I’m flipping through Erzsebet Galgoczi’s semiautobiographical book Another Love, nestled in a cozy chair in the library of the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada.
Mel Goodwin, the Center’s youth and volunteer services director, is going to give me a tour, but she’s still in a planning meeting for May’s queer youth prom.
So I lounge, read up on Galgoczi’s story of a Hungarian lesbian fighting Soviet oppression in the 1950s, and glance at the more than 1,000 books and magazines that surround the carpeted library’s mismatched furniture and lamps.
There is chatter down the hall—people dipping in and out of the Center, dropping something off, picking something up, using the computers or just visiting.
A woman seated next to the reception desk flips through a magazine that she wants to add to one of the Center’s magazine racks. It has 30 percent LGBT readership, she says to the receptionist, who is playing solitaire on a computer.
There is already so much information in this place for the 25,000 mostly LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) community members who walk through these doors every year. Advice, tips, LGBT businesses and announcements scream from bulletin boards, pamphlet stands and magazines. Everything you wanted to know about gay life in Las Vegas, safer sex, or gay life in general is available here. Photographs of social groups and past events crowd bulletin boards.
Candice Nichols, the Center’s executive director, sees The Center as the first point of contact for people who move to the area. Youths coming out can find a safe haven here. Senior citizens, cut off from the community, find each other.
“We have some seniors who are coming out for the very first time when they are 65,” Nichols says. “It’s important that the Center is there for them.
“Some seniors go back in the closet,” she adds. “They were raised in an era where people were jailed for being gay.”
Goodwin comes out of her meeting. The stylish and attractive young woman with a blonde pixie-esque haircut seems as kind as everyone says she is and proceeds to walk me through the Center.
Goodwin came out at 19 and became active in the Center’s youth group, then started volunteering and eventually took a job here. She says she came from a conservative family and the presence of the Center made all the difference in her life.
It is a sentiment I hear echoed by others who are active in the community.
Political, social and support groups meet at the storefront Center, which is in Commercial Center off Maryland Parkway and Sahara Avenue. There are town hall meetings, youth talent shows, potlucks and senior bingo. The Nevada Gay Rodeo Association meets here, as do the Sin Sity Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and SNAPI (Southern Nevada Association of Pride, Inc.). HIV and AIDS testing is done here and there is a trans group. Two youth groups meet in a spacious, sofa-filled activity area with a pool table, foosball, computers and televisions. Funding is provided by individual and corporate donors and through fundraisers, such as last week’s ARTrageous event at the Aruba. The community has donated furniture, art, books and other supplies.
Davey, 20, and Brock allen, 19, are tidying up the youth room, following a recent art event. They volunteer at the Center at least twice a week and are in charge of planning the prom, “MasQueerade,” held each year at a nearby church. More than 150 promgoers are expected to attend.
“It’s so important,” Allen says. “Prom is such a huge part of growing up. Here you can wear what you want, come with your significant other, be yourself.”
That is what the Center is all about. This room, regarded as a safe haven for young people to meet without the threat of drugs, alcohol and sex, has seen a lot of kids come and go, including homeless teens, who say they have been kicked out of their homes for being gay.
“We have some really strong kids here who go through a lot,” says Brock. Regarding family issues, he adds, “That’s going to keep going no matter how the times change.”
Brock first came to the Center in November of 2008 to help a friend set up for a Prop 8 rally, the year that comedian Wanda Sykes attended and came out publicly.
Davey (who identifies herself by first name only) has been volunteering since January of that year. She and Allen became fast friends and even ran against each other for prom king (Davey was crowned). Davey says that since childhood she’s wanted to be an activist, enact social change and social justice. Here, she says, “I feel that I can take something that is part of me and help people. Soon kids were coming to me for advice.”
Both recently spoke about gay teens to a group of pediatric physicians at a conference at Caesars Palace. Davey says that after college she’d like to come back and work at the Center.
Down the hall, Joshua Montgomery, the Center’s HIV Prevention coordinator and Vegas Mpowerment coordinator, breaks from his phone calls to talk about how the Mpowerment group is designed to encourage safer sex for gay and bisexual men in their 20s while celebrating sexual identity. “We create social gatherings so they can find out who they are as people in a safer environment that is not drug-charged or sex-charged,” Montgomery says.
None of this was here when Nichols was younger.
Born and raised in Las Vegas, she graduated from Valley High School. She wanted to come out, but there was, she says, nowhere to “come out to.” She had gone to a gay bar, but it was all men. “Lesbian wasn’t a chic word in the ’70s,” she says, “So I just said, ‘I think I’m bisexual—I could love anyone, male or female.”
She was married twice, had two children, and then came out in 1992 at age 38.
That was, coincidentally, the year the nonprofit Center was founded and identified itself as a “safe public space” for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people. The Center’s current mission statement says it “supports and promotes activities directed at furthering the well-being, positive image, and human rights of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community and its allies in Southern Nevada.”
It’s getting late in the day. I pass through the entryway to head home. It’s calm, almost tranquil, and people are still coming out and going in.