Chippewa Valley LGBTQ Community Center offers community support – Blugold Media

Dan Bennett-Hardy, the secretary and office manager for the Chippewa Valley LGBTQ Community Centersaid he was at a conference to speak about healthcare for the LGTBQ community and saw firsthand the importance of their work.

Bennett-Hardy said he spoke in his speech about the importance of telling family you love them, regardless of how they identify.

A mother then approached him and told him that she called her son and gave him this message. He later learned that the woman’s son is gay, and he had helped her reconnect with their child.

“If I can change someone’s life for the better, then I’ve done my job,” said Bennett-Hardy.

Located in downtown Eau Claire at 505 S. Dewey St., the Chippewa Valley LGTBQ Community Center offers the local LGTBQ community social opportunities, support groups, advocacy groups and resources, as well as community work to advocate for tolerance and justice in all aspects of public and private life,” said Bennett-Hardy and the non-profit organization Website.

According to Bennett-Hardy, current support groups include transgender people, trans parents, and a youth group. Current social clubs include a gaming guild and a reading club.

Her office also contains a lending library full of books available to borrow, mostly by queer authors, Bennett-Hardy said. Books can be borrowed from the office or sent by post.

He said one of the most important aspects of her work is supporting queer youth because they face the same struggles that any teenager is already going through, but “amplified by their queerness.”

He said it’s important for them to have a place where they can feel accepted and connect with other youth with similar life experiences, talk about anything and be free from judgment.

Jason Bennett, the center’s current treasurer and past president from 2013 to 2019, said the center has grown significantly over the past decade since he was first involved when they held meetings above a garage.

Bennett resigned from the presidency in 2019 to “let young voices take over.”

He said the highlight of the past decade’s work for him has been that the annual Chippewa Valley Pride event — held at Phoenix Park on the second Saturday in June — has grown significantly, from not well known in the community to now really central in Eau Claire, where “you can’t miss it”.

Bennett said attendance increased significantly over the past year after being canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19. Visitor numbers rose last year from an estimated 350-500 people in 2019 to 1000-1500 in 2021.

The annual Pride celebration features vendor booths, food trucks and a drag show, among other activities around the space, which Bennett says will be expanded this year.

He said they are running a new element this year, Pride Panels, in the weeks leading up to Pride where they have organized groups to talk about various issues related to the LGBTQ community.

Another important event that the Center helps organize each year is Queer promheld last Saturday and was open to all high schoolers in the area, Bennett said.

Kayla Johnson began her involvement with the center as a guest at a few virtual events in 2020. She then heard about the project lead position, which she accepted to get involved and “help them in a meaningful way.”

She said that once she started attending virtual meetings, the environment was immediately welcoming and it felt like a discussion among friends.

While she continues to work with the center as a project manager, she said it has been rewarding to connect with members of the LGBTQ community who are happy to have this support in the community.

“I think anyone who isn’t sure if they’re ready to get in touch with us is hoping that they just take the plunge and get in touch with us and drop by,” Johnson said.

She said the center allows the community to celebrate who they are and “be themselves in a vibrant way.”

Bennett said the center’s overall mission is to advance the LGBTQ community, connect it to services that already exist, and seek to fill the gaps in resources when people from the community are present.

“We can help them be the change they want to see in the community,” Bennett said. “We can’t do it alone and we know they can’t do it alone, but as a team we can achieve a lot.”

Bennett said community members can support the center by donating through their website or by sending a check to their office, along with volunteering to run Pride, working in the office to keep it open to the public, and volunteering to lead groups.

Janssen can be reached at [email protected]

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