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Waco: Gay rights leaders envision greater resources, space for LGBTQ+ community

Published: Oct. 22, 2020 at 2:23 AM CDT|Updated: Oct. 22, 2020 at 10:58 AM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Inspired by a recent survey, the Waco Pride Network says the city’s LGBTQ+ community needs more support, resources and committed space.

“Being gay in Waco, there is still a stigma,” said Jeffrey Vitarius, Waco Pride Network board member and treasurer. “There is still a feeling of separateness.”

Since becoming a non-profit in 2018, WPN has tried to combat that feeling with inclusive events like “Out on the Brazos,” however, they had to cancel it this year due to COVID-19.

Still, Vitarius says, something good came out of it.

“That triggered some introspection on the part of our board towards what is it the community really needs and is asking for," said Vitarius.

It kicked-off a month-and-a-half-long process of gathering public input on what’s missing for the city’s LGBTQ+ community, the results of which were released this week.

The common theme in responses? Community.

“We took all the words, and we just kind of looked at which words came out a lot, and three jumped out at us and that was ‘Waco needs community,’" said Vitarius.

Vision 2025 outlines the desires and dreams of Waco’s LGBTQ+ community, through WPN, over the next five years.

“It was great to get the feedback we did in this process," said Vitarius. “Waco needs community resources, Waco needs community spaces, Waco needs community support.”

Several years ago, Waco’s primary gay nightclub shutdown..

Vitarius says it’s become painfully obvious that Waco needs more safe spaces for the LGBTQ+population.

“There are bars where LGBTQplus folks are welcome, but there is a loss of what we call committed space, a space that’s specifically there for the LGBTQ+community," said Vitarius. “There needs to be a physical space somewhere in Waco for this community to gather and that is reserved for its exclusive use.”

Until they get a dedicated space like a community center, Vitarius says, other than donations and volunteering, there’s ways in which the public can help.

“My first piece of advice is for places that are welcoming and affirming: please just make it known, put it out there, let the folks know," said Vitarius. “For places that aren’t necessarily welcoming and affirming, we just ask that they thoughtfully think about that, and think about why.”

Next, Vitarius says they’ll be working on a strategic plan to address the needs outlined in Vision 2025 and try to make them a reality for Waco.

“A big ‘thank you’ to Waco’s LGBTQ+ community and allies,” he said. “It’s exciting to see what Waco could be in five-years and what we can do to pursue that vision.”

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