Today, Blue Ridge Pride Center, Inc. launched its Phase 1 pilot of a virtual LGBTQ Center for western North Carolina and nearby communities in South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. Says Executive Director, Tina Madison White, “This has been a couple of years in the making. We have an estimated 35,000 people in western North Carolina who identify as LGBTQ. In addition to facing the isolation brought on by local prejudice and ignorance, many face the isolation of geography.”
The goal of the virtual center is to create connective tissues for the WNC LGBTQ community. While Blue Ridge Pride will manage the site, it has designed it for use and eventual guidance by community organizations, groups, and leaders. It has also been designed to relate to our particular community. Users can filter the calendar and directories to find groups and activities that aim particularly to appeal to them. People in need will be able to filter the list of community service providers to find welcoming legal, medical and other support. “During Phase 1, our focus will be on growing the number of listers in order to maximize value to the community,” says Ms. White. “We will also refine the website based on input from early adopters. We are confident that they will have a lot of suggestions.”
Phase 1: Local Events, Directories & News Feeds
Phase 1 of the launch will focus on enabling community organizations, groups, and businesses to post information. The initial roll-out features a Community Calendar and directories of Welcoming Groups, Welcoming Communities of Faith, and Welcoming Speakers and Facilitators. Subsequent releases will feature businesses and service providers who roll out the welcome mat to all. “We want to start with the people who are building and supporting our community”, says Ms. White. “In pulling together these databases, we have been delighted to find that there are a lot of welcoming organizations in our region. They are easily drowned out by all the hate speech in the media.”
The last step in Phase 1 will be to introduce a Community News Page that area organizations can post to. It will start with simple announcements and news items – about upcoming events and fundraisers, new programs and opportunities. Eventually, the organization plans to enable people to post editorial content. “We need a space where members of our community can share their experiences, concerns, and perspectives,” says Ms. White. “But we want to get some experience and more community involvement in the site before doing this. While we want to raise voices, we don’t want to go the way of so many media outlets today. Frankly, there is misinformation and hate speech coming from all sides. Blue Ridge Pride is intent on building a community together. We want to create a big tent.”
Phase 2: Welcoming Community Pages
Phase 2 of the virtual center will introduce a portfolio of Welcoming Community Pages. Examples include Welcoming Schools & Youth, Welcoming Workplaces, Welcoming Health & Health Care, Welcoming Seniors, Elders and Retirees, Welcoming Faith & Spirit, and Welcoming Families. Each page will feature events, listings, resources and news relevant to that community. It will draw on the content in the Phase 1 databases. It will also draw on community input. “Our hope,” says Ms. White, “is to establish small volunteer leadership teams to curate each of the pages. They would be led by local community leaders working together.”
Frequently Asked Questions
- Who Can List? Who Should List? Says Ms. White, “This will be a learning journey. Frankly, we aren’t sure where we will draw lines. We want to welcome all allies and other communities facing similar issues to join in this effort. We want to include any organizations and businesses that truly welcome and support our community. But we don’t want the core mission of the Virtual Community Center to get lost. We’ll figure it out with the community.”
- How is the Site Funded? The pilot has been funded from Blue Ridge Pride’s general program budget and from generous donations from corporate sponsors. “We couldn’t have done this without the funds provided by our major sponsors,” says Board President, Butch Thompson. “We are very grateful for their support.”
- What Does it Cost to List? Listings are free. We expect to keep them free for non-profit organizations. We encourage listers and users to support the site through donations. Assuming the pilot is a success, we will seek grant money to scale and refine it.
- How to Volunteer? Blue Ridge Pride will be establishing a network of Community Ambassadors from counties across the region to help to source listings and content for the Center. Anyone interested in volunteering should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Blue Ridge Pride Center, Inc. (BRPC) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit run by local volunteers. Its members work to foster an inclusive community in western North Carolina, where people are embraced for who they are and feel welcomed to engage and contribute. Blue Ridge Pride Center manages four major programs: Community Events, Community Projects, the Blue Ridge Pride Community Partner Fund, and the WNC Virtual LGBTQ Center.