In Dallas during the 1980s, it wasn’t uncommon for the city’s police officers to monitor who was going in and out of gay bars, recording license plate numbers and feeding that information to the Dallas Times Herald. At a time when being homosexual was a criminal misdemeanor in Texas, being outed on the pages of a newspaper meant that jobs and family relationships were put in jeopardy. It was one of several incidents that led a group of people to say “enough is enough.”
In 1983, Resource Center Dallas, then called the Dallas Gay Political Caucus and later known as the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, got its start thanks to that group. Initially established with goals of education and service in response to discrimination, the Center quickly found itself mobilizing to deal with the then-new HIV and AIDS epidemic as the disease hit North Texas.
Today, the Center has grown beyond its grassroots beginnings and is the largest LGBT community center in Texas. While much has changed since its founding— new medications and awareness have changed the HIV and AIDS landscape, and the LGBT community has gained some more legal protection—the Center is actively evolving and growing along with the evolving and changing needs of the LGBT community, said the Center’s CEO, Cece Cox.
HIV- and AIDS-related services are still a prevalent part of what the Center does. Its food pantry, which began as a cardboard box collection for a man dying of AIDS who couldn’t leave his apartment, now moves seven tons of food a week. Other client services include dental care, case management, and financial assistance for health insurance premiums to those who qualify. Through its medical clinic and prevention teams, the Center conducts testing and prevention counseling for the general public and at-risk communities, and the Center’s Nelson-Tebedo Community Clinic participates in ongoing clinical trials.
But the Center’s work also extends beyond the LGBT community living with HIV and AIDS—from mental health counseling to advocacy in the community. As a community center, it also hosts about 40 groups a month in its space.
“There are a lot of people who care about [serving the LGBT community] and a lot who don’t,” Cox said. “Our work requires a great deal of education so that people recognize that we don’t have a lot of rights. We’re operating in an environment that’s not an equal playing field, where people are protected under the law equally.”
Cox, a former commercial lawyer who has also provided pro bono legal services to individuals with HIV, gets an impatient and wearied edge to her voice when she talks about the inequalities the LGBT community faces. She’s been an advocate for the LGBT and HIV communities for more than 30 years, and before joining the Center was a professional photographer who co-authored a book chronicling the 1993 March on Washington for gay and lesbian rights.
But Cox and the Center have a lot to be proud of. It has had a series of big victories since June 2010, when as a direct result of its education and talks with public officials, the Dallas ISD, Dallas County, Dallas County Community Colleges, DART and the North Texas Tollway Authority have expanded or included new protections for their LGBT employees and students.
Cox recently found herself convening a meeting between Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and community groups. Tension was running high after Rawlings had refused to sign a petition supporting marriage equality.
“We asked the mayor to come to the Center and we gathered community groups,” she recalled. “I think he needed to hear some things, and our community needed to get some things off its collective chest. We had an hour and half chat with the mayor. He didn’t sign the petition, but I think there’s a lot of value to bringing people together face-to-face, particularly when they’re in deep disagreement…in this case, we served an important role in convening and helping get the mayor educated. He’s remained in contact with me.”
The Center is in the midst of a capital campaign and is raising funds for a new facility that it plans to occupy by 2015.
“We’ve accomplished a lot in 30 years, but there’s a lot more to do,” Cox said.