SeaWorld Orlando is 156 years old this year! Universal Studios Florida is 96 years old this year!
Orlando’s LGBT+ Community Center—THE CENTER—is 40 years old this year!
All three of the above statements are patently false, albeit based on the same flawed logic.While neither SeaWorld or Universal execs are claiming their companies to be as old as the statements above, it is true that executives at The Center just held a gala in celebration of their 40th anniversary. The fact of the matter is that The Center opened its doors in 1987, making it 31 years old.
Despite my multiple attempts to motivate the powers that be at The Center to correct this grave error, my pleas apparently fell on deaf ears and the gala went forward, Martha Wash and all.
Stay with me! I promise to draw a correlation between The Center and the theme parks I have referenced. Those numbers—156 and 96—are not being drawn out of thin air.
The Center opened in 1987 and that is not up for dispute. It is simply a FACT.
What is true is that a different organization, unrelated to The Center, was started 40 years ago by Ann Colby and David Slaughter, and whose president at the time I came on the scene was David Bain, back in 1978. This organization was Gay Community Services (GCS).
Nine years later, independent of GCS, a group of mostly unrelated individuals opened The Center in 1987. Unlike GCS, The Center was not incorporated nor did it have 501(c)(3) charitable tax status.
When I became the second director of The Center—following in the footsteps of the wonderful Shannon Addison—I was very concerned that many of the board members of The Center and GCS were at odds with one another about whether or not The Center was stepping on the toes of GCS. Shortly after becoming The Center director, I invited David to meet with me. In our discussions we agreed that both agencies not only had mutual goals with similar mission statements, we discovered that many volunteers from both organizations were the same.
We agreed that the existence of both agencies separately was resulting in strained resources and duplicated services, and we worried of volunteer burn out. David and I moderated a series of meetings between both boards that ultimately resulted in a merger. The Center was happily absorbed by GCS, but that in no way makes The Center 40 years old!
I will present here the very same examples I presented to the execs when I asked that they stop promoting the erroneous 40th anniversary of The Center.
SeaWorld Orlando opened in 1973. No one disputes that it’s 35 years old. If we apply the logic of The Center’s powers that be, then SeaWorld should be celebrating its 156th anniversary this year since many years AFTER the Orlando theme park opened it was acquired by Anheuser-Busch, who began brewing beer in 1852.
No one can dispute that Universal Studios opened in 1990. If it was to throw an anniversary gala I’m sure all would agree it’d be the theme park’s 28th. Although, using The Center logic, it would need to celebrate the 96th anniversary because years after its opening Universal was absorbed by NBC, which was incorporated back in 1922.
GCS was composed of individuals working on a phone tree from their homes. The Center was and is a brick-and-mortal gathering place that opened its doors in 1987. The Center is not 40 years old. The Center is 31 years old. Period. End of story.
I was so perturbed that no one wanted to rectify this misleading information in our already fragile gay history that I did not attend the recent gala, as much as I would have loved to have done so. Make no mistake; I love The Center. I support The Center. I love the current director of The Center, George Wallace. George is extremely effectual in his post and one of the best things to happen to that organization in years. I consider him a dear friend. However, I hate the muddying of our historical record brought about by what I see as an absurd way of quantifying the age of this organization in which I take great personal pride. I feel very strongly that to say The Center is 40 years old is an affront to the good people who actually started The Center a mere 31 years ago. Thank you to Watermark for allowing me to utilize my viewpoint column to set the record straight.
I pledge here and now that come 2027 I will volunteer the full force of my promotional and entertainment expertise to The Center’s 40th anniversary should the board elect to present one during the actual year The Center turns 40. If they elect not to do so, I will produce my own 40-year celebration in 2027 and donate all proceeds to The Center.
In the meantime, if you identify with my concern over what I perceive to be distortion of our local gay history, I would entreat you to drop a respectful line to The Center asking that they properly adjust the age.