Waymon Hudson

Another LGBT Community Center in Distress: Arizona's Wingspan

Filed By Waymon Hudson | July 23, 2009 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Action Alerts, Living, Living, The Movement
Tags: Arizona, economic crisis, LGBT Community Centers, Wingspan

The economic crisis is hitting everyone hard. Especially under stress are the charities and other organizations that run off grants and donations. One of these groups in dire straights is the LGBT Community Center of Tucson and Southern Arizona, Wingspan.

wingspan button.gifWingspan has been serving Tucson's LGBT community since 1988 and with the economic downturn has come drastic cutbacks for the organization. The LGBT and straight supportive communities would sorely miss this center and it's vital services if the door's close on it, which is a very real possibility.

The Center provides vital Anti-Violence Programs, Youth Programs, Health and Wellness Programs, Seniors Programs, and Transgender Support, as well as numerous advocacy and community services.

The Center is making huge cuts and changes to try to stay afloat, but those drastic steps may not even be enough if the community doesn't step in to help.

In a letter posted on its website, Wingspan details the steps they are taking to survive. They are moving to a smaller building, which they will share with another group. They've canceled their annual community dinner. They are also cutting all staff positions that aren't grant funded. In addition, they Executive Director has stepped down to save money.

The group is desperately seeking volunteers to take the place of former paid staffers and also looking for any and all donations to help them continue to serve the community.

This, and other community centers across the country that provide much needed resources for our community, need our help. If you have a few extra dollars, donate to Wingspan or your local LGBT Community Center. If you don't have any extra money, give a few hours to help them continue to offer services.

Community Centers hold a special place in my heart. When I was a young gay teen growing up in conservative Central Florida, I rode the bus to visit the Orlando LGBT Community Center. Many times I would just stand across the street and watch, given a little bit of comfort that I wasn't alone. I finally had the courage to walk in, which opened up an entire new world to me.

These Centers provide information, hope, and services that our community desperately needs, especially in these hard times. Let's come together and make sure that the next generation of LGBT people have somewhere safe to go for years to come.

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Rick Sours | July 23, 2009 2:21 PM

It is truly sad about Wingspan, but not surprising. My Partner was a volunteer at Wingspan for over three years. At the front desk the staff always said hello and chatted with the volunteers.

When the current Executive Director was in place none of the volunteers knew who he was. John (my partner) finally found out who the E.D was and went and introduced himself. The E.D. made no effort to get to know or interface with the volunteers, or much of the Tucson GLBT community. This is a direct contributing factor to the problems Wingspan has experienced.

For a GLBT Center to not only survive but thrive, you need all volunteers and staff to be out front and in the community. In the past this was true; sadly, it is no longer.

The annual Dinner, a major source of fundraising, has been canceled. This was the yearly event that brought the entire Tucson GLBT community (and their allies) together, and was a significant source of income for Wingspan. Even in this economy it should have been continued, albeit on a smaller scale.

Those of us that helped Wingspan grow are indeed heartbroken at these developments.

Anthony in Nashville | July 23, 2009 2:28 PM

These are hard times for LGBT centers that aren't located in places like NYC, LA, Chicago, etc.

I look at the community's response to these requests for help to be indicative of their priorities. We will ignore organizations that provide social/cultural services, but let something happen to a party and watch people's anger rise!

You're absolutely right that these centers need our support. Looks like the San Jose LGBT Center may have to close, too.

We just found Wingspan and SAGA in Tucson one year ago, and the thought of losing this precious resource in my community frightens me greatly! My own eight-year-old daughter is transgender. She's a young child growing up needing the type of support this community center offers. Where will we be without Wingspan?

Damn. I'm originally from Arizona and hearing this is enough to make me cry. Damn. I always looked up to Wingspan because it was everything that Phoenix could never obtain. I hate this.

"The economy" isn't the only reason for the gradual erosion of vital LGBT community infrastructure. This erosion has been going on for at least a decade. One of the forces driving it: a widespread problem with "accountability" that has mirrored the larger problems with accountability in mainstream government, business and nonprofit work.

It's worth reading Patrick Monette-Shaw's roundup on some of these accountability problems in his 2002 San Francisco Examiner op-ed that's still posted online http://thelastwatch.com/02-10-14_SF_Examiner_OpEd_LGBT_Accountability.PDF . Among other things, Patrick mentions the frequent cases of embezzlement of funds from community centers and AIDS organizations.

About that time, I devoted one of my A & U columns to the string of embezzlements of Ryan White funding, and received a furious email from a well-known gay philanthropist who had given a lot of money to AIDS causes. He was outraged that I would dare to insinuate that there was any criminality going on behind the AIDS scenery. I assured him that the cases I'd mentioned were already through the courts, resulting in convictions.

All too often, we "don't want to know" about our own festering LGBT problems until it's too late.

Rick Sours | July 24, 2009 10:42 AM

My Partner and I agree that it is more than just the economy. In our opinion, in the case of
Wingspan the new Executive Director did not
value the importance of the the LGBT community's
support. Yes, there are individuals who are over
40 years of years. Yes, we did not have advanced degrees in Social Work. Yes, we do not have the
same mind set of younger people but we did care
deeply about Wingspan. We were treated as if we
did not exist in his eyes. Some of us stayed as did my Partner and myself until we moved from Tucson
in August 0f 2008. Sadly, alot of individuals left Wingspan. As they left they also took with them
their checkbooks.

Jason Cianciotto | July 25, 2009 1:17 PM

Thank you so much Waymon for drawing much-needed attention to the changes happening at LGBT community centers around the country, including at Wingspan.

A comment was posted earlier about the needs of the San Jose center, which my husband visited when he was first coming out. So many in our community have stories about how their LGBT center positively affected their lives. Drawing attention at the national level to the need for these institutions to endure is key to getting through this recession.

This is not just a crisis affecting local communities, our movement's infrastructure nationwide has been critically affected. We've watched billions in stimulus dollars go to huge corporations, while few non-profits have been able to access resources needed to maintain the critical social safety net they provide to millions of Americans, gay or straight.

We need to demand that the tax dollars our community pays flow back to the institutions uniquely positioned and trained to provide critical, lifesaving services to LGBT community members most in need, from homeless youth to transgender and other victims of violence, hate crimes, and employment discrimination.

I also hope that our community will do all it can to support their centers and other critical nonprofit institutions. For some, that is making a donation that is personally significant, no matter the amount. For others, it is giving time and expertise as a volunteer. There are so many ways to give, and now is the time. Our community and our movement needs you.