From Refuge to Resource 

The Community Center has offered Boise decades of LGBTQ support

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Samantha Stetzer

Before moving to Idaho in 1977, Judy and Robert Cross lived in Tennessee. Virginia skirted their backyard, and Judy said she could "throw a rock into Kentucky." At one point, Judy traveled frequently to Georgia for grad school while Bob served as an Episcopal Church priest. They were immersed in the south, its glory and its prejudices.

"The atmosphere there was extremely punitive, and it was very, very scary for anybody to even mention the word 'gay,'" Cross said. "And really, we had grown up in an era where it wasn't anything that you talked about. [We] knew very little about that and sexuality and gender identity."

That's what made Bob's revelation in 1976 so pivotal.

"Bob said, 'I have something I need to tell you,'" Cross recalled. "And I said, 'I think I know what it is. You like men.' And he said, 'Yeah.'"

Less than a decade after that conversation, Bob and Cross, still married and raising their family in Idaho, found refuge at The Community Center.

TCC was founded in 1983 as an advocacy and support group for LGBTQ people and allies living in the Treasure Valley. The center focused on the urgent needs of this silenced population through readings, and by offering a publication and resources as the HIV/AIDS crisis rocked the nation.

click to enlarge SAMANTHA STETZER
  • Samantha Stetzer

As a nurse, Cross understood the medical implications of the disease, but as a social justice fighter, she saw the emotional toll it took.

"There were so many of our friends that were dying... We attended to too many deathbeds and funerals," Cross said, recalling how people who identified as gay were unable to visit their dying partners due to hospital restrictions.

TCC established a 24-hour helpline to offer safe sex tips, and HIV/AIDS prevention and resources. It was a life preserver to a community Cross said was getting the brunt of local prejudice. At the same time, the Cross family and other volunteers brought LGBTQ kids into their homes after parents kicked them out, and comforted those whose churches rejected them. TCC organizers also worked tirelessly for "Vote No on 1" in 1994, which fought against Proposition 1, a law that sought to eliminate minority status and rights for gay people. The initiative was struck down by just 3,000 votes. In the early '90s, Cross wore giant angel wings to stare down Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church.

"I felt tallest that day," she said.

Today, TCC continues to advocate for the "Add The Words, Idaho" campaign, which is pushing for lawmakers to add "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the Idaho Human Rights Act.

TCC board member Javier Smith said that the group has always been a "clearing house" of sorts, offering community members lists of LGBTQ-friendly doctors, counselors, landlords and more in the Treasure Valley.

This June, TCC celebrated its 30th Pride Parade. It was one of the largest ever hosted by the group, which has seen its parade budget leap from $15,000 to roughly $250,000 since the mid-90's, when Smith started to help organize the event. Still, Cross remembers the early years where there were smaller turnouts, more protestors and greater fear.

"I had friends who hid in the bushes with sacks over their heads because they were afraid an employer might identify them, or whoever they rent from might identify them, or the one relative that they hadn't come out to [might]," Cross said.

Smith said the protestors were one reason they keep marching.

"[TCC] gave me a sense of purpose. It helped me out a lot," he said. "I had some issues where being out at work was problematic. It helped me understand that there was a community here, that I wasn't alone."

It's not difficult to find TCC. Driving along Orchard Street toward Fairview Avenue, its rainbow-painted facade catches the eye.

After moving several times, TCC now shares space with Liberating Spirit Metropolitan Community Church. Together, the groups invite LGBTQ folks and allies to learn about LGBTQ history at their museum and check out one of the thousands of books in their LGBTQ library.

Attendees can also join the many groups that fill TCC. Among them is PolyQ, a new collective started by Heather Franck, who moved to Idaho from Utah with her primary partner four years ago.

"My very first resource was The Community Center... [I] decided this is my place," Franck said.

Today, Franck serves as an outreach volunteer, and PolyQ connects and supports non-monogamous people like Franck, who identifies as polyamorous.

As she continues to work with TCC, Franck said she is excited to see its growth, and she points to its Facebook page as an example. There, she often sees comments from parents of children who have come out, inquiring about where they can send them for support and guidance.

As someone who saw decades of rejection, these questions and the youth group that meets at TCC on Sunday afternoons give Cross hope.

"It's such a delight to see all these young kids able to be free and happy, and talk really seriously about themselves and their relationships and how they cope with bullying at school and in their families," Cross said.

Cross credits Smith with the youth group's success. Though he is now preparing to hand the group over to another leader, Smith isn't done with TCC—not by a long shot. He hopes to someday expand the center, offer it to businesses for conferences and events, and continue its support of other organizations devoted to LGBTQ lives.

Smith and Cross share a common goal: Someday, they want to secure enough funding to pay for a full-time employee, which would allow the center to fully support local needs.

Regardless of TCC's next steps, Smith continues to see its value in the fight against prejudice and hatred.

"[TCC is] a place for significance, so people who know that there's a place for them and people that are still in the closet know that there's a place for them," he said. "We are Idahoans who happen to be LGBT. We're human beings."

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