Nashville’s LGBT community together under one roof?

Joe Woolley took the helm of the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce’s board as president in 2016, and during his term he focused on stimulating significant growth in the organization’s membership. Along the way, he discovered his next passion project, a new, shared-services model LGBT community center for Nashville and Middle Tennessee. 

Woolley isn’t looking to recreate OutCentral’s working model, or programming—though OutCentral’s departure does add a degree of urgency to the need for a center—but to create something new that would foster the work of existing organizations, as well as attract new services and funding opportunities for the community. This summer he is publicly launching the Middle Tennessee Pride Community Center, a shared-services modeled organization, which will ultimately provide physical space for our many organizations to work together and to work more efficiently to serve the needs of the community. 

In May, was awarded the LGBT Chamber 2018 Community Service Award, in large part for his quiet groundwork on this very project. As we enter Pride Month and with Woolley beginning to mobilize for the first big public push in this project, he provided some insight into how this project was conceived and why he believes it’s so important. 


So, tell me a little about the genesis of this project! 

So, for four years I was on the Chamber, as a board member, then VP, and then president. And we'd always been looking for office space, knowing that we needed office space soon. At that time I was also thinking, "Oh, I'd love to house multiple offices with LGBT resources all in one spot. OutCentral...” 

For the Chamber’s purposes, OutCentral had so many logistical issues that we didn't feel comfortable putting our office there... The parking issue was just a nightmare, for one. But it really wasn’t until right after the election that it came together in my head. 

We were having the Chamber event with Renata Soto of Conexion Americas at Casa Azafran. What Casa has done for the Hispanic Latino community is groundbreaking! She showed us all incredible resources that the center has brought together, and I told her it was incredible what this place has done for the community. 

She looked at me and asked, "How is it that the LGBT community doesn't have something like this?" I told her about OutCentral, but that it had been run by volunteers, unlike Casa, which is run and organized by Conexion Americas, which provides the overarching organization and houses other organizations providing services under its umbrella. 

When she asked why I didn't do something like this, I explained that the Chamber was my priority at that time, but that's what put the spark in my head about what we could possibly have here. Ever since that point I went into conversations with the Chamber or with community activism around what we needed with these thoughts in mind. 


What ignited the spark? 

Well, a friend of mine went through some troubles at Lentz Public Health, and it just highlighted what gay men seeking sexual health assistance were going through. And I got involved with just trying to make a few policy changes, like getting rapid tests brought back and not having to wait three hours to see a nurse. And again that showed me the need for a community center with a clinic that we could be comfortable going into... 

Then I started talking to other groups, like TEP or others, who need places to meet and rally. Parking is so bad near OutCentral, when groups would host rallies it limited who could show up. I think we as "community leaders" saw that after Pulse. We had a mayor that welcomed us down to Public Square to mourn and grieve together. But if we wouldn't have had that where would we have gone? We just need a place for us all to come together for us to call home. And that's how it started. 


So has it been an easy sell? 

Once we started talking, it was interesting hearing the needs for a community center among the marginalized... A lot of the people I know and run around with were like, "Why do we need that? Aren't we past the days of that?" It has been an educational process that has been interesting to work through... 


So tell me a little about the model of the organization as you see it developing. 

We envision a model similar to the Youth Opportunity Center and what some centers across the country do, which utilizes shared services under one roof and avoids recreating existing services by supporting them all under the center's roof. 

You basically build a building and then invite those services and those nonprofits that are doing those services into your raft, and take the burden of having property off their hands and let them focus on their mission. And, by being under one roof, you start the synergy and you all start to work together more effectively. 

A lot of times our advocacy organizations don't know what the others are working on, or event what each others' primary advocacy points are. For too long, as a community, this has been the case, or our groups fight with each other over turf. We've got to drop it. We've come so far, but we've got so much further to go... I think the key is if work face to face, you work together better and working together leads to better outcomes. You know you put us all in one place that we call ours. And I think that can happen!  

We have something like 16 full-on community groups that are doing some type of work. Every one of them will have a home. They're going to do their work and collaborate with the other groups, paying only for shared services, not rent. The community center will fund itself through a number of routes. 


What can people do to help? 

Right now, a lot of high-level issues are in the air, but as we launch more publicly and get our website running, there’ll be opportunities for people to join our lists and sign up to help. We’ll need a lot of help once we get further along, and there’s a lot of interest already, people asking “What can I DO NOW?” So look for our website coming soon, and stay tuned! 





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