With their new community center off to a successful start, Chattahoochee Valley Pride organizers are already planning how to meet the needs of the Columbus' LGBT population.
More than 40 people attended the nonprofit's opening ceremony Saturday at the newly renovated 1123 13th Street building, which was completed using about $10,000 worth of private donations. The open house, which featured food and fellowship, was a huge success for the 15-year-old organization, which hosts an annual LGBT Pride event.
The center, which runs on donations, is also offering a 25 percent Macy's discount to donors and chance to win a $500 shopping spree.
"We're actually exceeding our expectations," Assistant Public Relations Director Tan Coleman said. "We've not had any vandalism or any backlash from the community so far."
But opening the 2,300 square foot community center is just one step in building a permanent resource for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens. In the coming weeks, CV Pride plans to start numerous support groups and meetings for issues throughout the community, including a twice monthly New Horizons-led HIV/AIDS support group and an anti-bullying campaign.
"The way we're building these groups is by people letting us know what groups they want to see," Coleman said. "And someone that's actually going through those issues, we're going to let them be the voice. If I led the transgender group, they may feel like I don't understand like someone who's going through that."
CV Pride also hopes to make the center a place for families and people without safe spaces to find sanctuary. The center will facilitate movie nights, board games and other entertainment events. A gay-affirming church, Refuge Outreach, will also be host services at the center.
Eventually, Coleman hopes the center will be able to expand and provide resources for LGBT citizens who have experienced incarceration or homelessness.
"I don't know that I know the way to get out of the revolving door that is the justice center," she said. "But we really want to work with the prisons, work with people who have this paper work. We don't want them to come to us and say 'You have something for everybody else, but not for us."
The center is open to anyone over the age of 18 years old, or any underage community members accompanied by a parent or guardian.
"If you've got a boyfriend or a girlfriend that you can't sit comfortably with at home, we want people to know they can come here," CV Pride CEO Kevin Blackstock said.
Though she says much work still needs to be accomplished, Coleman said Columbus has become a welcoming place for many members of the LGBT community.
"The world as a whole is becoming more accepting of the gay lifestyle," she said. "It is easier for me to go somewhere with my wife, go to a restaurant or something, and not get any weird stares or feel uncomfortable."
Still, through the community center, CV Pride is hoping to build a lasting foundation for a community that is often left without a place to call home.
"We really want people to know we're not going anywhere," Coleman said.