By Selena Haynes | Photo Courtesy OutCentral
OutCentral’s closing devastates, but new Middle Tennessee Pride Center brings hope
Silence abounded around the table as each person in the emergency meeting finally had to face the reality that OutCentral would be closing. New members had just come on board with OutCentral ready to take on the challenges that were being faced. The decision was difficult to make, but no matter the scenario, it wouldn’t have turned out well.
A Historic Chapter Closes.
The 2018 board tried to pick up the pieces, but was faced with three years of tax returns that needed to be filed with very little record keeping. Additionally, seven months of back rent was owed from 2017. There were also issues with parking and building maintenance.
Kesley Page, 2018 board president said, “The issues I became aware of in January 2018 that OutCentral faced were shocking, and deeply saddening. I reached out to as many resources that I could find to gain solutions. Each month there were a whole new set of issues. I worked hard to fill the open board positions with qualified volunteers to fulfill the responsibilities and unfortunately it was too late. I have been volunteering with OutCentral since 2012 and visiting the center since 2008. Church street was the first place I went when I turned 18. For myself and many others, OutCentral has held a special place in my heart. I hope that the next community center to come in will thrive on a strong foundation with even stronger community support.”
What began over 10 years ago was intended to be the “hub” of the community. OutCentral was formed and its 501c3 status was granted July 21, 2007 with the center opening in October 2007 in conjunction with National Coming Out day. Founding members included Jim Hawk and Lloyd Lewis. Soon after, Hawk and Lewis brought on board members Stephanie Barger, Kate Nelson and Julia Holloman.
OutCentral has left its mark on Nashville and had a good run with good people involved. The number of people whose lives were impacted by this organization is insurmountable. This is evident with all the messages of grievance and shock that poured in to the social media page, the calls, the texts and emails.
A New One Begins.
The old saying ‘when one door closes, another one opens,’ well, is very true in this case. Enter Joe Woolley, the former President of the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce.
Woolley is well known in Nashville because of his work with the chamber and advocacy for the LGBT+ community. I asked Joe earlier this year what he was doing with all his free time. Turns out, Joe didn’t have any free time. He had a vision for a community center that would house LGBT+ organizations under one roof and had already begun making the connections for the project. Since then he has secured a small board of directors, been meeting with key members of the Nashville and Davidson County communities, and is near the completion of certifying the Middle Tennessee Pride Center (MTPC) as a 501c3. To say he’s been a bit busy is truly an understatement. While it was never Woolley’s intention to replace OutCentral, rather bring the organization in to the physical building, he will now need to pick up where OutCentral left off.
The mission of MTPC is to be a resource for the LGBT+ community and house the organizations that serve it. MTPC will offer a shared services work center, wherein office space would be available for a shared service fee, which is much less expensive than renting office space in Nashville. Other ideas include a cafe, rental space for meetings and events and broadcasting studios.
The three major points of interest for the center will be to provide access to healthcare for the LGBT+ community, provide a larger space for LGBT+ youth and to aid the LGBT+ aging population.
Woolley is working with Neighborhood Health on the healthcare initiative. In addition to a clinic, there will be a pharmacy on site and possibly access to dental providers on site as well.
While the youth currently have the Oasis center, it’s maxed according to Woolley. “Just Us could expand to the center and the youth could have their own space,” said Woolley.
As for seniors, there isn’t a place currently that provides programming specifically for LGBT+ seniors in the Middle Tennessee area. MTPC could provide that needed support for the aging population.
Location, Location, Location
Where would such a place go? “Where we have the opportunity . . . near downtown and public transit,” said Woolley. “I anticipate needing 50,000-75,000 sq ft.”
While MTPC would be the main location, Joe stated that other smaller resource centers could be an option for outer lying areas of Middle Tennessee and would fall under the umbrella of the 501c3. These resource centers, as the name suggests, would be an access point for those seeking information about LGBT+ resources in a particular area outside of Nashville or recommendations for Nashville resources.
Overall, the idea is “to provide a place for all LGBT+ people to call home, feel safe and have access to the resources they need,” said Woolley.
If you want to help with this project now, “Spread the word, stay engaged, stay excited and be thinking about programs and resources to bring in,” said Woolley. Joe is dreaming big and has every intention of making these ideas come to fruition.