By AARON GETTINGER
Thanks to a grant passed in the state capital bill earlier this summer, an LGBTQ community center will be established on the South Side, an amenity long sought by activists and social service providers.
South Side Rep. Lamont Robinson (D-5th), who announced the center’s establishment at an Aug. 24 forum at The Promontory, 5311 S. Lake Park Ave. W., said told the Herald that sites in Washington Park, Bronzeville and South Shore are under consideration.
Howard Brown, Chicago’s preeminent LGBTQ health care provider that operates clinics in Hyde Park, 1525 E. 55th St., Englewood and Back of the Yards, will be the center’s fiscal agent and provide health services there.
Although $15 million has been set aside for the center, Robinson said organizers would be looking for additional funds in the future.
Brick-and-mortar institutions serving LGBTQ Chicagoans, from bars to community centers to homeless shelters, are overwhelmingly concentrated in the North Side lakefront, especially along Halsted Street in Lakeview’s Boystown district.
“Over the years, the Center on Halsted has been doing some great work on the north end of Chicago, but youth — as well as the overall LGBTQ community — has not had its own center,” Robinson said. “It is something that’s come out as I’ve moved around my district, as I have met with LGBTQ organizations, that we need our own center.”
Plans include space for existing South Side LGBTQ organizations such as Affinity Community Services, a nonprofit serving Chicago’s Black lesbian and bisexual women’s community; the Black Gay Men’s Caucus and the Brave Space Alliance, a Black- and trans-led LGBTQ center in Ashburn.
Robinson said career opportunity programs and a separate housing component also are planned, though the housing operator has yet to be named.
“We know that, particularly in our youth, we have a high number of LGBTQ homeless here in the City of Chicago,” he said. “But not only our youth — for LGBTQ folks who unfortunately have fallen into the crosshairs of being homeless, which is really important.”
“We want to make sure that this is a center that is all-encompassing, but we’re still meeting with youth as well as other folks within the community to ensure we have a center that they want,” he said. “Understand that even though this is an LGBTQ center, this will also be a center for the community. It will have a health center that everyone can go to, whether they’re LGBTQ or not.”
Robinson said access to transit is important in choosing the center’s location; organizers want to put it in an area that has historically seen little investment and high HIV rates.
“That is why this center is important: That we can get services and go to a place that is open and affirming, that we can call our own in our community,” he said.