JACKSON – A group of nearly 200 residents and leaders of the Jackson community gathered in the community hall of St. John’s United Church of Christ on Feb. 17 to celebrate the grand opening of the Jackson Pride Center.
The new center features sofas, table games such as pool and air hockey, a flat screen TV and more. It’s an institutional white room painted with a vivid rainbow arching out of a bright read heart.
The opening of the center comes less than two weeks after activists scored a major victory in the city of 33,000 people in south-central Michigan. For nearly two decades, the city has debated the need for a non-discrimination ordinance that was inclusive of the LGBT community, but earlier this month the city council voted 5-2 to adopt the ordinance. Discussions about an inclusive non-discrimination law date back as far as 1980 former city council officials have said.
“I think it’s a huge step,” said Jackson Vice Mayor Derek Dobies about the opening of the Center. “I think that a lot of the energy that has come out of the non-discrimination ordinance debate has fed right into the opening of this center and really that the two go hand in hand. Having a safe space within the city in the pride center is you know the same is the same intent that council had in making sure that the city has a safe space for members of the LGBT community by passing the non-discrimination ordinance.”
While the ordinance has passed, opponents could collect signatures to force a ballot vote on the measure. Dobies said opponents would need to collect signatures equally 10 percent of the number of votes cast last year in the city’s mayoral election. He didn’t have a specific figure available, but said it would be “under” 400 signatures. He said he is uncertain if such a move will happen.
The Pride Center will be open Tuesday-Thursday from 3-6 p.m. It may be open additional days and times as community groups use the space for gatherings. Already officials say a lesbian mothers group has expressed interest in holding meetings in the space.
Nikki Joly, the center’s director, told those gathered that it was the hope that the space would become a welcome respite for LGBT youth and their allies. The Center was made possible by a $2,500 grant from the United Church of Christ, officials said.