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    Stories from the Community about How the LGBT Center Changed their Lives

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    Dana Van Gorder:

    In about 1992, I was working for then Supervisor Carole Migden. I had been thinking for a time about some of the causes of continuing high rates of HIV and their possible psychosocial origins. Dr. Sandra Hernandez, then the City’s Health Director, agreed to fund a series of focus groups to explore these issues. A theme that boldly stood out from conversations with over 100 gay men was the significant lack of acceptance and community gay men felt, not just from larger society, but from their own community, and how this could lead to health and mental health challenges.

    The data from the focus groups were given to queer health agencies to help inform their programs. But a small group consisting of Carole, Jeff Henne (who had led the focus groups), Mark Cloutier, Dick Pabich and I met to discuss what might be done at the political level to address what we had learned. Dick had worked to elect Harvey Milk, and later worked for him at City Hall. He reminded us that Harvey had attempted to secure funds for a Center, an effort that Dan White thwarted. Harvey died with the dream of a space that could help lesbians and gay men find and build community very much in mind. Our small group decided that it was time to make Harvey’s vision reality, in this new context.

    I still very much believe in the need for a Center as a place that welcomes new LGBTQQ people to the City and helps them to build their lives here, and that is a vibrant reflection of our history and culture. I commend those who still work to assure that Harvey’s vision is a reality—not for nostalgic purposes—but because the Center is still needed to support our brothers and sisters and to herald our place in the social fabric of the City.

    Dana Van Gorder is a Founder of the San Francisco LGBT Community Center and is the Executive Director of Project Inform, www.projectinform.org

    Frank H. Woo:

    I got involved with the Center in 1998, even before there was a Center. Mark Leno of the then named Community Center Project was a Board member and the Capital Campaign Co-chair, responsible for raising the needed funds to build the first LGBT Center from the ground up. He was appointed to the Board of Supervisors and he had to step down from the Center Board. He asked me to succeed him, and after he told me it was just a “few hours” time commitment, I interviewed and was elected to take over as Capital Campaign Co-chair. It was far more than a few hours time commitment!

    I agreed with the Center’s notion that San Francisco, the Gay Mecca, was not always the most welcoming City to all members of our community, and especially to the younger generation who may have just moved here after coming out. The Center would be a welcoming space, a space to gather, a space for non-profits at under-market rate, and a space for community celebrations.

    I still believe the Center is meeting those needs and that’s why I’ve remained a Major Donor to this day. With the Center’s upcoming renovation, I’m thrilled to see that the Center’s leadership has identified tax incentives and smart ways of financing what I consider a remodel to our community’s home.

    Frank Woo served both on the Board of the San Francisco LGBT Community Center and on the Capital Campaign, for which he was Co-chair. He retired after 13 years on the HRC’s Nat’l Board of Governors and Nat’l Board of Directors.

    Jody Cole:

    I am very excited about the renovations at the Center. When we were going through the original design phase of the Center, we specifically designed it so that it could be easily transformable. We were aware that our community grows and changes, so with that in mind, we wanted the Center to grow and change with our community.

    While I’m bummed to be losing the awesome “Mighty Real” staircase in honor of Sylvester, I know we will have a more functional building to serve the needs of the San Francisco LGBT community, something I think Sylvester would heartily approve of as well.

    Jody Cole is a former member of the San Francisco LGBT Community Center Board of Directors and served as Capital Campaign Co-Chair. She is also the Founder of Wild Rainbow African Safaris, LLC. For more information, please go to: www.wildrainbowsafaris.com

    Shane Zaldivar:

    At 22, I moved to San Francisco to escape a very troubled life in Florida. I had hope. My passion was to study alternative medicine at my dream university in the Bay Area, but when I arrived two years ago, I had no housing and no job. I felt desperate and alone until I found the San Francisco LGBT Center.

    Through the Center I was able to find a job and housing. Most importantly, I made great friends and created a sense of stability. The Center helped me to avoid becoming one of the estimated 1,500 LGBT youth that are homeless in San Francisco.

    In San Francisco, it is becoming increasingly impossible to survive or make it on your own. As I walk along Market Street, I see a lot of pain. I see many homeless people, some dealing with mental health issues and drug addiction. Forty percent of homeless youth in San Francisco identify as LGBT.

    We need to make sure that as our City reaches new heights, those most vulnerable among us do not fall through the cracks. This is why the Center is so critical to San Francisco. The Center is a home where people connect with one another, find resources, and gain opportunities.

    Shane Zaldivar has worked with the San Francisco LGBT Community Center’s Youth Council and has served as a dedicated volunteer for many events, such as the Transgender Day of Visibility, the Janet Mock Reading, the Center’s Soirées over the years, and the Spring LGBT Career Fair.