An excerpt from The Center’s Executive Director John Waldron’s speech at the 2019 Honorarium, held Oct. 5 at the Palms.
Tonight, we celebrate 50 years of progress in equal rights and protections that were won by courageous and bold individuals who decided five decades ago, that we will not settle for anything less than equality for the LGBTQ+ community! And it is an honor to have so many in this room tonight who served as pioneers and defenders of our community, including one of our honorees, Judy, who was at Stonewall 50 years ago on the front lines of what changed the course of history for LGBTQ+ citizens.
The Center was created more than 26 years ago to be a safe and affirming place for our community to call home. It too was built on the backs of incredible people who saw a vision for what would become a nationally recognized LGBTQ+ Center in Southern Nevada. Many of those visionaries are also here tonight and we thank them for all they have done to bring us here in 2019 working together to strengthen The Center for a bright future.
There is no secret in our community that The Center has had its challenges from time-to-time, and recent years have often been difficult. However, as I am about to share with you, The Center currently has great momentum for achieving what it was always meant to be, which is a home for everyone who identifies in our community.
When I started as the executive director, a colleague of mine said, “Man, you have your work cut out for you.” He was wrong in one regard, and that is, the work is about us … the team at The Center, our incredible volunteers and the countless people who have come forward to roll up their sleeves in love and grace, pitching in to ensure The Center is everything our patrons want and deserve.
At The Center we are working with local medical schools and teaching hospitals, including Touro and Roseman Universities and Valley Health Systems, to help educate medical students on health issues important to LGBTQ+ patients, including the dynamics of serving the health needs of our transgender and intersex communities.
Our intellectual offerings, focused on educating our community, are increasing through cooperative efforts with the UNLV library, CSN, Nevada State Museum, the Mob Museum, Black Mountain Institute and other educational organizations.
The Las Vegas Men’s Chorus has made The Center its home. And we are working more cooperatively than ever with our community partners to hold events like World Aids Day, Women’s Fest, Trans Day of Remembrance and Trans Day of Visibility in partnership with Gender Justice and Trans Pride.
We’re expanding creativity and art at The Center under the guidance of our Artist in Residence, Anne Mazzola. We are proud to be partnering with the Queer Arts Film Festival to expand The Center’s connections to LGBTQ+ culture. And it’s an honor to partner with groups like Nevada School of the Arts whose kids held a jam session in our lobby that transformed The Center for an evening into this really cool jazz environment. Thank you to Patrick Duffy.
The Center is working with diverse groups to ensure we honor the core value of inclusion as we take part in outreach to African American, Asian and Latinx residents throughout Southern Nevada. We have new groups starting at The Center including the Southern Nevada Asian Pacific Islander Queer Society, and a new Latinx group that will launch its programming by participating this November in the Springs Preserve’s Day of the Dead with an altar named “Angels on the Front Line,” which is in memory of those who have made a difference in the LGBTQ+ community. We’re focused on expanding programs that support the courageous individuals in our community who served in our armed forces.
Tonight, you will see an example of the progress we are making in working with local law enforcement — not to deny our past, but to press forward with a place at the table where we can influence education, policy and change.
Our programs for people in crisis and classes to help cultivate stronger families are thriving through our Center Advocacy Network and our Pivot program. And we are very proud to announce that we have partnered with our friends at Community Counseling Center to work together in realizing the vision for expanding mental health services offered at The Center in what we are calling Affirmations.
You will hear tonight about incredible news regarding our wellness clinic that is on the cusp of providing services to all residents in Southern Nevada, in partnership with the Southern Nevada Health District, beyond what we’ve done in the past. One of our biggest goals in HIV services includes significantly expanding our condom distribution programs to levels of years past where we distributed hundreds of thousands of condoms annually.
Our Switch program at The Center is thriving as we help provide thousands of clothing items each year to individuals in need. And, we are working on innovative ideas to engage our youth in programs and services that help save the lives of our precious youth.
And, speaking of our youth, I recently had the great honor to meet Claude Raffin of Bright Star Foundation. He passionately shared his vision for providing LGBTQ+ youth with housing and a better life. I’m proud to announce that The Center will be working with the Bright Star Foundation to do everything we can to continue the work in realizing the inspiring vision created by Claude and his late husband, Jon.
We are excited to announce this evening the launch of a new community outreach we’re calling Quantum. Quantum is designed to cultivate stronger relationships with LGBTQ+ individuals seeking opportunities for networking, connecting on social media and participating in events and activities to develop and grow together personally and professionally. Whether or not you need our programs and services, you have a reason to be connected at The Center.
We’ve gained attention across the country this year as political leaders have visited The Center to discuss issues important to our community and we are working closely with the HRC to make our facilities available for strategizing on issues important to our political interests. Center staff has participated in advocacy in Carson City to speak on behalf of our community around important issues in the 2019 legislative session. And we participate in regular roundtable sessions with political leaders as a voice for LGBTQ+ constituents.
The Center is cooperating with local sport franchises who want to strengthen their support for LGBTQ+ residents in Southern Nevada, including the Las Vegas Aces, Las Vegas Lights, Las Vegas Aviators, the Golden Knights and we’re hopeful to have the support of the Raiders as well.
Our board of directors, under the leadership of Joe Oddo, is growing in its diverse representation of the trans and gender diverse community, people of color and an increasing number of women.
The Center’s associate board is thriving with a group of dynamic and creative individuals led by a passionate and energized leader, Mikey Abante.
I’m excited to announce that we will be organizing a Community Advisory Board comprised of community leaders who can serve beyond the work of our two boards to periodically offer guidance on vision and strategy for the road ahead at The Center.
And, if you haven’t been to The Jolt, come and jump on the love train, and enjoy the great food and drinks and the events held regularly by The Jolt team.
There are incredible things happening at The Center. And, if you heard things here tonight that you weren’t aware of, that means one of two things: we need to do a better job of telling our story, or you may not have had a chance to stop by in recent months. I’m committed to doing a better job of telling our stories, and I am hoping you will commit to not only support The Center tangibly, but also to come and be a part of the momentum. We’ll always have the naysayers who just want to point out what’s wrong with things. It’s just their narrative. But the people who matter are the people who jump in and stand with us, with all our flaws, with all that makes us great, with all that makes us a community.
I’m proud, this evening, to remind us that although people may come to spew their hatred across our front doors, we are not deterred in our mission to stand tall, proud of who we are, and demanding that we be treated with the dignity and respect that we deserve.
My theme tonight was one of hope and of momentum. Tonight, we have hope that The Center’s best days are ahead. And, we have hope that by working together, the best days are ahead for the LGBTQ+ community in Southern Nevada.
Thank you all for being invested, for choosing to be part of the future, and for joining the momentum at Your Center.