell society in which the social outcast status of sexual minorities in even the most rural of areas seems to be fading.
As finances have made it no longer feasible for the community center to remain in its current location, the board of directors maintains that the closure does not signal the death of the project entirely. Services such as HIV testing and the Q2 Youth Group will continue at the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin office at 505 S. Dewey St. The center’s John Klinger Memorial Library, however, is being liquidated for suggested donations. Any interested in the extensive collection of LGBT-themed books are welcome to peruse the selection as the Friday night drop-in hours continue through June 17.
“If we can now concentrate more on determining just what our place in the Gay Community is and do specific planning for events that will match that place we will be able to do more,” says Vice President and straight ally Father George Stamm. “It has become the preoccupation of the board, of necessity, to concentrate on finding money to keep the physical plant open. Now we will be able to devote our attention to program and not to rent.”
Janiuk optimistically agrees. “We’re going back to the grass roots of the organization, which I think will eventually lead to a better-served community. The center is by no means gone for good. We still exist as an organization and the physical space will be back in the coming years better equipped to address the needs of the Chippewa Valley’s LGBT community at large.”
A closing forum to say goodbye to the location will be held Sunday, June 19. Anyone interested in helping to shape its future are welcome to attend. More information can be found at cvlgbt.org.