After spending 20 years in various office spaces (the last 10 in the colorful Commercial Center), the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada opened the doors of its new Robert L. Forbuss building on Maryland Parkway just last month. Before the organization celebrates the Downtown location’s grand opening this Saturday, Weekly connected with program director Mel Goodwin to discuss the significance of the move, the Center’s new features and how this might be the start of a true gay neighborhood in Las Vegas.
You’re celebrating the grand opening of the Center’s new building this Saturday. Why was this move important for the LGBT community? For Las Vegas? This year is the Center’s 20th anniversary as an organization, and until now we’ve never occupied a space that has adequately or legitimately served the needs of the Center or the community. Having this sort of presence in the community, I think, will make our business known to more people who haven’t been able to access services through the Center before. We’re the only LGBT center in the state of Nevada, so our presence is very important because there are plenty of folks here who need or deserve a place to go where they can be valued and validated and accepted and loved.
What is new and exciting at the Downtown space? Our new building is four times the size of our old location; it’s on a major bus line; it’s in a very visible location on Maryland Parkway. Our previous location was inside a … strip mall that was very confusing to navigate and find. We have built the Center to meet the needs of our programs, [while] also considering our vision for expansion of programming over the next several years, rather than fitting ourselves into an existing building. We have a health and wellness center with its own separate lobby and reception area. It’s a very private and confidential area; whereas previously folks were waiting in our main lobby We have a café and outdoor recreational space. So not only can individuals come to the Center to attend support groups and seek referral, but they can truly come here to spend time at the Center—to read in our library, to have meetings, to eat lunch. We’re looking at bringing on new staff members to expand programming, particularly in the areas of senior services, mental health services, working with young people under the age of 13 and their caregivers, and providing additional services for low- to moderate-income residents of Southern Nevada.
It seems like the new space is a lot more social than the old location. That’s one reason we wanted to have a café in the new location, as well as the outdoor courtyard area and sports court, because those are all truly areas that promote socializing and meeting, and just spending time in a space where community members feel comfortable.
How does the new location stack up to other LGBT centers across the country? Our new facility is truly one of the most state-of-the-art centers in the country. Our new building provides us with opportunities for expansion that our previous location did not allow. The health and wellness center will also be utilized in the future to provide legal and other healthcare services in the evenings. Our large community event hall will afford us the opportunity to develop arts and cultural programming, including independent film screenings, book signings, and local talent showcases. In essence, this will become a center for the whole community, not just those who identify as LGBTQ.
A lot of buzz concerning the new location is that it’s Downtown. Were other locations considered? Other locations were considered, but as soon as my boss and some board members found this location, it was just sort of a done deal. And to be in the Downtown revitalization area was a huge bonus. We have good relationships with the Downtown Project and Zappos and local businesses that are opening in the area. We look forward to future partnerships with all of the organizations and companies that are building Downtown and we look forward to hosting a lot of Downtown community events in our new facility.
How will this impact the LGBT community in Las Vegas? I think it brings a lot of legitimacy to what we’re doing. It’s more accessible, so I think it’s really going to promote a lot more community partnerships—with organizations, with local government, with corporations—who are maybe going to approach us [for] some cultural competency trainings. It really takes what we’re doing to a level that we could not have achieved in the previous location. It’s also a lot more inviting and visible to the community, so I think moving forward it’s only going to get better from here.
Have you seen more people walking through the doors in the first month of the new location’s operation? Yes! Yes, we are. What’s been really exciting, for me, is to see all of the community members who live in the surrounding area here come in because they want to see what we’re doing, and all of the young people playing basketball on our sports court—everyday, every afternoon, every evening. It’s been really great. A couple of folks have moved even to the surrounding area in some of the apartment complexes here because they knew we were moving here. That’s been really encouraging and exciting.
With that in mind, do you think this new location could be a start to an actual gay district or neighborhood in Las Vegas? I think that will be inevitable, to be honest. What’s happening Downtown is very attractive to the LGBT community, and the Center’s presence is going to be a huge part of that. We’re kind of thinking of ourselves as the east anchor of the Downtown revitalization, with the Arts District being to the west and what’s happening with Downtown Project and Zappos to the north.