In Times of Crisis and Every Day: Supporting the Community Centers that Serve LGBTQ People Nationwide

Note: Movement Advancement Project (MAP) is grateful to have partnered with CenterLink since 2008 to publish a biennial report of LGBTQ community centers around the country. The 2022 report was finalized prior to the mass shooting at an LGBTQ club in Colorado Springs.

Our heart goes out to everyone impacted by that attack and we remain steadfast in our work to support LGBTQ community centers and advocates around the country. The dangerous anti-LGBTQ legislation and rhetoric that has increased in recent years pose real risks to our communities.

For more on how to support LGBTQ people in Colorado specifically, please follow One Colorado and Inside Out Youth Services, the LGBTQ community center in Colorado Springs. Inside Out Youth Services is one of the phenomenal community centers that participated in the 2022 report, and we stand in support of the work that they and community centers do every day to support LGBTQ people nationwide.

LGBTQ community centers provide vital support in every corner of the country, especially during a time of increasing political hostility and attacks on LGBTQ people. The 2022 LGBTQ Community Center Report, published jointly by MAP and CenterLink, spotlights the ways that LGBTQ community centers have provided vital programs, services, and advocacy during the COVID-19 pandemic and amid rising threats to safety and security.

The 2022 report outlines how LGBTQ centers serve as anchors for local communities and how they play a key role in the broader LGBTQ movement. This biennial report looks at the services, programs, infrastructure, and capacity of LGBTQ community centers, who they serve, and the challenges they face. The findings in this year’s report draw from a survey of 208 centers located in 45 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico — the largest cohort to participate to date.

Serving the Diversity of LGBTQ Communities

In 2021, LGBTQ community centers collectively served nearly 52,000 people every week — or over 2.7 million people per year. These centers also referred more than 6,000 people weekly to local business, agencies, and care providers.

The majority of centers primarily serve communities that are historically under-resourced and under-served. For example, over half of centers reported that most of the people they serve are low-income, young people under the age of 30, or people of color. Additionally, 36% of responding centers say the majority of people they serve are transgender people, and 16% of centers primarily serve people who live in rural areas.

Among centers that provided information on staff demographics, the majority of all center staff (62%) and senior staff (51%) are people of color, and one-third of executive directors are people of color.

Facing Threats to Safety in a Hostile Political Climate

Anti-LGBTQ violence and legislative attacks are again on the rise, as the horrible news from Colorado Springs shows. When political leaders consider legislation targeting LGBTQ people and promote anti-LGBTQ narratives, they contribute a dangerous political climate that can have horrific real-world consequences.

Consider the concerning rise in anti-LGBTQ legislation in the last few years alone. A previous MAP analysis found that 80% of youth live in states that considered curriculum censorship and hostile school climate bills in 2020 and 2021 alone. That includes “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” and other school censorship bills, bans on transgender youth in sports, and bans on best practice medical care for transgender young people (which more than half of states considered in just the previous two years.)

Meanwhile, more than 7 in 10 LGBTQ centers reported they had experienced anti-LGBTQ threats or harassment over the past two years. Numerous centers mentioned that the threats and harassment had specifically targeted their youth-focused programs or the staff involved with those programs. These kinds of threats reflect the current political environment of targeted attacks on transgender youth in particular and LGBTQ people overall.

One center reported needing to remove a number of items from their website due to safety concerns, including information about LGBTQ youth programs and anything regarding drag story times. At least one other center reported taking steps to prevent harassment in peer groups via Zoom.

Nearly all participating centers reported at least some safety measures in place at their center, such as outdoor lighting in parking areas, security cameras, and required check-in at entry. The majority of centers currently conduct an annual safety and security risk assessment, many of which include an annual risk assessment specifically focused on targeted threats like vandalism, hate crimes, and active shooters.

Providing a Range of Services

LGBTQ community centers offer programs and services ranging from health care and providing basic needs like food and shelter, to programs focused on community building and connection, arts and culture, education, and important legal services.

Supportive and inclusive health care is critical for LGBTQ people, and community centers play an important role in offering this care. More than half (53%) of LGBTQ centers offer mental health services. More than a quarter of centers (28%) provide physical health care services, including STI testing or treatment, gender affirming hormone therapy, and more. Nearly all centers provide referrals to LGBTQ-friendly health providers.

Half of centers (52%) offer computer resources and training, with much of that use for career related uses like job searches, school related purposes, as we as keeping in touch with friends and family.

Centers are also active civic participants and contribute to local communities through policy advocacy, LGBTQ-inclusive trainings, and public education. The centers participate in coalitions and task forces to improve the lives of the people and broader communities they serve.

More than 9 out of 10 centers engage in advocacy and civic engagement at the local and state levels. Just under half of centers engage in advocacy and civic engagement at the federal level.

As LGBTQ people again face an increasingly hostile climate (which is especially true for transgender people) it’s clear that LGBTQ centers play a vital role in their communities. Given this critical role, it is imperative that institutional funders, government agencies, the LGBTQ movement, and individual donors prioritize the support and assistance needed for LGBTQ community centers to grow and sustain their work, which is needed now more than ever.

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Movement Advancement Project

MAP is an independent, nonprofit think tank that provides rigorous research, insight and communications that help speed equality and opportunity for all.