The first LGBT Center in St. Louis was realized in 1975 as a secular offshoot of The Metropolitan Community Church of Greater St. Louis. the Metropolitan Life Services Center (later called the Mid Continent Life Services Center [MLSC]) was in operation from 1975-1978 and quickly became the heart of the city’s young queer community. The name change was made to avoid a law suit by Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. (Met Life is now considered one of the the strongest business supporters of the LGBT community.)
Our city’s first LGBT Center came to be thanks in no small part to the tireless efforts of community leaders like the late Galen Moon, Lisa Wagaman and Bill Cordes.
Located at 4746 McPherson (later 4940 McPherson) in the Central West End, “The Center” published Prime Time, one of St. Louis’ early LGBT publications and offered rap sessions, counseling services, a community library, game room and coffee house. MLSC is best known for establishing the Gay Hotline where for the first time St. Louis LGBTers with a phone could make contact with a community member 24-hours a day. On its first Sunday of operation 323 calls were made.
In September 1992 plans for St. Louis’ second LGBT Center began to take shape when members of Queer Nation, Act-Up and the Pride Community along with a number of other individuals formed the Lesbian and Gay Community Center Organizing Committee.
In the summer of 1993 the group incorporated itself as The St. Louis Lesbian and Gay Community Center, Inc. In 1994 the organization added Bisexual and Transgender to its name and mission. In the months that followed incorporation, the group set about the task of marketing the idea of a community center, raising funds, recruiting members and volunteers. The original objective was to purchase a building. In February 1994, The Center organizing committee moved into a small office in the World Community Center and initiated several services.
Leasing space in their official home in the historic Pelican Building (2256 S. Grand Blvd.) in 1996, The Center offered a reception area, meeting space, library, program development and community work nights. Philip Deitch was hired by the Board as a part time, paid Executive Director. Sadly, like its predecessor, the promising community hub closed after only a few short years.
“The third time’s the charm,” as they say, and following The National Lesbian and Gay Task Force’s 2004 Creating Change Conference in St. Louis, the St. Louis Host Committee and the St. Louis LGBT community banded together to dialogue. One of the things to emerge from the Town Hall forum was the need for a community center, a home.
After 3-years of planning and growing remotely, the third LGBT Center of St. Louis opened its doors in the Central West End (625 North Euclid Avenue #420) in July 2008. For 3-years, The Lesbian Gay Bi Transgender Community Center of Metropolitan St. Louis provided meeting space, educational series, art exhibitions, a library and information about the St. Louis community. Center founder and then Executive Director Muriel Lynn “Blue” Jones along with LaShana (Shän) Lewis were instrumental during this period.
In 2011, the newly elected Board of Directors, at the request of the community, decided to move the Center to a larger, more prominent location.
In 2011, The LGBT Center of St. Louis moved to 4337 Manchester Ave. Centrally located in the heart of The Grove neighborhood, the location in the old Vital VOICE building officially opened on July 17th, 2011. The Center offered a variety of resources, programming and community space.
The LGBT Center outgrew this space almost as quickly as they moved in. The community was in need of more meeting rooms, a better event space, a bigger library and ADA accessible resources. When the owner of the building decided to sell, the LGBT Center had to decide whether to purchase the building or not. Thanks in great part to an angel donor, the Board of Directors decided it would be in the best interest of the LGBT community to vacate the space on Manchester and purchase a building that would better suit the needs of the community.
The doors to 4337 Manchester closed on June 1st, 2014, and the Board of Directors along with a dedicated group of volunteers are in the process of finding a new building that would better suit the needs of the community. The process is moving along as planned, and the Board of Directors anticipates being in a new space by January 1, 2015!