Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

Full house for Oakland LGBTQ center opening


Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf cuts the ribbon at the LGBTQ Community Center's grand opening September 7. Photo: Michael Nugent
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Oakland city leaders and others filled the new LGBTQ Community Center at its grand opening on the eve of Pride weekend.

The center will offer a range of social, educational, and health-related programs and services aimed at supporting Oakland's thriving LGBTQ community.

"We've literally had people coming off the street here in tears," said co-founder and Executive Director Joe Hawkins, as he teared up himself in front of the crowd during the September 7 ceremony. "We could have been in some basement somewhere, but we put it up here and made it like a lighthouse so everyone can see."

The center is located at 3207 Lakeshore Avenue in Oakland's Grand Lake district, on the second floor of a T-Mobile store. It occupies the majority of Co-Munity, a co-working space.

City Councilman Abel Guillen, who identifies as two spirit and represents the neighborhood, said, "In an era of hate and division, we need spaces like this now more than ever."

Councilman Dan Kalb, a straight ally, said, "We're all thrilled to finally have an LGBTQ center here in Oakland. Other East Bay cities already know this is here, the demand is getting bigger already, and you may need to start looking for a bigger space. This is a great start."

Mayor Libby Schaaf then cut the ribbon to wild applause.

At Sunday's East Bay Stonewall Democratic Club Pride breakfast, Schaaf talked about the center's opening.

"It was hot with love, it was hot with tears, it was hot with stories of strength," Schaaf said.

Board members spoke about the importance of the center.

"I'm always talking about how diverse Oakland is," said board member Manifair HW. "This is my definition of a melting pot; this is what we need to represent everyone."

Attendees remarked on the value of both diversity and the center.

"There's a lot of diversity in Oakland," said Jose Lopez, 23, a gay man. "Coming from the Latino community, we don't have that openness. To see different people all over is eye-opening."

Straight allies were also in attendance.

"I live in the neighborhood and feel this is needed," said Molly Dubow, 44, an ally. "I want to support any community activities."

The center has almost 300 volunteers, according to Hawkins. No one is being paid, including Hawkins and co-founder Jeff Myers. The board of directors has swelled to 11 members.

In addition to volunteering, people are finding ways to help the fledgling organization.

Shawn Tamaribuchi, 36, a masculine of center, biracial lesbian, is supporting the center by donating memberships, classes, and 50 percent off new membership fees from Four Elements Fitness, which Tamaribuchi founded.

"I'm so happy the center is here. With youth and so many people being displaced, this will help so we can all find ways to thrive," Tamaribuchi said.

Other LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS organizations have made recent donations to the center. AIDS Healthcare Foundation has contributed $10,000 and Oakland Pride wrote a $1,000 check, according to Marvin Miller, the fundraising and finance committee coordinator.

The Oakland City Council is also working on supporting the center.

"We are going to try to do city funding," said Guillen, who has donated $1,000 from his officeholder account. "City grant funding windows will open soon, and I hope to get some cultural resource money for the center."

Lesbian Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan (at-large) was not present at the opening. She donated two Raiders tickets to the silent auction.


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