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Many want help with new center

By Daniela Mohor
Thursday June 21, 2001

Queer organizations, overwhelmed by an increasing demand for services, may find a way out in the next few years through the opening of a new Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community center in Berkeley. 

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, a number of representatives from East Bay queer organizations called on the city to help build the center. 

Proposed in May by City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, the project is just at its starting point, but it appears to have gathered the support of at least three other councilmembers and Mayor Shirley Dean. The center is also included in the city manager‘s budget proposal for the next fiscal year. If the current proposal is adopted at the end of June, the project will receive $25,000 for preliminary planning purposes. 

The details of the project haven’t been set yet, but the goal is to build a new and modern facility that includes space for LGBT groups and businesses, for public meetings , and for housing. The building would have disabled accessibility and would be environmentally sustainable. It would offer social services, such as mental health counseling or HIV services, as well as community-oriented activities. 

The project was initiated when staff members of the Pacific Center for Human Growth - Berkeley’s main LGBT service provider - approached Worthington two months ago. At that time, the center suffered from a lack of space and its services were already strained.  

“Since the Pacific Center has been in its current location for over 25 years, the facility is absolutely too small and we don’t have room for our 180 volunteers and all the support groups,” said Executive Director Frank Gurucharri. “We turned down a significant number of requests, and we have a long waiting list for mental health clients.” 

The Pacific Center is likely to become one of the major partners in the new facility and therefore use the largest amount of space. However, the purpose of the LGBT community center project, is not only to provide the Pacific Center with a larger facility, it aims at filling the need for more services by promoting the collaboration between different organizations and at giving Berkeley’s queer population a sense of community. 

“It would provide space for other kind of organizations to interact and increase civic awareness and visibility for the whole community,” explained James Green, who chairs the board of Gender Education and Advocacy, Inc. and supports the proposed center. 

It is still unclear how many groups would be part of the new facility, but leaders of the project are trying to include a great diversity of organizations, with a particular emphasis on women’s groups. 

“A really significant part of this project stresses the feminist angle and makes sure that women are included in the leadership and the decision making,” said East Bay Lesbian/Gay Democratic Club member Nancy Carleton, who attended Tuesday’s City Council meeting. For instance, Worthington recently asked Mama Bears, a women’s bookstore in Oakland, to participate in the planning process. 

While they wait for the budget to be approved, supporters are contacting a variety of individuals and foundations to start raising the estimated $5-$6 million for the building. It could take at least three years before the new center opens its doors.