Founders Jeff Myers and Joe Hawkins sat in the future multi-purpose room of the new LGBTQ community center, a space they share with other startups, filled with hope and pride. “For the first time in history, Oakland will have an official LGBTQ community space that serves the diversity of our community regardless of age, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, but focused on the most vulnerable among us.” Hawkins said.
Myers, the new non-profit’s Board President, a surgical scrub nurse and frequent community volunteer, expressed that “This is a big moment for us!” he exclaimed. “Having a central space is critical, not just to come together, but a place to find support and resources during times of crisis. We are actively fundraising for the center, and although we are seeking grants, we need a diverse stream of funding to make this work, and that means donations from our LGBTQ community and allies. This center will be a space that addresses key issues of the community. The time for an all-inclusive LGBTQ community center in Oakland has been way over do.” Myers said.
Although acceptance of LGBTQ people has increased over the years, demonstrated by the 2008 legalization of same-sex marriages in California, which helped to legalize same-sex marriage in the United States, a recentCalifornia Department Of Justice (DOJ) reportshows that California has experienced an 11% increase in hate crimes since 2015, and the top two targets of hate crimes, according to the report, were blacks and gays, particularly gay men.
And according to a 2016 report by the Human Rights Commission (HRC), ranking municipalities that demonstrate how they work to support the LGBTQ people who live and work in their cities, of the top 10 largest cities in California, Oakland ranked in the bottom 3 cities ahead of Santa Ana and Fresno, with a Municipal Equality Index (MEI) score of 77 out of a possible max score of 100. Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, and Long beach all received a score of 100 and each of those cities have successful LGBTQ community centers.
East Bay cities have had a tough time sustaining centers for the LGBTQ community. Over a five-year period, centers specifically targeting LGBTQ people in the East Bay have closed. The Lighthouse LGBTQ Community Center in Hayward closed in 2014 after serving the community for 14 years, followed by the closing of the Sexual Minority Alliance Of Alameda County (SMAAC) Youth Center, which served youth of color in Oakland for over a decade, but was destroyed by a fire in 2012 and unfortunately never recovered and went out of business in 2015.
Both Hawkins and Myers are longtime residents of Oakland and LGBTQ community organizers. Joe Hawkins spearheaded efforts to start Oakland Pride and is a founding member. He served as Oakland Pride Co-chair for the first few years of its existence. Hawkins also has an impressive track record working as a non-profit executive creating and leading projects on a range of issues including housing and homelessness, youth workforce development and training, HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, and variety of social justice issues affecting marginalized communities. Jeff Myers works as a surgical scrub nurse and is a former union Vice President. He has also served as the Volunteer Coordinator at Oakland Pride and was recruited by Hawkins to help out in 2010. “One of the things that I was very attracted to when Joe first reached out to me when he was the Co-chair of Oakland Pride, was pride’s mission statement and its goal of helping to facilitate the creation of Oakland’s first community center serving all LGBTQ people. I was so excited about helping to raise money to open a center. But after years of talking about making it happen with no progress, I reached out to Joe and we decided that the time was now!” Myers said.
“So many of us were anxious about what is next and where do we go from here after the elections. Talk of opening a center had been on the table since we included it in the mission statement of Oakland Pride over 8 years ago, but discussions between Jeff and I accelerated after the elections. It was just the kick in the butt that we needed to get the ball rolling.” Hawkins said.
And that is just exactly what they have done. The two started a new non-profit 501(c)(3) called the “Oakland LGBTQ Community Center Inc.” in June of 2017, the mission states “The Oakland LGBTQ Community Center Inc., is committed to supporting and enhancing the well-being of LGBTQ individuals, our families and allies.”
The organization has secured a startup headquarters space in the “Co-Munity building” at 3207 Lakeshore Ave.on the 2nd floor, just above the T-Mobile store in Oakland. “We were very fortunate to have stumbled upon this place to get us started and to work with such a welcoming operator. We are also excited about the Lake Merritt area location, which is very LGBTQ friendly and in district 2, which is led by gay city council member Abel Guillen.” Hawkins said. The space secured by the new LGBTQ Center is in the offices of “Startup Admin Co-Munity” which offers startups services to include offices with the administrative support needed to build a successful organization and expandability as they grow. “So far over 300 people have submitted request to become volunteers and we held our first volunteer information session on July 29, and will host volunteer session every Saturday from 1:30pm-3:00pm. We will also offer some critically needed services from this new space, to include support group meeting space, information and referral services and more. We are planning a grand opening on September 7, and will host a series of community service input meetings in August to determine which services the community feels are most important and/or missing here in Oakland, and we will fundraise towards those goals.” Hawkins said.
“The Oakland LGBTQ community needs a physical space in which to gather and share resources. This marginalized community — the LGBTQ community, and especially LGBTQ people of color, youth, seniors, and transgender individuals— it’s really important for all of us to be united and to be able to support each other and we believe that this new center is the missing link that will facilitate that.” Myers said.