LGBTQ Community Centers: Safe Spaces
with Denise Spivak of CenterLink
LGBTQ community centers are a vital part of the communities they serve. Offering a range of health, support, social, and recreational services, these centers are a lifeline to some, providing a safe and accepting space.
Denise Spivak, CEO of CenterLink, joins Tetiana Anderson to share how LGBTQ centers were able to pivot and meet the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, while continuing to provide services and safe spaces for the community.
May 28, 2021
Anderson: Community centers are critically important hubs in cities and towns across the country, especially in the LGBTQ community. They provide social and medical services, educational services and computer access, support for young people and seniors, and of course, we can't leave out all the cultural and recreational activities they offer, as well. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. As we've learned since early 2020, almost every aspect of life in America has been touched by the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes LGBTQ community centers. And to discuss this, I'm joined by Denise Spivak, CEO of CenterLink, the community of LGBT centers. And, Denise, thanks for being here.
Spivak: Thank you so much, Tetiana. I'm really pleased to be here.
Anderson: So, CenterLink is basically a conglomeration of centers all across the country. And just like everything else, they were impacted by COVID-19. What aspects or aspect of this network was really hit the hardest?
Spivak: Well, like every nonprofit, I think financial impact was the thing that we worried most about and that many of our centers saw. The LGBT community center network relies greatly on fundraisers like pride events and galas. And they weren't able to have those in-person events that provide a lot of their funding. So we we actually did a financial impact survey early on. And when the epidemic first hit, within a few months, we saw the potential that 90% of our centers could see significant impact in their operations, if not face potential closure, if there was no way to make up that lost revenue. And so that was frightening. The other place that they saw the greatest impact, of course, was they were walk-in support locations, and they had to close their physical doors. And how they responded really was monumental and I think made the difference not only in how they emerged from it, how their communities emerged from it, but how their centers were appreciated in the communities even more.
Anderson: So, you talk about how they handled it. And even with the impact of COVID, of course, these centers still have to provide service. So how did you pivot? What kind of changes had to happen?
Spivak: You know, they pivoted on a dime. If you had talked to a lot of our centers maybe four months before the pandemic hit and said, "We need you to go on Zoom and do some sessions," you would have faced a blank stare. But they turned. They pivoted. They found new platforms. A lot of them used Zoom. A lot of the youth centers went to platforms like Discord, and they found ways to keep their community covered, if you will. The vow was that we were not going to leave our communities behind. And, so, the greatest fears were isolation, information, and support. And that support could be medical. It could be food. It could be financial. So, so many of our centers kicked into gear. The programing went online. Some of our centers actually run medical clinics, so some centers never actually closed entirely. They found ways to still provide COVID tests and take care of other medical concerns however they could. But more of the centers started implementing financial aid, emergency financial aid, food pantry, where they would either do the drive-up and give people food in a box if they needed it, or for those that couldn't get out, they'd actually do the drops at the door -- any way that they could support the community, doing check-in calls with the elderly. So, it was really a tour de force by our centers to make sure -- And it continues as we speak -- to make sure that the community was still supported differently but in the same way.
Anderson: And you're right. I mean, things are continuing, and hopefully, we will all be entering a post-COVID world in the very near future. But I'm wondering what you learned by this experience that we've all gone through that will really allow these centers to provide better service to the LGBTQ community moving forward, going into the future.
Spivak: Well, you know, we've always said that our centers are resilient, and they're the superheroes of communities. And what we found out was we were right. They truly were. I think what we found across the board was -- A lot of non-profits also found this -- that those things that you say, "Oh, we'll get to that," those emergency plans and those reserve funds, "We'll get to all that," that they aren't optional. The preparation for the what ifs really came through as it has to happen. It's not something you can keep putting off. But what we learned about our centers, our communities, our center leaders, is that we're there. We're going to support our community. The way we do it might change, but the ultimate thing that we do will never change.
Anderson: And if people want to find out more about how you're doing that work, what's your website? Where can they go?
Spivak: So, our website is lgbtcenters.org. We have a community center directory on there so you can find your closest community center. We exist to support, strengthen, and connect our centers. We create a network for them. So, all of our work is also on there, as well, if you want to learn more about CenterLink. But really encourage you to reach out to your local center, find out if you can support them, whether it's your time, your treasure, your talent, however you can do that. As we start moving to opening up or creating hybrid situations, volunteers are always in need, so there's always a role to play in your community.
Anderson: Denise Spivak of CenterLink, thank you so much for joining us.
Spivak: Tetiana, thank you so much. We appreciate it.
Anderson: And thank you to our viewers, as well, for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the country, log onto comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.