Oahu’s oldest gay community center ponders its future.
Photo by istock
In 1973, a group of young activists founded Love and Peace Together—a nonprofit now known as The Aloha Pride Center—to help Honolulu’s gay community. It was partly a political reaction to the time. Four years had passed since the Stonewall riots marked the start of the gay rights movement in the U.S., and Hawaii was only beginning to understand what that meant.
Since then, the center has survived at least a handful of relocations, but it’s still managed to offer the same services to Honolulu’s GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender) community, including support groups, referrals for medical care and coordination of the annual Pride Parade. In the late ’80s, the center helped educate the public about HIV and safe sex. In the ’90s, it lobbied at the state Legislature for same-sex marriage rights.
Local filmmaker Connie Florez started working with the center a few years after Hawaii residents voted against legalizing same-sex marriage. “We went out into the schools and shared our stories about coming out,” she recalls. “We had a good dialogue going back forth, even with some folks who had voted against us.”
With all of the center’s work over the past 35 years, it surprised many of its supporters when it shut down its Kakaako office in March. The center also discontinued all of its programs except for its transgender support group. What happened?
It just couldn’t afford to keep its door open, says board chairman Charles Monoiki Ah Nee. The nonprofit has a history of financial problems, but it wasn’t until about a year ago, when an interim executive director took over, that the board realized how dire the situation was.
“We realized we had a lot of financial obligations, including paying back taxes that amounted to $30,000,” he says.
The board has blamed previous management for the center’s finances, but Ah Nee says it’s more important to figure out how to save the center now, rather than point fingers. So far, the board has hired an accountant to clean up financial liabilities and will continue to ask for donations.
But as the center struggles to get its act together, some people are starting to wonder, “Does Honolulu even need a gay community center?” In the May issue of Da Kine magazine, which bills itself as “the voice of Hawaii’s gay community,” its editor asked readers to consider whether the center was obsolete.
“It’s done good things in the past—especially in helping young people come to terms with their sexuality—but maybe this city can’t really support a center,” says publisher Hans Anderson. “I don’t know if this city is big enough to have enough people participating, like L.A. or San Francisco.”
Ah Nee admits that he’s wondered that himself, and in the coming months, “We’ll ask the community if they think the center has run its course,” he says. “But I really hope not.”