The Center, a hub for the LGBTQ community located in downtown Las Vegas, has a new leader at a time when that community is feeling a bit under siege.
The Supreme Court has said it’s OK for the Trump Administration to ban transgender men and women from the military, though court challenges loom. The president has also floated the idea of defining gender as an immutable condition based on one’s genitalia at birth.
And in March of last year, someone shot into a bar that’s popular with the gay and transgender community in Las Vegas, injuring a patron.
John Waldron is the new executive director for The Center. He told KNPR's State of Nevada the LGBTQ community is facing some challenging times.
“We’ve made lots of advances over the years but… there are clear indications out there that we are under threat through some of the things that the administration is doing,” he said, “We need to remain vigilant in our efforts to stand up for equality in defense of our community.”
Waldron also believes that President Donald Trump has created a climate that allows homophobia to thrive.
“I think it has emboldened those people that have opposition to our community," he said, "It has given them an opportunity to have a voice and feel legitimized by the President of the United States.”
Despite the concerns on a national level, Waldron is less concerned about Nevada and Las Vegas. He said that several members of the state's congressional delegation have come to The Center or sent staff members to talk about the concerns of the community and to express their support.
Waldron is also pleased with the efforts made by the business community to provide financial support for The Center and create corporate policies to stop discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community.
“I think when you see organizations like Ceasars, MGM stepping up to demonstrate their support of the Center and the LGBTQ community, I know that we’ve come a long way,” he said.
Waldron is The Center's fifth executive director in six years but he said he has promised the staff, the volunteers and the board of directors that he won't be a director who leaves after a short time.
“It is a challenging position for sure,” he said, “I’m excited to be there. I’m looking forward to serving our community.”
Waldron said the executive director manages some of the same issues as a private business but the organization is a nonprofit, which provides its own challenges, including financial.
“We have a great mission at the Center but we obviously need money to make that happen,” he said.
In 2017, a budget shortfall forced the organization to lay off workers, but Waldron is confident that The Center is getting back to financial stability. The organization provides all kinds of programs for the community, including an HIV clinic, youth support services and senior socializing.
While The Center provides a variety of services for all members of the community, Waldron believes transgender members need the most support right now.
“No group is more stigmatized or victimized right now and I think that it’s urgent that we stand up and support our transgender family,” he said.
To that end, he is hiring a new transgender program director to offer more services for transgender people.
Waldron said his goal is to ensure that anyone who walks through the door feels love, empathy, righteous anger, hard work, and more love.
“I want all of our community to walk in the doors and feel every bit that,” he said. “We really need people to just come through the door to see that it’s a safe environment and to see that it’s a place that we really can be the central location for all things LGBTQ."
John Waldron, executive director, The Center
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