“I’m still trying to find new members, so beware!” writes Brianne “Your Highness is optional” on the new Mat-Su LGBT Community Center
blog. “If you see a Big Transwoman with a Lasso headed your way, run! and run fast lest you find yourself sipping steamy beverages and talking about the LBGTA community in the Valley.”
On Wednesdays at 5 p.m., Her Highness Brianne waits at a table in Palmer’s Vagabond Blues with a sign taped to a coffee can. Brianne and Jaime Rodriguez are resurrecting the Mat-Su LGBT Community Center, and the coffee group for socializing, support and discussion is the first activity.
Their vision for the Center goes far beyond coffee. “A functioning Valley Community Center can help create a real community where none exists, and provide a central clearinghouse for information, contacts and services, not to mention a fun and safe place for meetings and activities of all sorts,” Jaime wrote in the blog’s first post.
Safety is a big issue in the bible belt of Alaska. When journalists searched for LGBT Wasillans to interview during Gov. Sarah Palin’s vice presidential run, few were willing to talk on camera or give their real name in print. Jaime and Brianne were the only queer locals named in this HRC video
with ally Rev. Bess and a supportive therapist, although an anonymous lesbian spoke with her back to the camera.
About six or seven times a year, word comes from the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Anchorage that people are asking about LGBT groups in the Valley, wanting to get involved or attend events. The Mat-Su population has swelled to 83,000, which means at least several thousand LGBT residents. There seems to be an unusually large transgender population in the Valley, and more bisexuals and closeted people than in urban areas of the same size.
“If we could organize, we could help break the conservative hold on the Valley,” said Jaime. “Six thousand queers is a powerful economic and political force, if we can harness it.”
The new Center rents office space in The Church of the Covenant in Palmer, where Rev. Howard Bess was pastor until he retired last year. They have a reception area, coffee nook, conference room, bathroom, and library space for the many boxes of books collected when the Center was active.
In 2001, a small group of LGBT men and women in the Valley met in a cafe in Wasilla to organize a community center. They moved to Palmer when Pastor Howard Bess offered the Church Meeting House. A weekly social support group drew about 20 people, and they added a potluck and movie night one Friday a month.
“By 2002, the LGBT Center had about 60 members on the email list,” said Jaime, the only remaining board member. “The support group grew, but was overwhelmed by people who needed a therapy group. A conflict arose between two members and attendance dropped. Only those who needed the group for therapy stayed, plus three or four of us committed to building the Center.”
Jaime and Brianne are ready to try again. They have the office, non-profit status, and start-up funds from the Imperial Court. What they need most is new members.
“I am not discouraged,” Brianne wrote last week when only two straight allies joined her for coffee. “There are lonely Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, and Allied people out there who could really use an avenue to meet and enjoy the company of other friendly people.”
“I invite you to participate in something that benefits you directly, your friends and loved ones, your acquaintances, and potentially even the straight segment of the Valley we all live in. Please help us, in whatever way you can: a donation, a chair, couch, bookshelf, your time, your service. What can you spare that will make our world that little bit better?”
Tags: Sarah Palin