The Wilton Manors area plays host to many well known LGBT related nonprofits like the Pride Center, SunServe and Latinos Salud. But then there’s CenterLink, an unknown but extremely important national LGBT non-profit that provides for emerging LGBT centers across the country.
Their mission: “to support the development of strong, sustainable LGBT community centers.”
It was in 1971 when the first LGBT centers opened their doors in Los Angeles, California and Albany, New York. Today there are Pride Centers across the U.S. and throughout the world providing services like counseling, social events, STI screening and even housing to the LGBT community.
In order to offer those services and expand their capacity for helping community members, pride centers need proper resources and funding. CenterLink, a nonprofit organization headquartered close to Wilton Manors works everyday to ensure that those centers here in Florida and across the country get the resources necessary to continue their work.
“Every center focuses on the need from their community,” CenterLink CEO Lora Tucker said. “Most are small and they are trying to grow, and we help them to find grants to grow capacity.”
Founded in 1994, CenterLink is a member-based coalition that works to ensure that LGBT community centers have the resources necessary to address the needs of their respective communities. Currently the organization serves over 200 LGBT centers in 45 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, as well as centers in Canada, Australia and China.
“When I started at Compass in 1997 CenterLink was an all volunteer organization,” said Tony Plakas, the CEO of Compass. “They were a group of people who just wanted to help emerging centers, to help new centers get their footing and create a support structure so they didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. Once upon a time CenterLink was a really important component of the work we do at Compass today.”
According to CenterLink, over 60 percent of LGBT centers provide some direct health services including counseling, peer-led programs and support groups, as well as physical health and other mental health services.
“A fundamental goal of our mission is to help build the capacity of centers to meet the social, cultural, health and political advocacy needs of LGBT community members across the country,” CenterLink’s website reads. “CenterLink also acts as a voice for the LGBT community centers in national grassroots organizing, coalition building and social activism in order to strengthen and build a unified center movement.”
The same percentage of centers also operate with 5 or fewer paid staff, and over 30 percent of LGBT centers nationwide make do without any paid staff members.
Despite the humble resources many centers operate with, CenterLink believes that LGBT centers offer some of the most important services to the LGBT community, and ensuring they are able to operate to their fullest potential is crucial when it comes to helping LGBT individuals and the pursuit of equal rights.
“Whether they provide direct services, educate the public or organize for social change, community centers work more closely with their LGBT constituency and engage more community leaders and decision-makers than any other LGBT network in the country,” CenterLink’s site reads.
In order to ensure that LGBT centers working within CenterLink’s network can maximize their capacity, CenterLink has been hard at work with national organizations to hold down Obama-era policy changes during an unsympathetic administration.
According to Tucker, they are also working on state and local levels to protect and pursue inclusive policies.
“When I look at CenterLink and they way things are going with the new administration, things are crazy,” Tucker said. “On a state level we are working on equality work, to ensure that we elect good people and that people are paying attention to policies affecting the LGBT community.”
On a local level, CenterLink has established the Center Action Network (CAN), which is an attempt to highlight projects and efforts by local organizations and LGBT centers, helping them to secure the funding, expertise and opportunities necessary to maximize their impact.
“We created the Center Action Network, or CAN, to maximize the capacity of LGBT centers to mobilize. We are working on a grassroots level to empower our allies and support advocacy efforts. We are also helping to secure government funding channels, which are the lifeblood of these LGBT centers.”
Tucker is a firm believer that the fight for equal rights is far from over, and working with LGBT centers and programs that seek to promote and secure inclusive policy as well as ensuring more LGBT representation in policy is a must.
“After gay marriage I think we were asleep at the helm for a while there,” Tucker said. “And now we’ve come to realize that we need to be diligent about these things and continue with these small wins, and secure more representation for our communities in government.”
CenterLink is currently working with local centers and organizations on a number of issues, one of which is the staggering number of LGBT youth who are without a home.
“Our youth need support as they continue to get thrown out of their homes and get bullied,” Tucker said. “Many of these youth just need a place to sleep. Some centers, like the pride center in L.A., have a youth shelter, but there’s not enough room. And other LGBT centers are working to build shelters, but they need resources.”
CenterLink is also working to help programs that benefit the aging LGBT community — pointing out the work done by the Pride Center in Wilton Manors and other programs that are working on affordable LGBT senior housing — as well as working with programs for the trans community.
CenterLink is always looking for volunteers at their Wilton Manors location for those interested in getting involved with LGBT outreach and community work.
“Our role is to highlight centers, and to ensure that they are thriving and that new centers that are created have proper need assessments,” Tucker said. “Very few people know that we are headquartered in Wilton Manors. We are holistically a very important part of the LGBT movement.”
The CenterLink office is located at 1001 W Cypress Creek Rd in Fort Lauderdale. Visit www.lgbtcenters.org for more information.