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Q stands for quite a lot

Q Center's offerings range from bingo nights to a Kid Korner
by: ©2006 DAVID PLECHL, Host Poison Waters, aka Kevin Cook, says  the Q Center’s bingo night takes on a nightclub atmosphere — without the alcohol.

Members of Portland's gay community have long been at home in local society: in business, in politics, in the arts.

What they haven't had, until the Q Center opened earlier this year, was a home of their own.

Now the city's LGBTQ community center - the acronym stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning - is up and running, and its supporters say it's making up for lost time.

Center coordinator Gene de Haan says 30 organizations and 1,600 individuals were involved in a 2003 feasibility study that helped launch the center, which opened in March.

'The results came back overwhelmingly in favor of a center,' she says. The list of priorities indicated by respondents was straightforward: arts and culture, health and wellness, and programs for youths, families and seniors.

In other words, de Haan says, a place to access the kinds of resources and amenities any community needs, and one similar to other centers throughout America.

'They're popping up everywhere,' she says.

City Commissioner Sam Adams, who was a driving force behind the center, says Portland had no business being without such a facility.

'At that time, 122 cities across the United States had one,' he says, 'including unlikely places like Salt Lake City and smaller places like Ashland.'

In Portland, Adams says, 'there were very few services for seniors. There were struggling services for youths. There were almost no arts and culture venues dedicated to the queer community, and there wasn't a meeting place.'

Adams, who is gay, says that in recent years, Out magazine rated Portland the third-best city in America for gays, citing the integration of its gay community into the larger culture.

'The downside was we were so integrated there wasn't a place we could call home,' Adams says. 'There's a Native American community center at Portland State University. There's the Asian-American health and community center on 39th. The Q Center is a place where the LGBT community and our supporters can go when they want resources.

'The Native American Community Center is a good example. They have really moved up with the building of the community center. It gives you the confidence to be an active member of Portland.'

De Haan, naturally, agrees.

'Portland's funny because it's a very queer town, but there was no hub of queer activity. What the Q Center has the potential to do is provide a sounding board and link people up to resources.

'I think there's definitely a need because the community - as indicated by the growing acronym - is incredibly diverse. We tend to self-segregate. The center represents an amazing opportunity to be proactive.'

De Haan says 60 percent of the center's funding - its operating budget this year is $118,000 - comes from individual donations. The rest is from foundation grants and fundraisers like the Red Dress Party, a raucous annual soiree that this year kicked $6,000 into the financing pot.

Amy S. Williams is grants and development coordinator at the Equity Foundation, which supports LGBTQ efforts and enterprises.

She says her organization's support for the Q Center didn't end when it became its first benefactor, providing a $6,500 grant.

As Williams prepared for a company meeting at the center one evening last week, members of a writing group assembled for their regular get-together in another part of the space.

'We have a meeting space in our building, but we prefer to meet here for two reasons,' she says. 'One is to support the Q Center; one is to support the community.

'There's hustle, there's bustle, it's a great way to engage with what's happening,' Williams says. 'The more people that come to the center, the more events there are at the center. That's beneficial to everyone.'

'Almost a nightclub'

Apart from simply renting space at their roomy ground-floor quarters on the central east side - not always to gay-oriented groups - center organizers are building a steady platform of events and activities.

There are information and referral services, prevention and wellness activities, and materials on Oregon's LGBTQ history.

There are regular meetings for young men, older folks and queer parents and families, as evidenced by the tiny chairs and smattering of toys in the Kid Korner.

And regular art installations are generated by the art collective QuArt PDX.

'They have work from artists all across the queer community,' de Haan says. 'One program that has been successful in breaking down barriers is the arts and culture. When we have an art opening, it appeals to a whole broad population of the community. If a photograph is taken by a 20-year-old lesbian, you don't have to be a 20-year-old lesbian to appreciate it.'

The center's most flamboyant event is a monthly bingo game hosted by the popular female impersonator Poison Waters, who is elsewhere known as Kevin Cook.

'It turns into almost a nightclub atmosphere,' Cook says. 'It's kind of loud and obnoxious.'

Cook says the bingo party gets going just fine without the benefit of smoke and drink - which is not allowed - possibly even benefiting from its absence.

'There are a lot of guys in recovery, or who have a partner in recovery or just work in the morning,' he says. 'If they're homebodies, they can come, have fun and then go home.'

Family affairs

De Haan says the center's outreach to families both illustrates and addresses the challenges faced by some LGBTQ individuals in mainstream society.

She says some Portlanders might underestimate their connection to the queer community until crossing orbits with the straight parents of a gay child, or a child's classmate who has two moms.

'There are some issues that don't even come to mind immediately,' she says. 'One of the women brought up 'Is my child allowed to say 'My mom's a lesbian' without being reprimanded?' '

Most people, de Haan says, 'probably don't have the 'in' to know that there's a lesbian parenting group.'

Adams says LGBTQ issues touch everyone in Portland.

'Every Portlander interacts with a member of the queer community every day,' he says. 'At a minimum, they have to put up with me. The queer community should not be undervalued.'

De Haan says the LGBTQ community will both prosper and galvanize support as it brings its disparate elements together.

'There are so many people involved with the center that the center has many different faces,' she says. 'I do think it's always a struggle to realize that we are all part of a similar fight.

'Queer folks in Portland are everywhere, and they're enriching everything that goes on in this city. We're also fighting for our basic rights. What the center gives us is an opportunity to celebrate this part of our community.'

And, she says, 'it gives straight allies access to the community.'

Cook, aka Poison Waters, says he's watched the center open its arms to Portland. All of it.

'We've had a lot of straight folks coming in, more than I thought,' he says. 'It is a Q center, a queer center, but it's definitely open to everyone. As time goes by, we'll get more people on board.'

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Q Center

When: Drop-in hours 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Wednesday; for a calendar of events, see www.pdxqcenter.org

Where: 69 S.E. Taylor St.

Contact: 503-234-7837, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.