A hub for education and empowerment for members of the local LGBTQ community is opening in the heart of downtown Johnson City.
The Pride Community & Education Center of the Tri-Cities is now leasing a suite in the King Centre, a milestone that has been a goal of the organization for about six and a half years.
Pride Center Director John Baker envisions the space, in suite 159 at 300 E. Main St., will offer, among other resources, HIV testing and sex education as well as camaraderie for LGBTQ youth and transgender individuals in the area. The center will also host special guest speakers and evenings of poetry and music.
“We want to have a number of different opportunities here for the health and wellbeing of our community,” Baker said.
He said the organization, which he started with Kenn Lyon, has finally raised enough money through fundraising and donations to keep the center open for about three years. The group wants to extend that lifetime through donations and sponsorships, and once the center starts rolling out various programs, Baker hopes to secure grant funding.
Artwork and couches have been provided to the center, and Baker hopes to add more amenities and furniture, such as tables, bookshelves and chairs, through further donations. Organizers are also hoping to add a library with books from LGBTQ publishers.
“It’s more of a place to meet and to encourage one another and that we can get out there and be who we are without fear of retribution,” he said.
In looking for a suitable location for the center, Baker said the organization wanted something that would be secure, versatile and offer anonymity. Baker said the center will be the only resource of its kind in the Tri-Cities.
Although the center has undergone a soft opening, Baker hopes to hold a grand opening for the space sometime after Jan. 1. Baker said the center is still recruiting volunteers and will host its first organizational meeting from 3 to 8 p.m. Saturday, and a second meeting from 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13. The center is still determining its times of operation.
“We’re going to have to depend on volunteers,” he said. “We have a core of the board members, but we need our volunteers to be able to actually be here and do the daily running and be here if someone wants to stop by.”
Education is a fundamental mission of the organization, and Baker noted the center is also open to people who don’t identify as members of the LGBTQ community.
On a local scale, Baker said there has been tangible progress in the treatment of LGBTQ people — headway demonstrated through the success of events like the TriPride Parade and Festival, which occurred this year in Kingsport.
But Baker noted Tennessee’s treatment of the LGBTQ community over the years — including a bill discussed in the General Assembly this year that, according to the Tennessean, would have allowed adoption and foster care agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples — demonstrates that there’s plenty of room for growth.
“There are still inequities,” Baker said, “and building acceptance and then inclusion is very important, and that’s one of the things that we wanted to have was ... a proud presence here in Tennessee because these are our mountains, too.”
Ultimately, the physical space in the King Centre is a foothold in the center’s ongoing mission to encourage acceptance on a broader scale.
“It’s going to be a safe space,” Baker said, sitting in a couch in one of the center’s meeting rooms, “but then we need to make the space out there safe as well.”