After months of preparation and flat-out hard work, the staff and volunteers at the new Oasis and Rainbow Center are ready to open the doors for the grand opening on Oct. 11. Arriving on a most auspicious day – National Coming Out Day, observed internationally to celebrate being out and open as LGBT people – the event will showcase the big, bright center at 2215 Pacific Ave. and reveal some exciting things in the works for the South Sound’s LGBT community and friends.
The casual, come-as-you-are grand opening runs from 3-7 p.m. There will be door prizes every hour, snacks to munch on, entertainment, and speakers including Mayor Marilyn Strickland. Drag diva extraordinaire Jenuwine Beauté will be the emcee. Tours will be given, and guests will hear about what’s in the works as the center continues to develop and meet its potential.
The Rainbow Center will also unveil its new logo at the event. For a sneak peek, “like” the Rainbow Center’s Facebook page where the design will be posted the morning of Oct. 11.
The center already opened to the public on Aug. 1, but that was before all kinds of improvements were made to the 6,000 square-foot space. Now there are comfy couches to sit on, room dividers are in place, the computer lab is up and running as is the lending library, shiny wood floors have been installed, and more progress is being made daily. People are taking notice too, as evidenced by the flow of foot traffic.
“Our numbers are up and people are coming in and staying for a long time,” said Rainbow Center Executive Director Michelle Douglas.
This is a nationwide first for Oasis, a drop-in, support and resource center for LGBT youth ages 14-24, to have a home base, and it appears that area youth are responding to it.
“It’s been busy,” said Oasis Director Seth Kirby. “For Oasis, we’ve doubled the number of youth on a given night and that’s amazing. They are very much enjoying having a public location, and that’s been really exciting to see.”
Douglas said the response from the broader community, and the center’s new neighbors, has been very positive. From the City of Tacoma and Pierce County AIDS Foundation, to local businesses and individuals providing in-kind donations and services, the support has been affirming and encouraging, according to Douglas. “The thing I appreciate the most is that a tremendous number of people have come together to make this possible, and they’ve given generously of their money, time, thoughts… I don’t know that it could be more supportive than it has been.”
It’s also showing to be a smart move to locate the new center so centrally to bus lines. “We did an analysis and we got the best transit access we could get. We’re definitely seeing the impact of that,” Douglas said.
The new center has received praise from those who have stopped by to check it out, especially those who have been long active in working for equal rights for LGBT people. “We’ve seen a lot of tears, disbelief and incredible joy,” Douglas said. “What is so important not to forget is that we started from an incredibly strong foundation. We have people who have been working for LGBT rights in this community for 40, 50-plus years and this center is built because of their hard work. This came because of their legacy. To have one of those pioneers and leaders walk through here and see what they’ve built, it’s a very emotional thing.”
The center’s capital campaign continues to move full-steam ahead. Visit http://www.orctacoma.com for the latest in how the fundraising is going and to make a donation. In a nutshell, “milestone #1” to get the walls, floors and interior space finished is just about complete. “Milestone #2” is designated to provide funds for furniture and needed kitchen appliances and to complete ADA and security enhancements. “Milestone #3” is about preparing for the long-term future, such as rent differential and a maintenance/repair fund.
Those attending the Oct. 11 grand opening will hear more about the capital campaign and about something special being planned as the holidays approach. Called Home for the Holidays, the center will become a haven for LGBT people who want to be with their community during the holidays, especially those whose birth families don’t accept them.
“We’ll be hosting an all-Oasis and Rainbow Center Thanksgiving dinner for the first time,” Kirby said. “That’s something that Oasis has traditionally done, but now we get to do it with the Rainbow Center too.” He said that at the grand opening, guests will hear about how they can help make the center nice for people to be there during the holiday season.
The center is helping make life better for homeless LGBT people as well, youth in particular. “When we shut down last night, the last six people out the door were homeless,” Douglas said. She and Kirby want to change that.
“Nationally, about 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT, and I would say that’s probably pretty close to accurate here in Pierce County as well,” Kirby said. The center has partnered with Tacoma’s REACH Center and its Housing 4 Success program for youth and young adults who are experiencing homelessness. H4S works to put these youth in housing first then works with them to provide relevant, intensive, life skills to help them get back on track to achieve stable housing and a personal path to self-sufficiency. Kirby expressed gratitude in how REACH invited Oasis to be part of H4S from the beginning.
“The result is that we now have somebody on site to provide housing intakes for youth, and that’s just something we’ve never had before,” he said. “For so long we’ve told (homeless youth) to just go to Seattle. There’s still not a youth shelter in this community or a safe place we can send people that we know of immediately that evening, but there are now options for more transitional housing.”
Douglas said some of the youth have been fortunate to secure housing with friends of the Rainbow/Oasis center. “It’s great for them to go into a living situation where the LGBT piece is not an issue,” she said. “We are in very big need of more families. We have people ready to go into housing and we don’t have enough supportive LGBT families to put them in.”
A community forum will be announced in the coming months to provide information on what it’s like to be a host home and all that it entails. Keep watching for this and more as the Oasis and Rainbow Center continues to develop.
“It’s an excellent time to stay tuned,” as Douglas put it. “We have a lot coming up. We’re just beginning to understand what this space offers us.”
On Nov. 2, the Rainbow Center will hold its annual major fundraiser, the Black & White Gayla, in a new location at the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center. Bigger and better than ever before, this black-tie event will include dinner and dancing, a live and silent auction, the Rainbow City Band’s jazz ensemble Purple Passion, and much more. The event provides the center with 40 percent of its operating budget, so help the center out by purchasing tickets at http://www.rainbowcntr.org.