The only thing the executive director of The Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada hasn’t been able to expand since her arrival there in 2004 is the space itself. So that’s why Candice Nichols and her crew are moving The Center, as it’s affectionately known, out of the Commercial Center and into downtown. Ribbons were recently cut for the much-larger Robert L. Forbuss Building, located on Maryland Parkway, which not only keeps The Center central to Las Vegas, but gives it greater visibility — something of which the LGBT community can never have too much. And for Nichols, it’s not only a symbol for gay Las Vegas, it’s a symbol of pride.
So, how’s the packing going over there?
Not yet! We have a few months of business as usual. There’s going to be lots of preparation, but we’re right now getting the furnishings and fixtures ordered … we’re doing a lot of functional, operational preparation.
Just how large is this undertaking?
We are in a 6,000-square-foot [space] now … and we’re going into 16,000 square feet. With 4,000 square feet of garden area. We will have room where we can eventually [accommodate] a staff of 16 to 20, which certainly won’t happen overnight. We’ll have room to grow. With our café area, we’ve never had a café and food service area in our building before, so that’s going to be new. We have a new event space. Compared to our largest space now, which holds 75 peopole, we can [accommodate] several hundred, and [the space] opens up into the garden so we can hold more people. So it’s a huge undertaking. We’re going from the little guy in the storefront to building owners, a crowd visible in the community.
Will this be The Center you’d always hoped for Las Vegas, or is this another step toward your ultimate goals for an LGBT hub in Southern Nevada?
We’re definitely going to be ever-growing and expanding, that’s for sure. … It’s a very planned, strategic and incremental growth, with program and staff additions, as we grow and become more a part of the community. Our vision is even more growth. In the future, we want to see LGBT homeless and senior housing across the street. We want to be more for the community than just moving in and expanding our services.
Was any part of this move wanting to be downtown? Is it important to be there?
It was very important in our [building] search to remain central because the geographic makeup of the valley … so that people can come from all areas of town. We have people using our services from as far away as Kingman, Arizona, and Boulder City. And coming in [during] the revitalization of that part of town is the icing on the cake.
A few years ago, we wrote a cover story making the argument for more gays and lesbians to live and open businesses downtown. Are you generally enthusiastic about any potential for a larger gay presence there?
Totally. I see our new building being the east anchor of the downtown project. I know there are plans for a few gay businesses to come to the downtown area.
The argument has been made that we’re a well-integrated people in Las Vegas, living all over the valley. But there are also complaints that we’re not a very unified LGBT community. Are the two related?
It’s an interesting issue we face here in the valley. It’s twofold. I see a lot of community, but I’m running the community center. I frequently network with those folks involved in the LGBT community. On the other hand, geographically, we are an isolated valley and we have a lot of nesters that don’t go to work, who feel comfortable where they live. I think you have that in other cities, but because we’re in the isolated valley, it’s more unique to us. In California, city after city are blended together … but when you’re isolated, we’re it! It’s a different geographic climate we’re in than other places.
How does The Center prepare for and participate in Pride?
Well, you know it’s not only Pride, but Gay Days. There’s lots of activities. We provide a lot of volunteers for Gay Days coming to town, we’re part of the committee welcoming these new visitors to town. Of course there’s the parade. We have the giant rainbow flag we carry out every year, and our youth love participating with that and carrying it. We always have a large presence at the festival, and this year we’re fortunate enough to get a grant for civic engagement, so we’ll have voter registration there at the festival. It’s an important election year and we make sure as a community our voice is heard, and we get out and vote.
Does The Center leave the politics to other local groups, or can it get involved and help educate gay voters or even make endorsements?
Legally, as a 501(3)(c) [nonprofit] group, I can’t get that far into it. We can’t endorse candidates. What we can do is advocacy on issues. We can lobby our legislators, we can have town hall meetings where we invite all parties and candidates — Republicans and Democrats and nonpartisans. We have to stay nonpartisan in everything we do. But we can encourage our community to vote.
At this point, do we wait to see what the courts say about the future of gay marriage, or are there ways we can act beyond voting that might bear some results?
As part of the statewide LGBTQ coalition, we have issues we decided on that we’re working on, we’re focused on those issues right now. With marriage, we are waiting to see what’s happening in the courts. Other organizations are doing more proactive things. Every session, the coalition, which the Center is part of, goes up to Carson City for two days, for Equality Days. We lobby legislators on various issues. We were very successful in 2009 for the domestic partnership vote, and last session we lobbied on four different trans-inclusive bills. [Nevada was] the only state to pass that many [trans-inclusive bills].
How is The Center more than just a social place for gay youth?
There’s deep discussions they have about issues that concern them, what’s bothering them. They have educational speakers come in as mentors, let them know it does get better and here’s why. We have five different groups, and they all have different activities they take part in, everything from substance abuse to STD prevention to bullying … topics that are a concern to them are discussed. And our staff is able to refer them to services that maybe we don’t provide but that our community needs.
Are you pleased with the evolution of your participation with the Southern Nevada Health District STD and HIV testing program?
It’s been wonderful partnership we do share. As we’re moving into this new building, we’ve created a health and wellness center for the health district to utilize, and hopefully their services can expand, too, to serve not only the LGBT community, but the community surrounding us, and hopefully five days a week. It opens the door for more services in the future.
When I last was tested, the administrator mentioned gay-oriented social media sites and apps that seem to be facilitating the sort of promiscuous behavior that concerns SNHD. For gay men in particular, is the Internet both a blessing and a curse — especially when trying to find non-nightclub spaces where gay men can feel comfortable being themselves?
That’s why we have the Mpowerment project. It’s a social program, it’s an evidence-based intervention funded by the CDC, originally, and targets 18-29 LGBTQ to meet other gay men [outside of] an alcohol-charged environment that can put them at risk. It’s a social environment; there’s lot of eating! But they plan events and outreach to their peers, to help them in their prevention efforts, and get the word out about prevention. It has its own prevention group, the M-Group … to help make sure this generation might be the last to become infected [with HIV].
Does the LGBT community take The Center for granted?
You know, I think we have to come a long way how we market [The Center] to the community. The new Center has helped us with that, for the community to know we’re there and the services we provide. We make sure to get the word out not just with the LGBTQ community, but the community at large, that we’re here and available. The real positive part of the building is the visibility. You can’t miss it. You won’t miss the sign when you come down Maryland Parkway, and that was a real important component to us finding a new space: to let people see we have a presence here.
How do you define pride in 2012?
In 2012, pride for me is pride of ownership. Since its inception in 1993, the Center owned a small little business building, but what we are accomplishing with this new building is this beautiful, state-of-the-art building with the presence and visibility in town like no other LGBTQ business has had. And it makes me proud we are offering this to our patrons, to our youth, to seniors, who are seeing that we are offering this wonderful building, and that they deserve a building they can be proud to enter [and] offers the services they need.