Equality Loudoun will open an LGBTQ community center by 2027

2002 Loudoun Pride Festival at the Heritage Farm Museum in Sterling – Photo courtesy of Equality Loudoun

The Égalité Loudoun Board of Directors is in the process of implementing a five-year strategic plan to open its own LGBTQ community centre.

The community center will serve as a gathering space for LGBTQ people and their allies. It will include a recreation area, an employment resource area, an inclusive library, a food aid pantry, and an area to hold meetings for local groups or non-profit organizations and, eventually, an LGBTQ-affirming medical space.

“The end goal is basically to create a very specialized building that can meet a number of different needs,” Cris Candice Tuck, president of Equality LoudounTold Weekly metro. “In the first planning phase, we want to at least open a place with recreation and gathering space so that people can be safe. This alone can help reduce suicide rates and mental health issues.

The initial phase of the plan is fundraising, which Tuck says will take about 18 months. Equality Loudoun will apply for grants and seek public and private funding.

Equality Loudoun will seek out local and regional organizations that it can partner with to provide services, run various campaigns and initiatives, provide financial support, and possibly lease property or land on which to build new facilities.

The group has previously partnered with the Loudoun Continuum of Care, the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce, the NOVA Equality Alliance, the Stop Child Abuse Network of Northern Virginia, and more than 50 local businesses who have joined its program” Business Allies” since its launch in October 2021. Tuck would like to partner with LGBTQ-affirming places of worship and healthcare providers through its new “Equality Allies” program.

The organization currently has thirty permanent volunteers who serve as coordinators, working in twenty different mission areas, and who often have ties to a variety of different services and have been able to use those ties to help LGBTQ county residents who may be in difficulty.

“Over the past three years, we have helped a homeless transgender teenager go from being a victim of abuse and homelessness to graduating from high school and being able to start life as a adult,” Tuck said. “It’s a real impact that has been felt across the community, and it will only be multiplied by the partners we can bring in.”

Equality Loudoun is exploring the possibility of providing temporary, short-term housing for LGBTQ residents — which it notes is particularly difficult given the county’s strict housing regulations.

“It’s going to be heavily dependent on how much partnership and resources we have,” she said. “But we know that in this county, homelessness issues just aren’t being addressed.”

Tuck plans to leverage public-private partnerships and cultivate a regular donor base for the proposed center.

“We keep hearing the narrative that Loudoun is the wealthiest county in the country and home to some of the biggest companies in the world,” she said. “It’s time we called on our businesses, partner organizations and individuals to start making equity and inclusion work a fact and not just a slogan.

“We challenge all businesses here and across the region to help fund these initiatives because they are truly making a difference. They make a difference for homeless adults, for bullied children, for anyone who experiences discrimination and harassment. Having a center like this can be life changing.

“There really aren’t any comparable facilities here in or near Loudoun County,” she continued. “From Leesburg to Lovettsville it can take 45 minutes by car. And unfortunately, while Fairfax has resources, the nearest Pride Clinic, the closest location that specifically serves this community, is a 50-60 minute drive away. The only community centers in the area that we know of are in DC or Frederick, Maryland. So, while there are lots of little places here and there, there really isn’t a single place that offers these kinds of resources all in one place.

Tuck noted that while there is growing anti-LGBTQ sentiment in the county, fueled in part by local General Assembly and school board candidates seeking to exploit the unease some county residents feel about of the visibility of LGBTQ people, she thinks the community as a whole “is much more supportive than … detractors want us to believe.

Citing the first-ever Loudoun Pride Festival held in June as an example, Tuck noted how organizers successfully worked with the sheriff’s department, local police and other security agencies to ensure attendees were protected at the festival. The event passed without any incidents of violence or threats.

“There are, of course, many security measures that we will take, from monitoring to partnering with local law enforcement to address any issues that may arise,” Tuck said. “But I’m confident that with the right precautions, the Pride Center will be an incredibly safe space.”

Jill E. Washington