Support the Sacramento LGBT Community Center

Jeff vonKaenel

“If we build it, they will come.” It’s a common refrain—but the Sacramento LGBT Community Center has a different problem. They are here and now we need to build it. “They” are the large number of homeless LGBT youth, seniors, HIV positive individuals and veterans needing services and support, who are overwhelming the center’s current location.

The center is now in a large Victorian home at the corner of 20th and L streets. It was adequate at one time. Before gay marriage, before “don’t ask, don’t tell,” before gay pride events, before anti-discrimination laws. And before LGBT culture became so much more publicly accepted and even celebrated.

But, just as the election of an African-American president did not end racism here, neither did Supreme Court rulings or sit-ins end LGBT discrimination. Certainly recent events in Orlando and North Carolina make that painfully obvious.

At a recent Sacramento LGBT Community Center fundraising event, former California Assembly member and longtime Sacramento mover and shaker Dennis Mangers spoke about the need for a larger facility. Mangers reminded us how much had changed since the center was first opened in 1986. He reminded us of the time when admitting that you were gay could destroy your political career, your employment, your family, your friendships and even your physical safety. But the center’s message was to come out and be brave, and he applauded the center’s achievement of creating an environment where people of all ages can come out and feel safe.

At the fundraising event, a young 16-year-old man spoke about how the center has helped him with emotional resources and, speaking with obvious glee, it was also a place to find a boyfriend. His supporting and loving mother was in the audience.

Other LGBT youth are not as fortunate. The center cannot provide for everyone in need. Often, they are then left out in the street, in harm’s way without support.

That is why the Sacramento LGBT Center Board wants to build a new facility. The first goal is to raise $250,000.

Executive Director Donald Bentz expects the center would be between 7,000 and 10,000 square feet and cost between $3.5 million to $6 million. Obviously, this would be much larger than their current 3,000-square-foot location. They hope to remain in Midtown’s Lavender Heights district.

“As the climate becomes more nurturing to identifying as LGBT, more people are coming out and the local center is often the first place they turn to for help,” Bentz says. “As our community grows, so must our center, which is already insufficient in space. Support groups spill into hallways. … New groups cannot start because there are days when every room in the center is in use. With more space, we could not only serve more people, but offer more quality, variety and innovation in our programs to really make a difference in the lives of LGBT people and their families.”

Sacramento is blessed to have a vibrant, active and engaged LGBT community. It is time to a build a center that reflects our community, and that can provide protection, support and love for our brothers and sisters in need.

They are here. Let us build the building.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.