Queer issues 

Vital center on the brink

The only off-campus gay and lesbian community center in the state and a leading advocate for Montana's queer population is dangerously close to shutting down.

The Western Montana Gay and Lesbian Community Center, located at 127 N. Higgins Avenue, facilitates support groups, publishes the state's only queer newspaper and helps people in need access social and medical services.

But a series of financial setbacks, including a lackluster fundraising year and poor planning prior to a recent reorganization, has created a money crunch that jeopardizes the 10-year-old center's future, according to interim Executive Director Suzie Reahard. In a state where gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersexed (GLBTQI) people can have a tough time finding support, Reahard says the center provides an essential link for those in need.

"I had a call from a kid who was in [a mental health treatment center] who tried to commit suicide," she says, pointing to one recent example. "He was looking for information and resources."

Since the center hired Reahard in September, she has overseen expansion of its supervisory board and beefed up the monthly publication, Out Words, by adding more local content. But just as the center was poised to grow, the budget crunch struck. With the center unable to afford her salary, Reahard resigned from her paid position last week and will now volunteer her time.

"I am committed to seeing the center through this," she says.

In addition to trimming costs, the center launched a full-fledged fundraising effort that's already showing dividends. After placing an SOS on social networking sites last week, the center raised $1,300 in 24 hours. Reahard is also in the process of applying for emergency funding through the Seattle Pride Foundation.

In the meantime, the newly expanded eight-member board is hustling to keep the center open, says Kate Wenninger, who officially signed on as board co-chair last month.

"This is totally fixable and totally doable," Wenninger says.

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