Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 33 / 17 August 2017
 

Fresno LGBT community center, nonprofit close

NEWS


s.hemmelgarn@ebar.com

Chris Jarvis. Photo: Seth Hemmelgarn
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Fresno's long-standing LGBT community center and Gay Central Valley, the nonprofit that runs it, have announced their closure.

The community center shut down its office August 1, but the phone line and website ( https://www.gaycentralvalley.org) remain open for now. Although the center is closed, facilitated groups will continue to have access to the space through September 1.

Gay Central Valley board President Chris Jarvis cited the lack of other people willing to take over and health problems as key reasons for Gay Central Valley shutting down.

"This has been one of the hardest decisions of my life," said, Jarvis, 55, who's served as board president since 2012. "I've hung on as long as I could."

Like others on the board, Jarvis' work with the center has been as a volunteer. His paid job is at a wheelchair manufacturing company.

"We all do this with full-time jobs and lives and families and children," he said. "It wears over time." Jarvis has also been dealing with an inflammatory eye disease known as Scleritis.

The center's been through "many boards over the years," said Jarvis. "... It's a huge, huge commitment to be a board member," since it means handling operations, events, and everything else. "After they see the scope of what we do, it can be daunting to people."

It got to the point where there were only two board members left – Jarvis and Kaylia Metcalfe-Armstrong, who quit in June.

The budget for the center was about $23,000 a year "just to keep the doors open." There were an average of about 240 phone calls per month and 80 office visitors.

In a Facebook post announcing the center's closing, Jarvis said the organization had struggled financially over the years. But he told the Bay Area Reporter that in the end, it had about $20,000 left over. The center's been asking other nonprofits to submit requests to get a share of the money.

"I hope the community at some point is able to open another community center, and I'm happy to help out with that," he said.

After existing as a group of websites, Gay Central Valley officially became a nonprofit in 2009. The Fresno center opened in 2010. The nonprofit also helped establish a community center in Merced, but that ultimately closed.

The Fresno operation offered a place for people to have support groups and plan events for their own organizations, among other services.

Zoyer Zyndel, who chairs Trans-E-motion, said his group had used the center for board meetings and organizing events like the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Zyndel expressed confidence that other organizations will make space available now that the Fresno center's closed, and he said that Fresno's LGBT community, which is already "fairly large for a 'rural' area," is growing. The city's annual Pride festival gets an average of about 3,000 people. "It's one of the larger events in Fresno."

"I think it's very unfortunate, but I'm grateful for the years we did have the center," he said.

In a Facebook exchange with the B.A.R., Metcalfe-Armstrong, whose resignation is effective this fall, said her departure is "based on a combination of ongoing medical issues, family needs, and my desire to explore other forms of community involvement." She's also returning to school.

"I am sad that GCV is shutting down but hopeful that other groups will continue the work we started. I will, of course, continue to be an active member of the Fresno LGBT community," she said.

Asked about Gay Central Valley's closing, Nicholas Hatten, executive director of the San Joaquin Pride Center in Stockton – another sizable Central Valley city – said, "We can't rely on others for everything, and we have to take responsibility for developing and continuing to grow our own movement. I sympathize with Chris, but we have to start looking at the new emerging leaders of color and transgender people," and preparing them to take the lead. That includes seeking them out, not just expecting them to approach on their own, said Hatten, who recently held a convening with LGBTQ leaders from Fresno, Merced, and Modesto to talk about fundraising and capacity building.

In an emailed response to Hatten's comment, Jarvis said, "Gay Central Valley has always had diversity among its board members and staff including people of color and various genders and backgrounds. We are very proud to have had several transgender board members over the years and many, many transgender staff members."

The most recent board had two trans people "who had to leave for personal reasons," he said.

In a statement emailed to the B.A.R., members of the Merced LGBTQ Alliance called Gay Central Valley's closing "unfortunate news, as there are not many resources for the LGBTQ+ community in the Central Valley. In addition, the current political climate and threats from the federal level only add more demand to entities that support and empower folks that identify within the LGBTQ+ community. … The remaining organizations, groups, events, and resources in the Central Valley will play a significant role in uplifting the unique narratives of our community and leading education and advocacy efforts."

The Fresno center's inventory, which includes books, clothing, event supplies, and other materials, will be donated to people and groups "working to help the community in Fresno and the Central Valley," Gay Central Valley said on its website.

The nonprofit will donate funds to other Fresno organizations supporting the LGBT community.

Those requesting inventory items or financial donations may send an email to info@gaycentralvalley.org until August 15.

 






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