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About the cover

  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e  September 2010


Reaching Out

Las Cruces' new Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Transgender and "Q" Center is the only one in the state — something its founders aim to change.

By Jeff Berg

David Stocum, the Interim Director of Las Cruces' newly christened Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Transgender and "Q" (GLBTQ) Center has some figures to share. (The "Q" is a new addition to the usual GLBT acronym, and stands for "questioning" or "queer," which is now a sometimes-acceptable term within the gay community.)

GLBTQ center
Headquarters for Las Cruces' new GLBTQ Center.

The slogan of "we're here, we're queer, get used to it" comes to mind when Stocum says that the estimated gay and lesbian population of New Mexico, using figures culled from the 2000 census, is 67,400 individuals.

"My best guess now, mostly due to people relocating to New Mexico, would be 73,000-75,000," he adds. He emphasizes that is only an estimate, and that more accurate figures will be forthcoming when the headcount from this year's US census is tallied up.

Stocum, a pleasant and open man, is one of the co-founders of the Las Cruces GLBTQ center, which surprisingly is the only one in the state at this time. He says that Albuquerque and Santa Fe have had centers in the past, but none is operating now. Part of his goal is to facilitate the opening of other such centers around the state, and not just in those two large cities.

Stocum has been in New Mexico for six years, relocating here with his partner, David, from southern California — where, he says, as so many do, they were weary of "sitting on freeways and the LA rat race just got to be too much." They searched around for a new place where they could utilize their professions; Stocum was a life coach at the time and David a civil engineer (he has since retired).

"We needed someplace that had a sense of community, and we went to Deming at the suggestion of a friend. We also checked out Tucson, Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Phoenix, and they were too big."

Las Cruces became a natural fit, as it had what they were looking for. "No regrets about being here," he continues. "I love the community."

Once here, the two men immediately became involved in the community and soon started a monthly GLBT paper, the Normal Heart, which has since ceased publication. Stocum says, "I was somewhat burned out on the newspaper, and in May 2006 began thinking about a community center."

Eager to once again become involved in the community, Stocum, who had previously been on the board of a GLBT center in the San Francisco Bay area, began to cobble together the pieces for such a center locally. Research by David indicated that the last such center apparently was located in Albuquerque back in the late 1990s and was no longer operating.

"We did an unscientific survey that we took to ABQ Pride and Southern New Mexico Pride [area GLBT organizations] to find out if people would like to see a gay and lesbian community center. The vast majority were in favor of it."

Stocum says that among the questions asked were how far would you travel to get to such a center, how best to get the word out, and where did the respondents live.

They got replies from all over the state, with a few exceptions. Even though the GLBT population of New Mexico seems to be accepted by the general public, some places, such as Lordsburg and vicinity, had no responses. He thinks that stigma might be a reason for that, since rural areas typically tend to not be as receptive to those with alternative lifestyles.

This information and the number of responses were enough to get the two men motivated to develop a center that was useful and as "handy," in terms of travel time for users, as could be.

"The original idea was a mobile center — using a bookmobile-type van," Stocum says. "We spoke with people at other GLBT centers who all thought it was a great idea, but then it occurred to us that some communities might not be too happy to see a giant bus parked outside with a GLBT banner. And that certainly would not be discreet for anyone who was questioning [gender orientation]. No, that won't work, we said."

In the summer of 2007, Stocum held some town hall-type meetings trying to figure out what to do. The Arrowhead Center at NMSU, which helps with small business planning and economic development for the region, did a feasibility study, looking at several different business models. From the information garnered, the current vision includes the development of six regional centers around the state, with each one having an outreach program, as suggested by Arrowhead.

"Their idea was to include a Meals on Wheels type project, where a team of two volunteers from a GLBT center could do a home visit and offer support, information and referral services." This has kept the mobile idea as part of the plan, but eliminated the need for almost a million dollars in startup costs for the bus option.

"And the gas prices," Stocum adds with a slight wince.

If all goes according to plan, some curricula would be used statewide, while others would be regional or perhaps just local.

"If we were to have a program relating to unique issues of the Native American GLBT population, that would probably only take place in northern New Mexico, since that is where most of the Native American population lives," Stocum explains.

Other programs, such as Manreach, a national group that helps gay men learn about healthier relationships and how to create better boundaries, would be statewide. Manreach is designed as an HIV prevention program; its already has a presence in New Mexico, and just held its first gathering in Carlsbad in August.

The Las Cruces GLBTQ Center had a "soft" opening in April of this year, and waited until mid-June to have its grand opening during Pride Week. Attention and attendance were both high, and now it is time for Stocum to get down to even more hard work.

Assisting Stocum at the local center is Cassie Davis, who was recently appointed Volunteer Coordinator. Davis has been in Las Cruces for about four years, moving here from Baltimore, via southwest Texas.

"We've already seen a huge increase in the press coverage for the GLBT community," Davis says. "We had representatives from every level of government at the ribbon cutting — federal, state, city, a county commissioner, and a representative from the lieutenant governor's office as well."

But Davis adds that she feels there is still a lot of work to do. There are still LGBT people in Las Cruces who do not feel safe, and many who live and work in southern New Mexico do not feel safe outside of Las Cruces.

"The unsafe feeling goes up outside of Las Cruces," she notes. "There are pockets of acceptance elsewhere — such as Silver City — but I want to be part of a progressive, forward-moving community."

Davis currently works with about 20 volunteers who help facilitate a number of programs for adults and young adults, covering the spectrum from youth and parental support groups to Sexual Compulsives Anonymous. Lighter fare is available as well, such as a writing group and a monthly Pride Cinema gathering.

A big challenge for the community center will be to bring other GLBT groups into collaboration and to perhaps give them a stronger voice through unification. So far, Stocum says, other regional GLBT organizations have more or less worked by themselves with good results. But both he and Davis feel that more will be possible if everyone works together.

"Collaboration is on our mission statement," he says, "and we want to try and bring everyone to work together for a common good."

The GLBTQ Center can be reached at (575) 635-4902 or toll free at (888) 286-9306. Email Stocum at dstocum@newmexicoglbtqcenters.org or visit www.gaynewmexico.org

Senior Writer Jeff Berg lives in Las Cruces.

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