Listed as one spot not-to-be missed by GLBT travel brochures, Bloomington has a superior reputation within the state's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities.
However, a recent survey published by the Bloomington Beacon suggests GLBT needs in South-Central Indiana that are going unmet.
Launched in 1997, the Bloomington Beacon is a non-profit organization that works to provide a safe, welcoming and positive space for GLBT and questioning and intersex individuals, their families and allies. For the past two-and-a-half years the Beacon has updated information from surveys periodically handed out at GLBT events.
The Beacon's most recent survey, published in August, indicates a strong need for a community center. The closest facilities are hours away in Cincinnati, Ohio and Fort Wayne.
In addition to asking about the need for a facility, the surveys also questioned recipients about the types of services they would want.
Bloomington Beacon Board member John Clower said he was a bit surprised by the findings. Two common requests were for the center to have Internet access and a donated-goods store.
"I thought most people were Internet capable enough that they wouldn't want that at a community center," he said. "The desire for a donated goods store illustrates to me that the GLBTQI community in Bloomington is eager to give back, and this is one way they can do that."
In addition, the surveys also indicate interest in a community center that provides coffee, refreshments and games with adequate parking, information bulletin boards, meeting space for GLBTQI groups, space for large events, support groups, HIV/AIDS testing and educational resources, youth services and a video/CD/book library.
One thing Clower said he was surprised to see absent from most of the surveys was a desire for more political activism. He said he hopes the center would be a place where people could go for voter information.
"I would want the center to act as an advocate to elected officials," he said.
Currently the main GLBTQI information center for Bloomington is located on the IU campus.
"This is fine when classes are in session," said Clower, "but most people's lives don't run on a semester schedule. We need something more permanent."
In early summer, Clower said, a young, bisexual, single father in a rural area 75 miles from Bloomington called. He wanted a support group for bisexual males, but none were available in his county.
The man said he was willing to drive to Bloomington to attend meetings, but there wasn't a bisexual support group in either Monroe County or the surrounding areas.
The Beacon referred him to a national bisexual Website and the Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) chapters nearest him. But Clower said neither of these groups properly addressed the man's needs.
"It is people like this who remind me that we need this center badly," he said.
Such a community center would serve a variety of individuals throughout different stages in their lives, Clower said. For example, it would be a place where high school aged youths could go if they were questioning their sexuality.
According to the Safe Schools Coalition, approximately 6 percent of school-aged teens nationally identify as a sexual minority. And evidence is growing that inadequate support may leave GLBTQI youth at greater risk than their heterosexual peers for suicide, substance abuse, school drop-out, family conflict, homelessness and HIV/AIDS infection.
"Being young is about being in the majority, and for a GLBT teenager, there is no place they can be in the majority," Clower said.
The center would also be practical for older GLBT folks who may have different needs after retirement, Clower said. Creating a center where those without families could go if they required special care is important.
"We all wonder what is going to happen to us when we get older," he said. "This facility would be a type of insurance for the GLBTQI community that they will have a place to go."
Plans for a community center are in the beginning stages. Substantial fundraising would be needed to maintain it, but Clower said it's not impossible.
"It will be a very slow process, but I think it can be done," he said.
The future is busy for the Bloomington Beacon. In the coming year the group plans to partner with Bloomington PFLAG to gather and publish responses from political candidates on issues of interest to the GLBT people, as well as host a reception for the candidates this autumn.
Also, group members will work with the department of applied health sciences at IU to conduct a scientifically rigorous needs assessment of transgendered people in the Bloomington area.
In addition, the Bloomington Beacon created a partnership with Rhinos to host a youth group for GLBT teenagers this semester.
Lynndi Lockenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.