Paducah, Kentucky, has an LGBTQ center. Paducah. Kentucky. Ryan Allen points this out to say both How wonderful for Paducah, Kentucky, a town of 25,000 people, and How, exactly, could Paducah have one and not Cincinnati? A city with more than 300,000 residents.
Allen is the founder of the Building Bridges Center, an online resource to provide community and information for the local LGBTQ population. It’s new, and it’s been a little stalled since the novel coronavirus halted the fundraising necessary to grow, both in membership and physical size. The center needs a home, an actual building, Allen says. Cincinnati hasn’t had a physical LGBTQ center since 2013, when the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Greater Cincinnati closed its premises.
Building Bridges, a 2-year-old nonprofit cooperative, is made up of volunteers from other organizations that share Allen’s vision of having an LGBTQ community center downtown.
“Originally, when we started, we said we’re going to be a safety net for the LGBT community, but we have to be more than that,” says Tim’m T. West, co-founder of Cincinnati Black Pride, who works closely with Allen on Building Bridges.
The center’s main objective, Allen says, is to be a safe place for those who need it.
“It’s making sure, when a kid who’s 16 years old gets kicked out of their house, they have a place to go,” Allen says. “If a 22-year-old doesn’t want to go to a bar on Saturday night, they can go hang out and play board games and find community in that way.” If someone who doesn’t live downtown needs HIV testing, and they can’t get to Northside, they should be able to walk right in, he says.
One of the Building Bridge’s first actions was to conduct a survey of 40 area nonprofits to learn what the community wants in an LGBTQ center. There were a few through lines in the responses: The center should be off a bus line in Over-the-Rhine or downtown and provide 24-hour wraparound services, including physical, mental, and sexual health; addiction counseling; and resources for those who are experiencing homelessness.
COVID-19 has delayed the center’s next steps, Allen says. Not only are people donating less, but no one knows when gatherings restrictions will be fully lifted. This spring has in part been about reevaluating the center’s to-dos.
This summer, West says he’d like to beef up the website, including a community calendar of events; a space to share news, such as the city raising the inclusive pride flag, which includes stripes for people of color and transgender people; and promotion for the center’s programming. Once the site is updated, West hopes it can aid the ultimate goal of raising capital funds for a brick-and-mortar center.
“The lack of space is the challenge for us,” Allen says, “because it’s hard to get people to buy into a capital campaign when there’s no physical space.”