What is The Community Center?
The community center was established 24 years ago for the LGBTQIA—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and allies—community, and what we do is offer services, like counseling services and support groups. We offer people who just want to come in and chat a place where they won't be judged. We're here to be an ear and help people out. We throw lots of events and dances try to normalize their lives a little bit.
What would you say is the most difficult day-to-day challenge facing the LGBTQIA community in Boise?
I'll be really honest, there's a lot of apathy out there in the community because people have been so worn down. We have so many people come in who have these just awful experiences with their various religions, and we have to build them up all over again because they feel like they're evil, they're going to go to hell, and we have them sit down and say, "We're not here to judge you." I firmly believe [being gay] is more of a genetic thing because I certainly tried not to engage for 30 years—and almost got married—but it felt so dishonest. I think the biggest thing is to get people over their apathy and convince them that they're actually good people and that they have a purpose and a place in our community and in life. Once we get there, then they're off and running, and we have some really amazing people who are gay, and they're lawyers and creative types and doctors and engineers. The Boise community cannot afford to lose the gays and lesbians here. Boise used to have more of a gay population per capita than San Francisco.
Is that still accurate?
I would say it's around 15 percent of the population right now.
And that's just those you know about.
Oh, yeah, you know there's the closeted Larry Craigs. There are a ton of men out there who are married and they have children, and they come into the center all the time and they're still married but they know they're gay and their partners know they're gay, and they go through about a two-year counseling process, telling all their kids and then getting their divorces. A lot of them don't admit to it until they're in their late 40s, some of them their late 50s.
What are your responsibilities at TCC?
My responsibilities to the center are to get volunteers there to do the various support groups and to create our events. My responsibility is to keep the center open by getting funding for it, to secure sponsorships, to make sure programs are expanded and to create new ones. Idaho also, per Newsweek, is the highest in the nation for gay teen suicides. And that's something else that I've been trying to create programs for, to combat that. We also have an AIDS pantry that we're putting together. We just submitted a grant to United Way to try and fund that. And we're trying to put a coffeehouse in the center.
You're in a new building, right?
Yes. We officially opened the doors [at] the end of June in Garden City. In fact, it happens to be across from my other job at the Ada County Highway District. I looked at 50 different places, and oddly enough I kept passing by this one over and over again because it was so overgrown that I never even realized what it was. We had to be ADA compliant, and this one was, and it was big enough. So I showed it to the board and it has this beautiful creek running through it with a bridge that we have to fix up a little bit. It's actually very lovely. We've already had a wedding at there.
What would you say is the most difficult long-term challenge facing TCC?
I'd have to say it's funding. That and getting enough people out there to know that we exist, and we would like to continue to exist. We are the only established gay community center in Idaho, and there are a few others started—one in Twin Falls and one in Moscow—and we're trying to help them out as best we can. We've offered to extend them our 501c3 status so they can have the tax privileges, and they're putting together the strictures of their boards and such. For the gay community here in Boise and in Idaho, I think the main challenge is to come out and say, "We exist and we're good people, just start accepting us. We're natives or we've lived here along with the rest of you."
I hear criticism from people who are new to Boise and are usually from larger cities that the LGBT community here is fractured. How do you respond to that?
I think there's some apathy in our community, and for those who try to get things started, there haven't been enough support services to help them keep going. That's why I called YFFN and asked them to be a part of TCC—because I'm trying to combine a lot of forces here, and support each other and grow. There are a ton of people who've moved here and some have moved here just to get away from everything and just want to lead their own lives and not be a part of anything, and there's others who want to be a part of everything but forget that all of this costs money. Our membership is $40 a year and we're still under 100 members.
How do you reach out to those people?
Through Diversity, our events, and we're going to start placing ads to say we're here and we'll take the flack for it. A lot of our board members have had people like [Bryan] Fischer go after them in the past. And Fischer does have Travis [Riggs, editor of Diversity] and I on his Web site every once in a while calling us evil. But we're standing here, and we're willing to take all the slings and arrows, but there's a lot of people who move here, and they have no idea we exist right now and we have to get that out. I'd urge people to visit our Web site [Tccidaho.org] where there's a resource directory with all the gay businesses and a gay-friendly counselors in Idaho, as well as links to Diversity.