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LGBT center nears goal for new Kissimmee location

Posted on Sunday, June 10, 2018 at 6:00 am

By Rachel Christian
Staff Writer
An established Orlando LGBT resource center was honored with a proclamation by city officials Tuesday night as it prepares to open a second location in Kissimmee this August.
News of the community center’s expansion has garnered support from residents and local officials since plans were announced earlier this year. Executive Director George Wallace said the new LGBT Center of Kissimmee will fill a significant need for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community by providing free HIV and sexual transmitted disease testing, support groups and counseling to an area where such services are in short supply.
Wallace estimates that 5 to 30 percent of those who visit the Center in Orlando each week are Osceola County residents.
“Orlando is right next door, but the drive is still tough,” he said. “We want to move those services closer to the people who need them.”
The center has almost reached its $75,000 fundraising goal, which will cover basic facility and operational expenses for a year, Wallace said. In April, the group received a $26,000 grant from Contigo Fund, a South Florida nonprofit that emerged from the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting.
But anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, can utilize Center services.
Once it arrives in Kissimmee, the facility plans to cater to its new community by reaching out to Osceola County’s growing Hispanic population. Hiring a bi-lingual manager, providing materials in Spanish and offering all LGBT group sessions in both languages are some of the initiatives Wallace plans to implement at the new location.
“Offering bi-lingual materials is something we don’t even do in Orlando right now, but once we establish it in Kissimmee, I’d like to integrate it up here,” the director said.
Support from Kissimmee residents has been tremendous, Wallace said, noting the enthusiasm he felt from those who stopped by the center’s table at Gay Days last weekend.
Local government officials are also rallying behind the center’s anticipated August arrival. Earlier this week, Wallace accepted a special proclamation from the city of Kissimmee in recognition of Pride Fest today and the center’s contribution to the local LGBT community.
County Commissioner Cheryl Grieb, Osceola’s first publicly gay elected official, is working with Wallace in his continued search for a physical building to act as the Center’s new home. Grieb, who has a background in real estate, said she is looking for a centrally located facility near downtown, but the competitive market is proving difficult.
“They may have to go with a smaller site and grow to a larger location later,” she said. “We’re still exploring options.”
Grieb said she was glad to help any way she could. As a youth growing up in Osceola County, Grieb said she questioned her sexual orientation, but a lack of resources and openness about LGBT issues kept her from coming out until her 20s.
“It was something you just didn’t talk about around here,” she said. “I think the center is going to be a great opportunity, especially for youth who are questioning things. It will give them a safe, supportive outlet to hang out and meet like-minded individuals.”
She may hold a personal connection to the center, but as a public official, Grieb said she also sees its arrival as a positive sign of local growth.
“Metropolitan areas tend to be huge melting pots, so it’s easier to be out and proud if you’re in a larger city,” she said. “The fact that the center is coming to Kissimmee, I take that as a healthy sign of growth.”
Wallace and volunteers from the LGBT Center of Orlando will be at Pride Fest in downtown Kissimmee today as the group works to raise the final $3,000 of its $75,000 goal.
Wallace said it seemed fitting to collect the remaining money in the same community the center would soon serve.
For more about the Center of Kissimmee or to donate to the effort, visit www.thecenterorlando.