Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Hayward LGBT center
shutters doors


The Lighthouse Community Center was known for its annual Viva Las Vegas fundraiser, but the center closed last month due to dwindling resources. Photo: Courtesy Skip Pernice
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The Lighthouse Community Center in Hayward, which has struggled for years to make ends meet, pulled the plug last month after the board of directors unanimously voted to close its doors.

On its website, the board noted that the decision to shutter the center, which served the LGBTQ community, came about because community need and support had dwindled. The center had recently been run by volunteers. Its last day was May 11.

"Nonprofits, especially in the East Bay, have been hit hard by the economy, a shrinking volunteer force, and a lack of need for such a community center," said a message on the center's website posted by John Ridyard, a volunteer.

The Lighthouse Community Center was a meeting place that provided a sanctuary for the LGBTQ community. It primarily served Hayward and southern Alameda County. The center opened its doors in July 2000.

The need for a center was expressed by Hayward residents who wanted a safe and substance-free meeting place with social, informational, and community awareness programs for people. Two of the early proponents were former Hayward City Councilmember Kevin Dowling and the late gay rights activist, Marvin Burrows.

Skip Pernice, Lighthouse board president, recalled the impetus for the center in an email.

"The vision of the LCC was to be a 'beacon of light' in Hayward and southern Alameda County – hence the name Lighthouse," Pernice wrote. "It was a place to come listen to music, watch TV or a video, check out the library, surf the web, play pool and board games, have a cup of coffee, meet a friend, or just hang out."

In an e-mail, Geonna Alvarez, who worked as a secretary for a Wednesday night group at the center, said it "was there to support and be inviting to the GLBT community."

"It's a very comfortable and safe place for the GLBT community to get support in any difficulties [that] they are having," said Alvarez, who asked that the group not be identified.

Over the years the center hosted 12-step recovery programs, leather corps meetings, and grand ducal council meetings, to name a few, Pernice stated.

The Lighthouse held fundraisers and went to an all-volunteer model several years ago in an effort to save money. Pernice said that some organizations, like Berkeley's Pacific Center for Human Growth, helped with some expenses to cover the costs of some peer groups that met at the Hayward center.

Despite having fundraisers, barbecues, and beer busts, these efforts weren't enough. The center's last benefit was its Viva Las Vegas fundraiser in February.

Pernice expressed sadness that the community no longer felt a need to patronize or support the center.

"The brutal truth is that the only 'purpose' for the Lighthouse to remain open was for those organizations that found it a cheap place to hold their meetings, and their contribution to the center was between 13-15 percent of annual expenses," Pernice stated in his email. "The sad part is that when it came to our fundraisers to keep the center open so that they could have a place to convene meetings, they very seldom, if ever, attended the events, volunteered to help, or even sell tickets with an agreed $5 per ticket going to their organizations.

"So we had to ask ourselves – have we outlived our usefulness?" Pernice said.

Four years ago, Dowling acknowledged that money had always been a challenge.

"Money has been tight for the whole 10 years they have been there," Dowling said in a September 2010 Bay Area Reporter article. "There is not a whole lot out there."

Pernice said that interest in the center waned as the community changed the way it communicated and socialized. For example, medical advances made HIV/AIDS a more manageable disease.

"It appears to have become a 'non-issue,'" Pernice wrote. "This was embarrassingly evident by the fact that in a year's time, fewer than a dozen people (at least four of which were board members) showed up for our free and confidential fast results test program."

Unfortunately for the Lighthouse center, it still had bills to pay.

"Unlike many nonprofit organizations that exist on paper or a website, the Lighthouse has real costs related to operating a physical location – rent, utilities, insurances, etc. However, neither the financial or manpower resources remain to go forward," said Ridyard.

Pernice also said that as the LGBT community has won more rights, thanks to recent court victories like last year's U.S. Supreme Court decisions that threw out California's same-sex marriage ban and a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, perhaps the need for a common meeting space is no longer relevant.

"We now have rights," he said. "Society in general is allowing us to assimilate. Yes, there are still pockets of resistance, but not at the level in 2000 that sparked the need for a community center."

Kari McAllister, a transgender woman who served on the center's board from 2008-2012, said the center provided a needed service.

"The Lighthouse Community Center, as it sadly closes its doors on a 14-year history, can look back with pride on the countless people who attended its events, forums and community meetings," McAllister said. "We gathered at the center to honor those taken from us, and to celebrate our milestones and achievements. When the center opened in 2000, same-sex marriage was not even a real movement. Now today, with 19 states and counting, change is upon us. And maybe the center closing will be a catalyst for change. Maybe something will take its place."

Alvarez said that she could not believe the news of the center's closure.

"I'm so sad that the Lighthouse Community Center closed," she said. "It happened so suddenly... I literally found out 24 hours before it closed. We will truly miss our Wednesday night group that was held there. I will miss the warm and home-like feeling of the Lighthouse. I will miss how accessible help was for our community here in Hayward."

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