(Crystal A. Proxmire, also in Between the Lines, 11/16/2011)
Affirmations was packed to capacity as the David Garcia, the new Executive Director, spoke about his vision for the community center and its role in connecting those interested in moving Michigan towards equality.
The vibrant young activist, a 37-year-old single gay father who once walked 55 miles from Swartz Creek to Lansing to make a point about gay acceptance, is already making changes. The center is now open 9am to 9pm, every day but Sunday. There are new members on staff and new programs in the works, including regular fitness classes, expanded counseling services, a taskforce to address aging citizen’s needs, the addition of faith-based programming, and possibly even a charter school. “This is YOUR community center,” Garcia said repeatedly. “The sky is the limit.”
The center is opening its doors to organizations that want to meet there, and Garcia hopes Affirmations can be a place for fun and gathering, but also a central location for community organizing. He reminded the crowd that Michigan lacks gay marriage. Michigan lacks enumerated anti-bullying laws. Michigan lacks hate crimes prosecution. And the state is considering removing benefits for partners of state employees. In Michigan you can be fired for being gay. And he talked about the recent murder of a young transgender woman who used to come to Affirmations. “When Shelly walked through these doors, she felt safe,” he said.
“We have a lot to do and this is why we need Affirmations,” he said.
And the response in the room? Overwhelming welcomes and excitement. People from every age group, gender expression and other demographic came out to support the new Executive Director, including representatives from organizations from across the state.
Nicole, a transgender woman who can only fully express herself at places like Affirmations, said that a lot has changed in the five years she has been using Affirmations services. “I remember it in the old days when it was across the street,” she said. “It was so dark and stinky, and small. We need a bright place like this…It’s good to have it open more hours. Why have a community center if it’s closed, closed?” Nicole said she values the library, and being able to come to the center on Friday and Saturday nights to watch movies.
London Bell is an Affirmations employee who served on the hiring committee. After a nine month search process, she feels the Board made a good choice offering Garcia the position. “I immediately noticed that Dave was the light in the room – personable, humble, down-to-earth,” Bell said.
Many in the audience were former members or Center Partners who are considering getting re-involved. Carl Weiler said he stopped coming to Affirmations because there wasn’t enough programming that catered to those of retirement age. After attending a recent event on aging, held at the center, he has taken a new interest. “Wow. That’s all I can say. Wow. David is a strong leader and he’s doing the right things. The school thing is central,” Weiler said. “We need to stop bullying now and keep children safe.” Weiler is also joining the organization of SAGE to help address the needs of the aging, LGBT community.
Rosemary Linares of Detroit Latin@s said she is “very excited about David Garcia. I knew him from Kalamazoo and I know he is very appreciative of intersectional analysis that is inclusive of racial and economic issues.” Latin@s is one of several groups that will be using the space for community organizing.
There is one more change that Garcia called for, which he said is still being worked out with the board. He said they are simplifying their donation and membership process, and not having titles like “member” or “center partner.” “We are all Affirmations… I don’t care if you’re a 15 year old boy who can only give a dollar, you are a member… This is YOUR community center.”
For more information about Affirmations, go to www.goaffirmations.org.