FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Despite the slow economic recovery, GLBT community centers manage to provide vital resources to 1.7 million people annually according to a comprehensive report released by CenterLink and the Movement Advancement Project (MAP).

The 2012 LGBT Community Center Survey Report: Assessing the Capacity and Programs of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Centers surveyed 79 GLBT community centers nationwide. Centers showed good revenue growth over the past two years, resulting in combined 2011 revenue of $106.8 million. However, centers remain thinly staffed, with almost one in five relying on no paid staff at all.

GLBT community center clientele is diverse and often not specifically served by community centers that serve larger local populations: 86% of GLBT community centers offer specific programming for transgender people, 86% for GLBT youth, 73% for GLBT older adults and 62% GLBT people of color.

GLBT community center patrons are racially and ethnically diverse, with 40% of centers reporting that more than half of their patrons identify as people of color.

“In many regions, community centers are the only resource where GLBT community members can access not only indispensable services but also break isolation and build a network of support,” said Terry Stone, Executive Director of CenterLink. “This report surfaces how centers serve the most vulnerable members of our communities, especially GLBT youth, and enrich the lives of GLBT people in multifaceted ways.”

In many regions, local GLBT centers are the only organizations serving the GLBT community, offering a variety of much-needed resources the include the following:

  • Physical and Mental Health Programs: Large centers spent approximately one-quarter of their 2011 budgets on physical and mental health programs, including general health and wellness programs, health and mental health care referrals, STI and HIV/AIDS-related programming, and facilitated support groups.
  • Information and Education Programs: Centers provide patrons with a variety of informational and educational resources, and 71% have in-house libraries. In response to the economic downturn, one-fourth of centers offer directories of local jobs and employment counseling or job training.
  • Legal Services and Programs: While two-thirds of centers provide GLBT-friendly legal referrals, only 20% provide direct legal assistance such as legal document preparation.
  • Social and Recreational Programs: GLBT community centers provide patrons with opportunities to socialize and connect with other GLBT people.
  • Community Outreach and Civic Engagement: GLBT community centers provide referrals to GLBT-friendly local resources such as schools and healthcare providers. Half of centers (51%) also engage directly in policy work, including public education efforts and partnerships with local GLBT and allied organizations to advance safe schools and anti-bullying policies, transgender-inclusive protections and HIV/AIDS work. One-third of centers help register voters and conduct get-out-the-vote drives.
  • Computer Centers: Many GLBT community centers (88%) provide patrons with computer resources; 97% of large centers offer patrons access to computers compared to 72% of small centers. Large centers are defined as those with 2012 expense budgets of $150,000 or greater, while small centers are centers with expense budgets less than $150,000.

Many GLBT centers rely on a small number of staff to provide these services. Of the 61 centers that provided information about staff, 18% have no staff and rely entirely on volunteers, and 41% have five or fewer paid staff. Small centers face particular staffing challenges; 46% have no paid staff, and the remaining 54% have between one and five staff.

Both large and small GLBT centers reported revenues increases from 2010 to 2011; small centers experienced a 20% increase in revenues from 2010 to 2011, compared to a 13% increase for large centers. Forty-six percent of 2011 revenues were from government grants, followed by 18% from individual donors and 10% from fundraising events.

“From health education and policy advocacy to employment counseling and legal services, community centers provide lifelines to many underserved GLBT communities,” said Ineke Mushovic, Executive Director of MAP. “We’re encouraged to see growing financial support at so many centers, and hope to see even greater investment in the vital role these centers play in the lives of GLBT people across the country.”

The full report is available online at www.lgbtcenters.org or www.lgbtmap.org. 

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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