Please don’t let the title of this post make you think I’ve become blasé about the opening of a center dedicated to those who identify as part of the LGBT community. That’s not the case, for any office or center, large or small, that’s dedicated to providing support, resources, or just a conversation place to our community is a vitally important thing to have, wherever it may be. Now more than ever, it seems that these centers and the resources they can provide are important, even as our community has made great strides towards rights and acceptance.
Not too long ago, there was a story about such a center that really warmed my heart, and it has to do with a place not too far from where I used to call home. In some past posts, I’ve made references to spending part of my adolescence in the northern portion of Wisconsin. I’ve been hesitant to pinpoint exactly where to help assure my anonymity. Here, however, is where I get… well, somewhat specific.
The location in question is a community called Marinette. It is not where I grew up, but it is a few towns over from where I did, and it is also where I still have some family. Despite all of that, I don’t normally keep up to date about all the goings on in that neck of the woods. That means I don’t know too much about what building or road building project may be underway, which businesses may have opened or closed, or even how the local high school teams are doing.
It also means that I have no idea about any goings on with the LGBT community in Marinette and vicinity. I do know that the area was and still is rather culturally and morally conservative (and also politically, but I’m in too nice of a mood right now to get into that). I’m sure that the area’s rather remote status (i.e. out of the influence of a cosmopolitan community such as Madison or Chicago) plays into the perception that it’s not friendly towards (and downright dismissive of) the LGBT community.
But that may not be entirely the case…
Marinette has a campus that’s part of the University of Wisconsin’s system of statewide campuses. UW—Marinette is a two-year freshmen-sophomore campus that offers general education degrees; from there, students can take their credits and transfer to a larger, four-year university such as, say, UW—Madison to complete their bachelor’s degrees.
Late last month, I was reading the current issue of Our Lives Magazine and came across a little tidbit about UW—Marinette on Page 20: Back in January, the school opened a center where students and community residents who are LGBT or are at least LGBT-supportive can find resources, gather research, or just converse.
The center is officially named the LGBT Center @ UW—Marinette, and its director is Amy Reddinger, who is an associate professor of English and gender studies at the school. In 9 of the 10 years she’s been at the school, she’s been advisor for the student LGBT organization, and she would regularly receive calls from the community inquiring about needs and advice for LGBT youth. Those calls would inspire her to talk with school administrators about something permanent, and it would lead to the center’s establishment.
As I noted above, the Marinette region is rather conservative, and there’s been at least one irate citizen writing a letter to the editor of the local newspaper to complain. Thankfully, said local paper, the Eagle-Herald (which has this article from February about the center’s opening), restricts reading of Letters to the Editor to subscribers only, so I don’t have to read that diatribe.
Thankfully, though, the LGBT Center @ UW—Marinette does have support from the larger general community. Professor Reddinger, in the Our Lives Magazine article, told about a stranger who stopped her at a department store and… wait for it… hand her money and told her, “This is for your center.” It’s incredible to hear about such out-of-the-blue generosity from a total stranger. It also highlights how the center is operating at the moment — solely through donations, with efforts being sought to seek grants and continue fundraising in order to meet the center’s eventual future needs.
And those future needs may be great and significant, even in an area such as Marinette. The youth of today are more open to identify as LGBT or supportive, but in conservative locales, they may not be as open to expressing this. Indeed, Marinette and surrounding counties has never had an agency that provides LGBT services. This makes the LGBT Center @ UW—Marinette a gap-filler in that regard, as it will provide services and a variety of resources and serve as a host to not just UW—Marinette students but youth and parents in the area who are LGBT or allied.
There doesn’t appear to be a direct link on the UW—Marinette website to its LGBT Center. However, it provides a quick article about the center’s grand opening back on February 1, as well as an e-mail link for more information. So, if you are from the Marinette area, you are LGBT, and are reading this, know that you are not alone up there, for there’s now a safe, supportive place who will make you feel welcome, no matter which letter of the spectrum you identify as.