In my line of work I have the privilege of seeing good done around the country. I see the joy when LGBTQ youth who are struggling find the support and community they so desperately need. I see the relief of someone who has finally found an affirming health service provider who can help them. I see the excitement people feel when they’ve found an accepting home away from home. All of these good things come from LGBTQ community centers. So when I heard that some House Representatives were targeting LGBTQ center funding a couple weeks agao, I was furious. And when I saw that officials at the local level were taking cues from these representatives, like they just did in Manatee County, Fla., my anger only grew.
LGBTQ community centers play an important, yet often overlooked role in the life of LGBTQ people in the United States. In many parts of the country, a local LGBTQ community center may be the only place where LGBTQ people and allies can access affirming and inclusive health care, community programs, or even basic information. Community centers are also important players in the LGBTQ movement, linking LGBTQ people and local, state, and national efforts to advance LGBTQ equality.
Across the country, many LGBTQ community centers also serve as safe havens for the broader local community, providing vital programs and services in an environment that is competent and respectful of LGBTQ identities. In Vermont, a full-scale food pantry and resource program offers delivery to rural areas to address the food insecurity needs of the LGBTQ community. The Terrace Concert Series in Ohio is a monthly concert series hosted by a community center that showcases diverse local LGBTQ talent. The Community Health Worker program is aimed at providing health education, care navigation, and case management for LGBTQ community members in rural Virginia. It ensures that there is someone not only to help guide and support community members in achieving their health goals, but to also help serve as necessary patient advocates to ensure inclusive and affirming practices.
In 2023, over 520 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced across the country. And while eight in 10 Americans (80 percent) favor laws that would protect LGBTQ people against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations, and housing, discrimination and hateful rhetoric directed toward the LGBTQ community is at an all-time high. Hate crimes targeting LGBTQ individuals have been steadily climbing for the past four years according to data published by the FBI. In fact, LGBTQ people are nine times more likely than non-LGBTQ people to be victims of violent hate crimes.
LGBTQ community centers collectively serve over 51,800 people each week, or nearly 2.7 million people per year. Without support and funding from federal and local governments, millions of Americans could be left struggling to find culturally competent life-saving programs that allow them to live authentically and safely.
LGBTQ Americans need the services that community centers provide now more than ever. Stripping funding from LGBTQ community centers — organizations that offer programming to ensure that members of vulnerable populations feel safe, connected, and empowered — is unconscionable, dangerous, and cannot be allowed to happen.
Denise Spivak is the CEO of CenterLink, the community of LGBTQ+ Centers.
Views expressed in The Advocate’s opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride.