Metro’s LGBT Welcome Center opens its doors

By : Aaron Alper
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St. Petersburg – The Grand Central District has a new resident, one it has been expecting for quite some time. Larry Biddle, director of the Metro Wellness and Community Center’s LGBT Welcome Center Development, announced this week that the unique project’s doors are open for business.

The center, located at 2227 Central Avenue, is a historic home that was physically relocated to the site last spring. Besides that history, the new center has a deep connection to the local LGBT community.

“It began with Brian Longstreth,” Biddle said, “who runs the Gay St. Pete House and who is a local real estate agent. He and his brother James had heard they were going to tear down the house, which is a 1922 bungalow. So Brian and James went to Lorraine Langlois, the chief executive officer of the Metro Wellness Center, and talked about moving the house next to the present Metro Wellness thrift store.

The house was then painstakingly relocated and was refurbished with contributions from the community.

“The money was raised for all the renovations, which included a re-landscape and a new patio,” Biddle said. “One of the ways we were trying to delineate the funding for what we were trying to raise was that I took a square footage allocation of each of the rooms, including the porch and divided each of the rooms in the dollars we were trying to raise.”

Several individuals and groups, including the Historic Kenwood Neighborhood Association, purchased the rooms.

“We had 46 contributions greater than 500,” Biddle said. “We are pleased so many individuals stepped up and made contributions.”

The LGBT Welcome Center is scheduled for its public opening and ribbon cutting ceremony Dec. 12.

“It’s going to be a type of coffee house, where people can sit and read, maybe enjoy a muffin or something like that,” Biddle said. “It will also be a LGBT travel center, where through our website people will be looking at to determine places of engagement when they visit Tampa Bay. We will be working closely with Visit St. Pete/Clearwater and we will be connected through their website.

“We also be doing some training through Metro Wellness— ‘LGBT friendly’ training which will certify establishments that go through the training. We will also be hosting poetry reading events and classes, taught by volunteers, through the center.”

Aside from all this, the LGBT Welcome Center is unique in that there are only two others like it in the country. However, because of the connection to Metro Wellness, the house will serve as an extension for social services that cater to the LGBT community.

“The two other centers, in Miami and Seattle, were founded by the local LGBT chamber of commerce, but we are founded by the Metro Wellness,” Biddle explained. “This is great because we will probably have LGBT homeless youth who will come to the center because it’s a visible place where they can engage and feel comfortable and safe. And because we’re connected with Metro Wellness, we will be able to connect them with the services they need. While we aren’t going to offer housing and counseling, we will make sure they will get to other social workers and people will the skills to get them the help they need.”

Biddle pointed out the imperative need for helping the LGBT youth and how lucky they are to work so closely with Metro Wellness.

“What is so surprising is that it is estimated, at one point in time or another, in Tampa Bay, 40% of all the homeless youth are LGBT,” he said. “The need is great to be able to help these young people. We are fortunate that we are so connected with Metro Wellness. In Miami and Seattle there is no direct connection to social services, so it is more difficult for them to provide those services, although I would assume they’ve figured out how to do that. But because we are part of Metro Wellness, we can directly connect them to help.”

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