Guest Author - Barbara Sharpe
A LGBT resource center can be valuable to us all, though for different reasons at varying points in our lives.
When coming out, the local resource center can be a source of information, support and social contact. Many centers have support groups for newly coming out people, some segregated by sex, others mixed. Often, youíll find a library with materials you can check out. Being a reader, when I came out, I read quite a bit. I was also Catholic, so I wanted information on what various faith communities had to say about being gay. It was also fun to read lesbian fiction since LGBT characters arenít generally prevalent in mainstream fiction.
Many centers have groups for heterosexually-married men or women who are coming out, groups for teens and social groups. Quite frequently, when a person comes out, their entire life changes. While the newly-out personís friends might be supportive and loving, the person may want to make LGBT friends. A resource center can be a starting point for that.
In many communities, it is the resource center who produces the Gay Pride events. For many of us, a Pride event is our first real interaction with other LGBT people. Since straight people do go to them, we can go without outing ourselves. Itís cool to see the range of people who are queer or queer-friendly. It isnít uncommon to hear a newly-out person say, ďWow. I never knew there were so many different ways to be gay.Ē
Some resource centers have much more than social activities. There are centers whose services include mental health counseling, healthcare services, HIV and STD testing and support groups such as AA or ACOA. Nearly all of them offer referral services as well. It is likely that at some point, youíre going to need something that they canít provide. Most will have resources that are LGBT-friendly to which they can direct you.
For those of you whose focus is more on advocacy, you may find your resource center an excellent place to begin working on LGBT issues. Some of them actively work on issues that affect LGBT people locally, state-wide or nationally. Others take a less active approach and simply provide information on where you can find those issues. Either way, it gives you a starting point.
Nearly all LGBT centers rely on their communities to survive. You can support yours by giving both your time and your money.
Like most nonprofit organizations, LGBT centers get their funding from private sources. Some receive foundation grants but many others rely primarily on funding from their community. If you have not done so, I encourage you to make a donation to your local LGBT center. They canít be there for you, and for others who may need them, if they donít receive enough financial support to keep the doors open.
Small staffs are the norm for LGBT centers, so many welcome volunteers. Smart centers have plans in place to utilize different kinds of volunteers, so donít limit your ideas of what volunteering is. Chances are good that they need people to work on the newsletter mailing, to help staff the office and other administrative tasks.
Donít assume that because you donít see a particular opportunity listed on their website it means that they wonít be open to the idea. If you are a doctor, for example, who wants to offer mammograms at no charge to center clients, Iíd bet theyíd jump at the chance.
Another way to support your local center is to attend events. Donít worry about whether youíll know anyone. You can meet people! If youíre concerned about feeling out of place, ask if you can volunteer at an event. Most events are fundraisers, so still pay for your ticket if you can, but having something to do will make it more comfortable for you.
If you arenít sure if you have a resource center, go to Center Link and search by your state. There is a resource center in 44 states, in Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. There are also centers listed in Canada, Japan and Israel.
Stop by your LGBT resource center soon. And tell them BellaOnline.com sent you!