March 21st marks exactly one year since we opened wide the doors to the Cimarron Alliance Equality Center. Hundreds of people snaked around the building to celebrate the opening of a unique community center for Oklahoma City. There were lots of laughs and more than a few tears as women, men, youth, and children saw a dream realized.
It was no small leap of faith on the part of the Cimarron Board of Directors. After the big grand opening celebration, would people really come to call the Cimarron Alliance Equality Center their home? On the night we opened, we had exactly one thing on our weekly calendar: a Tuesday evening AA meeting. So it is only natural that after the crowds went away that night for some of us to begin to experience “buyer’s remorse.” Our expenses skyrocketed, we had not a single working phone line, our internet “connection” consisted of tethering to an old cell phone. What had we done?
Had we misread the community’s needs and desires? Had we planned well enough to cover our costs? Even the rainbow flag flying outside produced more than a little queasiness.
We weathered those first few weeks believing that it was the right decision at the right time.
And, soon enough, folks started coming. Slowly, at first, but the momentum really got a boos in June when the Supreme Court declared DOMA unconstitutional.
Without advance planning or notice, over 700 people packed into the Cimarron Alliance Equality Center that night to celebrate. A lesbian well into her 80s tapped me on the shoulder that night and introduced me to her partner of nearly 60 years. “Imagine if we had this extraordinary day in history and didn’t have an Equality Center where we could celebrate as a community.” Imagine, indeed.
Now, a year to the day later, we are providing programming and services six and seven days a week. We’ve added a second AA meeting and a women’s sexual abuse survivors’ group. We have a meditation class and a vibrant YES group for our youth. Our TransOK group is serving dozens of younger trans folks in our community. Our Writing with Paula group is helping professional writers work in community and our Out Later group for women coming out later in life is really meeting a need. MAsT meets at the Center now as does our friends at the Sisters of the Sacred Heartland and the wonderful Sooner State Softball League. Our Diversity Business Association (DBA) is growing stronger every week with more people than ever coming to serve the LGBT community and the greater Oklahoma City community. Our Equality Run will be twice as big this year as last.
And the new programs and services that will be rolling out over the next several weeks is astounding. I keep saying our because this is not my Equality Center, nor does it belong to the Board of Directors, staff, or volunteers. Certainly it couldn’t work without these amazing people, but the Cimarron Alliance Equality Center belongs to every lesbian, gay man, bisexual, transgender, questioning and allied person in Oklahoma.
It goes without saying that there are countless people who believed in the Center years–decades–before we ever opened the doors. Thankfully, many of them are still involved with the critical work that we do.
I could never give proper recognition to every person who is responsible for the realization of our community center. Many of them are tagged in this note, but many others are no longer with us or have moved to the sidelines. That does not negate the invaluable assistance they have provided, the financial support, the moral encouragement, the kind words and prayers.
We also move forward every day because of amazing partnerships with amazing organizations.
Thanks to the ACLU, Oklahomans for Equality, The Peace House, CAIR, LULAC, Add-Us-In, the colleges and universities, high school GSAs, OCU’s Outlaws, TEN, caring legislators and business leaders, fabulous Oklahoma media including the Oklahoma Observer, the GAYLY, RedDirt Report, the Oklahoma Suicide Prevention Council, and so many more.
We will continue to encounter challenges raising money, creating broader awareness, advocating with an even louder voice. But we will meet those challenges the same way we always have: walking in lockstep with members of our community and those who so fully demonstrate their friendship and alliance to what we do.
I remain honored and humbled to work on behalf of 365,000 Oklahomans every day. It is not a responsibility I take lightly. In fact, it comes home with me most nights. That’s why, in closing, I would like to express my profound admiration, respect, and love for my husband, Wayne. It takes a very unselfish man to allow me to do what I do, and he proves this to me every day.
Thank you for an amazing year, friends. And thanks for the promise of a bigger, brighter, more productive year ahead.