History of the Community Center Movement
When the first lesbian and gay community centers in the country opened their doors in 1971 in Los Angeles, CA and Albany, NY, their premise was revolutionary: that lesbian and gay people deserve to live open, fulfilling and honest lives free of discrimination and bigotry, with access to culturally appropriate social services, as equal partners in the cultural and civic life of the community. During the early and mid 1970s, gays and lesbians in a dozen other cities staked similar claims and launched community centers. Offering everything from "coming out" support groups, to health clinics and meeting space for community organizing, centers became the hub of community activity and the catalysts for progressive social change.
As AIDS ravaged the gay men's community in the mid 1980s, the 30-odd centers were at the forefront of HIV care giving, education, prevention, and advocacy. Even as the demographics of the epidemic shifted to non-gay inner-city populations and other at-risk groups, LGBT centers continued providing HIV services to all. Today, many of these earliest centers are still the major urban provider of AIDS-related services and prevention efforts.
Throughout the 1990s, the community center movement spread to increasingly smaller cities and towns. By 2000, nearly half the 100 community centers were their area's only staffed non-profit LGBT presence — the first point of contact for people seeking information, coming out, accessing services or organizing for political change. The diversity of programs and services offered by centers (and their financial stability) reflected the unique needs and interests of the communities they served.
History of the National Association
of LGBT Community Centers
Begun in 1987 as an informal gathering of leaders from LGBT community centers during the annual conference of the National Gay and Lesbian Health Association, the Association provided an annual forum for peer support and the exchange of ideas. In 1994, as part of the celebrations marking the 25th Anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, representatives of more than thirty centers gathered for an all-day meeting at the Lesbian & Gay Community Services Center of New York.
Led by the centers in New York, Minneapolis, Denver and Los Angeles, the National Association was more formally created as a dues-paying membership organization offering regularly scheduled national and regional meetings designed to provide peer-based technical assistance and networking opportunities. Without paid national staff or offices, the National Association relied for many years on the leadership and coordination efforts of an annually elected Executive Committee comprised of seven executive directors of member centers.
In 2000, in recognition of the larger number of new centers and the expansion of the Association's role into areas of program development (Promote the Vote, and nationally-managed tobacco cessation efforts) the Association took several steps to better serve our member centers. The Association incorporated, received its IRS tax-exempt status, created by-laws, and developed job descriptions and work plans in anticipation of the hiring of a national staff. The GLCCB is proud to be a member of the NALGBTCC. For more information about the NALGBTCC, visit www.lgbtcenters.org.
History of The GLCCB
by Tim Nelson
In 1977 — less than ten years after the Stonewall riots in New York — the Center was founded. At the time, Baltimore was by no means a stranger to GLBT activism.
During the late ‘60s and early ‘70s a number of lesbian journals began publication in Baltimore. In 1972, the Baltimore Chapter of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) was established.There we also groups for African-American lesbians and, in 1973, gay and lesbian Catholics. Gay student groups at local universities and the Baltimore Pride rally both appeared in 1975. That spring, the Baltimore Gay Alliance (BGA) had its first meeting.
The BGA began its work galvanizing the community into one entity, celebrating diversity and offering sanctuary. By 1977 it was clear that the BGA needed to form a unified community center, and the articles of incorporation were signed on March 28th, 1977 establishing the Gay Community Center of Baltimore (GCCB).
At first the GCCB survived only through the hard work and self-sacrifice of committed volunteers who provided the Center’s meeting space, operated a switchboard, and distributed a newsletter out of homes and basements. The newly established GCCB Health Clinic — later to become Chase Brexton Health Services — shared space with MCC . In 1980 however, the GCCB finally found a home at 241 West Chase Street, the building it still owns today.
Through the next several years the GCCB struggled against bigotry, adversity, and the horrors of AIDS to grow and adapt to meet the ever-changing needs of its community. The GCCB newsletter evolved into the Baltimore Gay Paper (BGP) — now known as Gay Life — and moved from a volunteer’s basement into the Chase Street building. The annual Pride celebration involved much of the downtown area through the years, from Charles Plaza, to the 200 block of Chase Street, to Park Avenue, the Wyman Park Dell, to the current locations of Charles and Eager Streets, and Druid Hill Park.
In 1985 “Lesbian” was added to the organization’s name to create the most commonly know acronym for the Center: GLCCB. In the next decade the Center continued to change with its surroundings — offering new programs and services — while remaining a beacon and refuge for the community at large.
In 2002 — in an effort to remain inclusive — the Center incorporated the entire community it serves into its name to become the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland (GLBTCCBCM) while retaining the familiar (and more manageable) nickname of “the Center.”
Things have changed markedly from the days when the Center operated out of basements, or fought for its right to hold the Pride Celebration, or watched gay rights bill after gay rights bill get voted down by the Baltimore City Council. With ever-increasing acceptance, things may appear to be less challenging now, but there is still much work to be done. There will always be challenges, both personal and societal. Through individual gifts, generous bequests, fundraisers, and grants, the Center has been able to expand its services to include more support groups, increased educational opportunities, and more community outreach services.
The new millennium is an exciting and important time in the Center’s evolution. The Center hopes for more paid staff, new facilities, drop-in centers, and a whole host of fresh and innovative ways to serve the community. Plans are already in place to revitalize the switchboard, to expand youth programming and coming-out groups, and to strengthen partnerships with organizations like Equality Maryland so that we may speak with one voice in Annapolis about the concerns of our community.