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Guest Opinion: LGBT center is an antidote to hate

by Rebecca Rolfe and Roberto Ordeñana

Rebecca Rolfe and Roberto Ordeñana greeted attendees at the LGBT center's Soiree benefit April 14. Photo: Trish Tunney
Rebecca Rolfe and Roberto Ordeñana greeted attendees at the LGBT center's Soiree benefit April 14. Photo: Trish Tunney  

People of color, queer people, women, and people with disabilities know that bigotry is deeply rooted in this country's DNA. Our differences have always been used as a weapon to divide us.

Yet today, we are experiencing vitriol, hate, and bigotry that is more open, more championed and - worst of all - more actively enforced by our government than we have experienced in decades.

We are seeing many of the gains we have made eroded and renewed efforts to curtail our lives through things like religious exclusions, narrowing of voting rights, and taking away the very right of transgender and gender nonconforming people - including children - to use a bathroom in safety.

We are overwhelmed by the repeated physical and emotional attacks on so many of us and the near-constant anxiety and fear that informs so many of our lives - Dreamers unsure of their legal status, young people sleeping in parks, and transgender women living in fear of violence. This is happening right here in San Francisco.

We are exhausted by the Bay Area's affordability crisis and the daily struggle to survive.

But we have the antidote to hate.

We are the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and allied community. When faced with challenges, we rise up! We are not powerless. We have a voice, and a vote. We are not without assets - and we know how to give generously of our time, our resources, and our hearts.

We find inspiration in each other and in our many allies; inspiration in how violence and injustice are being called out: #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, and the teenagers from Florida speaking out so courageously and powerfully about gun violence.

We find hope in how our votes in places like Alabama and Pennsylvania - traditionally conservative strongholds - make clear that we will not tolerate hate and bigotry from our elected leaders.

When faced with the worst moments of the AIDS crisis, we opened our homes to those who were stricken. We took to the streets to say this epidemic must end. And we commit now that we will get to zero new HIV infections.

And while the challenges we face are overwhelming, at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center we work to address these issues every single day.

On this, our 16th anniversary, we are proud of what we have created. Tens of thousands of people rely on our direct services - we support some of the most vulnerable members of our community - and we are a community hub that has grown and evolved as the needs of our community have shifted.

We innovate by bringing community together to find solutions, even for problems as intractable as homelessness. Just last week we learned that our youth program qualifies for an expansion of its services. Later this year we will launch San Francisco's first Host Homes program for LGBTQ homeless youth, pairing youth without shelter to community members who will open their hearts and homes to them.

We value and honor our youth who are too often disrespected or seen as disposable by creating community and a place they call home. We recently expanded the hours of our drop-in youth space and increased mental health services for them.

We care deeply about the many people facing violence or deportation or hunger. Our information and referral program connects thousands of community members to critical services like shelter, medical care, and legal support.

Instead of allowing our differences to divide us, we celebrate our culture, shared histories, and lives. Hundreds of emerging artists have exhibited their works at the center, sharing their experiences and posing critical questions about our community's future.

We address the affordability crisis in the Bay Area and help thousands of people struggling to survive. Our first-in-the-nation LGBT economic development program helps community members find employment, start and grow their small businesses, and find affordable housing.

And our volunteers and donors, through their investment in the center, fuel our movement striving to ensure that no one - particularly the most marginalized in our community - is left behind on our path to full equality.

We have so much gratitude to every founder, public and private partner, individual and family that have invested in the center since before we even opened our doors 16 years ago.

We hope that on this Give Out Day (April 19), a national day of giving to LGBT causes, you will join us and make a contribution of any size to the center, or to another nonprofit organization you support, to help us meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.

These times call for all of us to leverage our collective histories of resilience and creativity to fight against injustice. Together, we will get through these difficult days with grace, compassion and generosity, and we are confident we will come out even stronger. We are sure of that.

Rebecca Rolfe and Roberto Ordeñana are the executive director and deputy executive director, respectively, of the San Francisco LGBT Community Center. To make a gift, visit: www.sfcenter.org/giveoutday2018

For more information about the center, visit www.sfcenter.org.

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