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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Moving Forward

The GLCCB’s relocation signals renewed hope for the organization.

Waxter Center: New home for GLCCB  Daniel McGarrity Photography

The long anticipated move of GLCCB’s headquarters will have finally taken place by the time you read this.  The GLCCB sold the venerable off-white, brick, four-story edifice at 241 W. Chase Street just weeks before Pride after serving as its home since 1980.  Its new digs, effective February 5, are located on the 4,700 square-foot third floor of the familiar red-brick Waxter Center on Cathedral Street—a mere couple of blocks away—where it’s being leased by the Center.
The older building outlived its usefulness and required tons of money to make it ADA-compliant as well as other needed repairs and upgrades.  The best option, despite protests from some old-line traditionalists, was to find a new place rather than sinking scarce resources into a deteriorating structure, which had once been converted from a warehouse to the current office building.

To be sure, these traditionalists recalled the joyous days when Harvey Schwartz, then the executive director of the Center, led the effort to raise money in a grass roots appeal to the community and purchased the building.  Baltimore then became one the first cities in the country with a gay center—a place the community could call its own—with unlimited potential.  So when news of the building’s sale broke last June, there was a mix of sadness, anger and resignation among those who, over three decades ago, helped coax Baltimore’s gay community out of the closet and into its own space.
Sadly, for reasons discussed in earlier commentaries, that potential was never realized at 241 W. Chase Street.  The Center had a rocky history with some bad apples running the place and with some good apples making bad decisions.  But the thing about history is that it is just that, history.  The future is a separate matter but a successful future depends on learning from the past and building on it.

That’s what the new leadership of the GLCCB plans to do: not ignore history but learn from earlier miscues and start anew.  It’s patently unfair to blame past mistakes on the current leadership when the original building was purchased before most of the leadership were born.  Trust me; they have a very good notion as to what went wrong over the years and are dedicated to not repeating the same errors.
The move, of course, does not automatically wipe the slate clean.  But if the community gives the GLCCB a chance, that earlier vision of a center that fully embraces our diverse community can not only be realized but exceeded.  There’s a lot of work yet to be done, and the Center can and should play a major role.

To be successful, the GLCCB needs to gain the confidence of the community and the community needs to get involved.  The way the Center’s leadership can accomplish this is to follow through on its stated pledge for more transparency and accountability.  Nothing says you’re welcome more than complete openness and encouraging the community’s input on everything from planning to programs and how best to utilize its new space.  If the various components of the community feel that it is respected, it will invest in the Center with volunteer work and hopefully, much needed donations. 
Another way to succeed is for the Center to do what it can to encourage women and minorities to be included.  This has been a difficult challenge over the years because a wide swath of the community believed they had not been welcome. That certainly had been the case for much of the Center’s history.  On the other hand, efforts to attract more women and minorities have been thwarted by a feeling of “why bother?” by these very groups.  To fix a problem, one needs to be part of a solution and not just grouse from the sidelines.

This pattern needs to stop.  I know the new leadership is earnest in their desire to have a flourishing Center that is sensitive to the needs of the entire rainbow and truly wants diversity. 
A number of years ago, the Center’s leadership had a conflict with those running Black Pride.  It wasn’t pretty as the ensuing dispute divided the community.  Last year, the new leadership at the Center reconciled their differences to the extent that both components became partners in their respective endeavors.  That accomplishment cannot be overstated as it led to a better relationship between LGBT African-Americans and the GLCCB and serves as a template for future unity.

The Center should continue this path in forging relationships with the community.  Many LGBT folks who regularly attend Pride aren’t aware that the annual celebration is run by the GLCCB and many weren’t even born when the Center was formed or even knowledgeable of its troubled past. 

The best way to attract this new pool of energy is to hold a series of well-publicized community meetings at the Waxter Center.  There should be a different subject or theme at each.  For example, a meeting on community activities, or one on issues of concern to youth, or transgender issues, or seniors could attract folks interested in solving problems.  Yes, these community meetings often lead to shouting matches, and individuals like to promote their own agendas.  But the Center needs to prove that it is worthy of being the focal point for the LGBTQ community and may have to undergo some painful moments to demonstrate the leadership is sincere.  No pain, no gain.
And the community should step up and get involved.  Attend these meetings. Serve as a volunteer.  Be a board member.  Donate to the cause.  Make the original vision a reality. 

As the Center leaves the ghosts of West Chase Street behind, the new headquarters will afford an opportunity for the Center—hopefully with a new name—to make a fresh start and move forward.  We need it to.

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