Slog News & Arts

Line Out

Music & Nightlife

« The Reverse Bradley Effect | Hillary Abdul-Jabbar »

Monday, January 21, 2008

The LGBT Center is Gone…

posted by on January 21 at 9:40 AM

…but the divisiveness promoted by its incompetent leadership promises to live on.

The SGN had a story in Friday’s paper about the demise of the gay community center. You gotta love the heavy breathing lead…

For the first time in nearly six years, the walls in the brick building at 1115 Pike Street—surrounded by the hammers of new construction—stand empty. Seattle’s LGBT Center is as dark as a January night.

I walk that block of Pike Street every day and, yeah, I’m always tripping over the piles of hammers those irresponsible construction works leave behind at the end of day. And now I know why I never saw anyone in the Center when I walked past: meetings were held in the walls, not the offices, but now the walls stand empty. It’s a tragedy.

Anyhoo, this story, like all the others in the SGN about the Center’s demise, doesn’t go into detail about the Center’s collapse. But it does tick off some vague reasons why the gay community groups now want for walls in which to meet:

…unsuccessful attempts at finding more affordable space, weak financial management, and a dispersed community have challenged the vitality of the Center.

Weak financial management—tell us more, SGN. How much was coming in? How much was going out? Where did the money go? Who was making the decisions about how the community center’s money—the community’s money—was spent? Those questions and others aren’t answered in the piece, of course, because the SGN is too polite to pry, I suppose, or perhaps they’re too embarrassed. The Center most went tits up because its leadership, egged on by the SGN and Capitol Hill bar owners, poured its scarce resources into Queerfest, an effort to return Seattle’s gay pride celebrations on Capitol Hill after SOAP, the group that organizes the Pride Parade, moved the parade downtown. (The downtown parade was a big success but SOAP encountered financial difficulties of its own).

The SGN does admit, in a graph buried deep in the story, that Queerfest was a money loser:

The Center is currently running a development campaign to energize its financial resources depleted by a difficult year that included a Pride festival on Capitol Hill that raised less net dollars than expected.

Read “raised less net dollars than expected” as “divided the gay community, lost shitloads of money, didn’t stop the downtown Pride Parade, and ultimately sank the Center.” But has the Center’s discredited, incompetent “leadership”—what’s left of it anyway—and the SGN learned their lesson? Nope:

Queerfest—which attempted to maintain a separate Pride Festival on Capitol Hill—will not be continued by the Center in 2008, but may be licensed to a local organization.

Yes, yes: by all means, keep Queefest going. What we need in 2008—what we need while the Center begs for money—is another bitter, divisive fight between the silent majority of gays and lesbians that preferred the symbolism and energy of a parade on 4th Avenue and a vocal minority of gays and lesbians that want to keep the parade on Capitol Hill. All the SGN and the Center have to find now is a local organization with a deathwish.

RSS icon Comments


"...raised FEWER net dollars than expected."

Posted by elenchos | January 21, 2008 9:53 AM

I knew a chick who used to huff embalming fluid and claimed she heard trolls in her walls. But anyway...

Dan, I appreciate the fact you keep shining a light on this. I worked in the non-profit world for 10 years and saw so many examples of non-profits who felt like they had some kind of preordained right to exist -- because their cause was righteous, I suppose -- that somehow lifted them out of the economic paradigm.

The fact of the matter is that a strong non-profit needs several important pieces of infrastructure, and none os more important than its board of directors.

Boardsmanship (yes, a real word -- N-Ps love their jargon, god knows) is a science and an art. It's also a money-making machine, with boardmanship seminars, and the consultants who run them, spreading like 501 c 3 kudzu across the land.

But aside from the eye-rolling self-importance of the term, the fact is, a strong board does not just invent itself. There truly is skill involved. It's not a simple demographics matter -- just because you have 2.5 white gay males, 2.5 white lesbians, a smattering of ethnic representation, HIV poz reps, youth reps, etc., is no guarantee you will succeed as a gay center. Believe me, I was on the board of a GLBT center in a major city and representation was the easy thing to spin our wheels on while the rest of the house burned down around our ears.

This is not to say that identity politics and its resultant obsessions is what brought the center here down, but a poor board of directors was most certainly a root cause.

The bright side is that, contrary to what I used to believe, not everyone needs to be a rich banker or lawyer on the board. A dedicated, savvy, and assiduously self-educated board can do wonders. But it sure helps to have at least a couple members of the board with conduits into -- and out of -- sources of financial support.

It also helps to have a creative marketing campaign that gives the center a sense of relevance to more than the most obvious clientele (which was, in my experience, lost/homeless youth, 12-steppers, HIV poz folks, and the fiercely gay-identified/ separatists.)

The Los Angeles Center is a spectacular (though, of course, flawed in its own ways) example of a center that takes care of this core group and still manages to also attract money from bankers, lawyers, CPAs, movie stars, etc., because they have an incredibly savvy board of directors, excellent programs and a textbook marketing process. I consulted there and was eventually part of a review team for a major grant they received and was so pleasantly impressed by them.

And you know what? I never went there -- once -- for anything personal, but I still give them money because they proved they were relevant to me, even if I never went in the door. I can name at least a dozen other friends of mine, still in LA, who share the same sentiment.

Here's hoping the local center can reconstitute itself with the same level of commitment, avoid the identity politics infighting, and be a true community centerpost for gays who need it -- and even gays who don't.

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | January 21, 2008 10:04 AM

I was going to post something relevant, but Jubilation T Cornball said everything I would have said.

Posted by michael strangeways | January 21, 2008 10:23 AM


That sounds like fun, Dan...Is the Stranger going to sponsor it?

Sounds a lot like Quimfest, though...very dyke-centric.

Posted by michael strangeways | January 21, 2008 10:28 AM

@4, no it sounds more like "queef-fest," which Dan would not want to sponsor, or even really think about, which is why I brought it up.

Posted by bill | January 21, 2008 10:36 AM

When you're writing about anything having to do with the SGN, I think typos just sort of magically happen.

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | January 21, 2008 10:39 AM

Silent majority, my ass. The fact of the matter is, when you 230,000 people participating, you've got a noisy, happy majority of Seattle's area queers solidly voting with their feet. The only quiet part is the refusal to donate scarce dollars to a bitter attempt at living in the past.

Posted by Gitai | January 21, 2008 10:44 AM

ah, I was wondering how long before Gitai had to chirp in with a tirade against the Center....I love the "I don't use the Center, and no one I know uses the Center and apparently no one is supporting the Center, so there is no need for a Center" line of thought. I think the next time someone tries to get me to donate money for breast cancer, I'll use a similar defense...after all, I'm unlikely to get breast cancer and all my female relatives that I care about are dead and I'm a Gay man who must hate women, so why should I give money for breast cancer research?


Posted by michael strangeways | January 21, 2008 11:18 AM

OR there's Gitai's other idiotic theory that since the LGBT community is now completely free of bigotry and intolerance and injustice and enjoys equal rights with the heteros and practically no one ever gets bashed anymore, why do we need LGBT organizations?

even more fucking lame.

Posted by michael strangeways | January 21, 2008 11:20 AM

Why doesn't SOAP just buy the "license" to QueerFest, then put the piece of paper into a blank manilla folder, and stuff it into the back of a file drawer, never to be seen again?

Wouldn't that be a Win-Win for everybody?

Posted by COMTE | January 21, 2008 11:43 AM

Dan, for you (the cheerleader for the incredibly financially irresponsible SOAP) this post seems a little...ummm...self-serving. Yep, the Center screwed up, yes, they deserve to be chastised for it. Yet you continue to cheer for SOAP who owes the city and small Seattle vendors hundreds of thousands of dollars. SOAP may serve your desire for a downtown parade but they're just as bad, if not worse than the Center on the financial side of things. Some equal oppofrtunity criticism, please...

Posted by dr. thompkins | January 21, 2008 12:32 PM

@10 - That is a great idea. Anyone involved with SOAP on here?

This is truly sad, and pathetic. For a city like ours not to have a Center for the community.

Instead of working for their mission, they decided to try QueerFest, which sucked, and sucked them dry from funds. It also helped divide the community even more. Poor leadership at the executive director and board level... shame on them!

Focus on important things a center should..

free HIV/AIDS care and medications

housing, food, clothing and support for homeless LGBT youth

low-cost counseling and addiction-recovery services

essential services for LGBT-parented families and seniors

legal services

health education and HIV prevention programs

transgender services
cultural arts program

...and much more. Not Pride events!

Posted by Hopeforseattle | January 21, 2008 12:35 PM

@9 I'd like you to show me the posts where I said no LGBT organizations were necessary. Effective and useful LGBT organizations will be necessary for a long time to come, organizations like Lambda Legal, Servicemen's Legal Defense Network, and Marriage Equality USA. Those are all organizations that have a long history of moving LGBT rights forward.

Oh, and Seattle Out and Proud too. After all, by putting together pride parades that are successful enough to draw 230,000 and having the foresight to move downtown instead of remaining in a neighborhood that's rapidly transitioning from gay ghetto to just another urban area, I think they've really shown a strong ability to perform. As they continue to gain expertise and experience, Seattle's Pride weekend is going to keep getting better and better. At this rate, it'll only be a few years before I'm no longer bothered that our Pride parade is the same weekend's as SFO's.

That beats the hell out of wasting so much money on a failed event that it destroys the organization. And really, if the LGBT Community Center was serving such a broad swath of Seattle's LGBT community, why hasn't the community risen up to save it? Why have all those individuals who have been served so faithfully not come together to provide a solution? Or is it just that the LGBT Community Center served such a tiny population that it simply wasn't sustainable?

Posted by Gitai | January 21, 2008 12:35 PM

@11 - Yes, SOAP made mistakes, and they admit it. They are working very hard to repay their debt and still carry on the fantastic downtown parade. Also, this article is not about SOAP, it is about the Seattle LGBT Community Center. Difference being (between SOAP and LGBT Community Center).. the Executive director of the Center was getting paid to run the Center, at a tune of almost 70,000 a year. The SOAP board does all the work for the Seattle Pride Parade, and are 100% volunteer run. Little bit differnt league wouldn't you say? So lets talk equal opportunity shall we?

Posted by badabing | January 21, 2008 12:53 PM

Thank you, Dan, for saying what I couldn't quite put into words.

I volunteered for a LGBT center in Detroit (called Affirmations). Their two primary services were staffing a volunteer phone/referral line, and providing meeting space for numerous support groups.

Every time I went to Seattle's LGBT center's web site, I couldn't quite figure out exactly what services they offered. So they never sounded relevant or interesting. One time I inquired about renting a room their for a hobby group that I belong to, but I was shocked to learn that they expected us to get our OWN insurance policy before we could meet there. Huh? You've got to be kidding. What a joke of a community center.

Posted by SeattleBrad | January 21, 2008 1:25 PM

Badabing -

It's Dan's glee about the demise of the Center that makes talk of SOAP relevent. No one is accusing the Center, as far as I know, of financial misconduct, just poor management. Yet the Stranger continues to hold up SOAP as a valid community nonprof when they've been criminally deficit with their money. I believe that there are good people in bad situations in both organizations. But jumping up and down with delight over the Center's problems and being pro-SOAP, vehemently pro-SOAP, is disingenuous.

Posted by dr. thompkins | January 22, 2008 10:10 AM

Comments Closed

In order to combat spam, we are no longer accepting comments on this post (or any post more than 14 days old).