LGBTQ community centers are often the only local source of targeted social, educational, and health services for many LGBTQ people, and Hampton Roads is fortunate to such a resource in the form of the LGBT Life Center headquartered in Norfolk.
According to a new report from the Movement Advancement Project and CenterLink, LGBTQ community centers are often thinly staffed, underfunded, and under resourced, yet they serve more than 45,700 every week. Surveying 186 centers located in 43 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico, the seventh edition of the LGBTQ Community Center Survey Report provides a crucial snapshot of LGBTQ community centers across the country, both before the COVID pandemic and during the pandemic this summer.
LGBT Life Center CEO Stacie Walls said, “The 2020 Center Survey showed us how critical local LGBT Centers are to their communities. 82% of all Center’s serve their local communities directly. For LGBT Life Center, with a service area of 3,730 square miles, that is no small feat financially or geographically.”
In March 2020, many centers were forced to close their physical doors due to COVID. But centers adapted in many ways, including significantly expanding their online and virtual offerings.
Prior to COVID, 21% of participating centers had some kind of program or service available online. By July 2020, 94% of centers offered online programs, with 74% of those centers planning to keep at least some of those online programs or services after the pandemic ends.
The LGBT Life Center is no exception.
“Since the pandemic began, LGBT Life Center saw a 140% increase in new clients, and a 116% increase in mental health appointments overall,” said Walls. “Our pantry program has also experienced a dramatic increase in requests.”
While centers offer many types of programs — ranging from basic needs and legal services to social, arts and cultural, and educational programs — the COVID outbreak led centers overall to scale back many types of programming except those focused on basic needs, such as food pantries and providing direct cash assistance to community members.
For example, prior to COVID, only 19% of centers offered direct cash assistance to community members. But by July 2020, nearly one-third (32%) of centers were offering emergency cash assistance to community members.
Though LGBTQ centers are adapting quickly, creatively, and effectively to the pandemic, centers are also navigating significant financial challenges.
Small centers have been hit particularly hard, with small center 2020 budgets collectively decreasing 14% over the course of the year, compared to 3% for large centers. While many centers still expect financial growth relative to 2019, by July 2020, COVID had already cut small centers’ planned growth by more than half, and large centers’ growth by more than one-quarter. Many centers noted these losses may grow as the pandemic continues.
At the time of the survey (July 2020), 74% of centers had not yet been forced to make any changes to the number of staff or staff hours as a result of COVID, and 89% had not made any changes to staff compensation or benefits. Additionally, some centers have added staff to help manage new or COVID-responsive programming. Overall, there are nearly 2,500 paid staff working at 160 centers. Nearly 14,000 people volunteer at participating community centers, volunteering over half a million hours each year.
“We’re proud to be part of community-based service models that deliver critical care to our friends and families in one’s most urgent time of need,” Walls said. “The MAP survey of LGBT centers proves that our collective impact is substantially improving where we live and work all over our country.”