Rebecca Rolfe (SF LGBT Community Center)
The San Francisco LGBT Community Center is kicking off its 10-year anniversary celebration this month. The center describes itself this way:

As the only non-profit in San Francisco serving the full spectrum of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, and working across a broad range of issues impacting the community, the center plays an important role as the physical and spiritual home for LGBT culture and is vital to the ultimate survival of our identity as a community.

KQED’s Joshua Johnson recently interviewed Executive Director Rebecca Rolfe about the center’s anniversary and about its mission in the community.

Edited transcript:

Joshua Johnson

Describe some of the celebrations and activities for the 10th anniversary…

Rebecca Rolfe

We’ve got a series of events lined up for the year, starting with our Soirée 10 celebration on March 24. It’s going to be a fabulous event for about a thousand people.

And we’ll be rolling out a new web site in June that is going to be a significant resource for the community.

Joshua Johnson

There’s been talk of remodeling the facility to figure ways to make the location work more to the organization’s benefit. Where does that stand?

Rebecca Rolfe

We’re looking at a couple of different things. Anytime you build a building you have theories about the way it’s going to work, and then the way it works in practicality is sometimes different.

We’re looking at what space in the building is well used and if there are spaces that could be better used. We’ve got some community requests we’re looking at, and how we can meet those in the right way. Our youth team is really interested in creating a space that’s a home for them within the larger center. So how can we create some space dedicated to youth programming that creates a sense of ownership and a connection to the space…

We’re going to be moving the cybercenter to the lobby. We’ve got a large building, and we’re going to be looking at deriving as much revenue from community events and tenants as possible; the building right now does not pay for itself, so we’re looking at how we can create greater self-sufficiency for the building itself.

Joshua Johnson

Two years ago the you were talking about a loan from the city to pay down some of the building’s costs. How are the finances now?

Rebecca Rolfe

We’ve created a stable financial base for the organization. Of course times are difficult for non-profits. We’ve turned in a break-even operational budget for four out of the last five years. We’ve really looked at how we can be creative and resourceful. We’ve maintained our core services that connect the most vulnerable members of our community to really critical services.

Joshua Johnson

If you had to pick out one of the center’s accomplishments, which one is most vivid for you?

Rebecca Rolfe

One example of the kind of innovation we have here is our economic development program. We started the first LGBT economic development program in the world: the first LGBT first-time homebuyers program, the first employment program, and the first employment program looking at the transgender community.

Joshua Johnson

Do you think in an era of Twitter and Facebook, where people can coalesce on their own in small groups around very specific needs, we still need a place for the community to consistently meet?

Rebecca Rolfe

I think the popularity of Twitter and Facebook speak to the desire people have to be connected. I think that the opportunity to come together face to face is still critically important, particularly for the LGBT community, because so many people did not feel connected and supported growing up. There continues to be an LGBT-specific need for connection and support to each other.

Joshua Johnson

What’s on your wish list for the next 10 years in terms of hopes for the LGBT center?

Rebecca Rolfe

I’d like to see greater resources and an ability to look at cultural programming, and programming that supports strong community values and health and well-being. Things like volunteerism, civic engagement, policy advocacy.

Joshua Johnson

I’ve heard complaints from older LGBT people that the kids today just don’t understand why these civic institutions are so important, because they’re divorced from some of the more visceral struggles of past decades. Do you have trouble making the case for these kinds of institutions to young people?

Rebecca Rolfe

I don’t necessarily see that younger people don’t see a need for the center. We work with everybody from seniors who are facing isolation and feeling like they’re almost being driven back into the closet by some of the challenges around the invisibility of LGBT seniors, to youth who have come here from other places seeking safety and sanctuary.

People from all walks of life have very different, clearly articulated needs, and a desire to be connected here. Those look different at different places in your life. But one of the values of the center is we are the place where all those folks come together — we’re the great meeting ground for everyone in the community. At any time we’ve got going, for example, a youth program having a meal night, a family support group, a support group for seniors, yoga and meditation classes, political clubs — we’ve got the full gamut of activities and resources and options.

Author

Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks writes mostly on film for KQED Arts. He is also an online editor and writer for KQED's daily news blog, News Fix. Jon is a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S.

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