After more than two decades, LGBTQ+ center re-envisions itself
by Tamára Perry-Lunardo, PCCNCF President
On September 13, 2000, the local LGBTQ+ community came together to establish the first Pride community center in the area. The community approved the bylaws, selected the name “Pride Community Center of North Central Florida,” and elected the first Board of Directors in February 2001. In April 2002, we opened the doors of our first location at NW 6th Street in Gainesville, and in September 2007, we moved to the larger facility we still occupy at 3131 NW 13th St.
In January 2008, the Pride Center merged with Pride Celebration of Gainesville and began producing Gainesville Pride Days, which includes the annual Pride Parade and Festival. In 2018, we merged with the Gainesville Area AIDS Project (GAAP) and began providing direct services to people with HIV/AIDS.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, we temporarily closed the center to the public and canceled in-person programs and events, shifting to virtual engagement where possible, and GAAP switched from hosting weekly lunches at the center to providing a drive-up service so we could continue providing meals and personal hygiene items to HIV/AIDS clients.
Then in April 2020, we suddenly lost our decades-long leader when founding member and Co-President Terry Fleming passed away unexpectedly of natural causes. Terry was a driving force behind the Pride Center’s programs, events and services from its inception, and when he died, we lost much of the institutional knowledge he had. Terry had myriad strengths; sharing a heavy load was not one of them.
Throughout 2020 and 2021, the Pride Center has worked to keep the LGBTQ+ community connected as much as possible despite the limitations and challenges we’ve faced. In addition to continued GAAP services, we resumed hosting free, confidential HIV testing provided by Well Florida and allowed small groups to meet with Covid precautions in place. We produced our annual Pride Guide, created “Together With Pride” t-shirts, tote bags and facemasks, published print and digital versions of our newsletter, hosted a virtual LGBTQ+ Mental Health Chat, created a Kids’ Pride Storytime video series and virtual Pride Pet Parade, and partnered with the City of Gainesville to bring people together in a cathartic and healing gathering for Terry Fleming Day on April 28.
As Covid cases continued to decrease and vaccinations increased, we cautiously started resuming in-person events this June. People were anxious to come together after more than a year of pandemic restrictions, so during Pride month, we co-hosted a Pride Prom for All with TranQuility Transgender Community Group, which included performances, food trucks, local progressive organizations tabling and an estimated 300 prom-goers in attendance at Bo Diddley Plaza. We also held a community meeting at Westside Park and invited local LGBTQ+ people and allies to determine the needs of the community and, thereby, the direction of the Pride Center for what we see as our next chapter.
As with any non-profit organization, the Pride Center must not exist for itself, but for its mission. Although we’ve evolved the language of our official mission statement over the years, its heart has remained: We exist for the well-being of the LGBTQ+ community. What that needs to look like now contains elements from twenty years ago, but there’s no doubt it’s a different picture, and the community meeting helped us crystallize that.
At the community meeting, we focused our discussions on the areas the Board felt were most important: leadership, facilities, programming and events. From the initial full-group brainstorming session, which included at least 50 people, we broke out into groups based on interest. Together they dug into needs and plans for fundraising; groups for arts and crafts, sports and outdoor activities, youth, queer parents and senior citizens; the Pride Parade and Festival; and programming for education and trans issues.
When we reconvened toward the end of the two-hour meeting, we had self-formed committees to work on the areas they were passionate about, new people involved for the first time, long-time community members re-engaged, and a fresh energy in the air.
The Pride Center’s job now is to harness that energy by connecting and empowering the committees to do their work, to hold fast to the mission without holding too tightly to the past, and to be humble, flexible and brave. The pandemic and the loss of Terry forced the Pride Center to an unexpected juncture, and while that has brought grief and uncertainty, it has also brought opportunity. We see this as a time to regroup, reimagine and move forward — together, with Pride.