Guilford Green’s LGBTQ community center opens

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(photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

By the time 1:30 p.m. rolled around, half of the rainbow cake had been eaten. The platter of cookies studded with rainbow M&Ms, however, remained intact.

Around the corner, a community library comprised of books and movies — Out and Running, Milk — filled the shelves. On a couch, multicolor pillows invited visitors to sit and make themselves comfortable.

It was finally here.

Dozens gathered to celebrate the opening of the long-awaited LGBT center in Greensboro on the afternoon of July 27. The center, which spans about 1,300 square feet, is a part of the Guilford Green Foundation and is housed inside the GGF office, tucked away on the second floor of a building off West Bessemer Avenue.

“This is a true community center,” said Jennifer Ruppe, who is both the center and GGF’s executive director. “We’re a good first place to call if you need anything.”

Ruppe, who is a lesbian, is the only full-time staff member at the new facility and hopes that the center grows as more and more people learn about its existence.

“We want to make sure we build programs that are inclusive of everyone on the spectrum,” she said.

After hosting focus groups, the center decided to hone in on three populations within the LGBTQ+ community for its programs: those 55 and up, which Ruppe calls the “Gay and Gray” group; youth, comprising anyone 12-19 years of age; and those who identify as transgender.

“Greensboro didn’t have a center,” Ruppe said, “so we had to figure out what the community wanted and needed.”

As the third-largest city in the state by population, many felt that a community resource like this should have been available years ago. Other cities like Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham, Asheville, and even neighboring Winston-Salem, all have centers of their own.

“It’s not just important for the LGBTQ community, it’s better for Greensboro,” said Bert Davis Jr., a member of the center’s board.

In addition to its programs, the new facility has a meeting area that’s big enough for 30 people to gather. It also has a wall of resources with pamphlets for LGBTQ-friendly churches, health services, support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous meeting times and more. Among them is Prismatic Speech, a speech-therapy business run by Kevin Dorman, who is transgender. Dorman, who made their rounds at the opening handing out business cards, is a licensed speech-language pathologist, or someone who works with clients on issues surrounding speech, language, swallowing, and voice issues. They host free monthly vocal training sessions at the center for transgender individuals.

“I help people who are just starting to explore their voice,” said Dorman, who discovered they were transgender six years ago while studying at UNCG. They say their love of language combined with their own experiences as a transgender person propelled them to help others in the community.

“I wish I had something like this when I was growing up,” Dorman said. “Figuring out who I am would have been easier.”

Glenda Wilkinson, who found out about the opening through her church, is straight but a mother to two lesbian women. She said that growing up in the ’70s, the only mention of those who identified as LGBTQ were slurs.

“There were never resources available,” Wilkinson said. “I had friends who were gay but no one talked about it.”

She’s already signed up as a volunteer.

The progression of the afternoon brought with it new tides of visitors both old and young. A political candidate even made an appearance.

Larry L. Archie, who is running for district court judge in Guilford County, wore a skimmer hat and bowtie to the opening. He noted the importance of a center like this to keep marginalized individuals from becoming potential delinquents.

“There’s a stigma associated with LGBTQ and we need programs for people to not act out,” Archie said. “We need resources for children who are experiencing difficulties with figuring out who they want to be.”

While a correlation between crime and sexual orientation or gender identity hasn’t been found, LGBTQ status does correlate with higher rates of homelessness, bullying in schools and being victimized by harassment.

Davis Jr., who grew up in Greensboro as a gay man, notes the importance of having a safe space specifically for the LGBTQ community.

“The center gives people the support they need, and knowing that it’s here sends a signal,” Davis Jr. said. “It makes ­Greensboro a better place to live.”

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