There are many non-profit organizations in the Orlando area that positively impact the LGBT community. Whether they work with youth or adults, businesses or people, these organizations improve life in Central Florida and definitely deserve the recognition they receive. Here are brief summaries of five organizations, how they began, and the work they do for all of us today.
The Metropolitan Business Association of Orlando (MBA Orlando) is the LGBT chamber of commerce for the Orlando metropolitan area. The organization was first started in 1992 and has since grown to boast over 300 active business members as well as a list of corporate partners that numbers over two dozen. MBA Orlando is an affiliate of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC).
MBA Orlando organizes many events throughout the year. These events include meetings for the Referral Exchange Development Group (RED Group), which is an initiative that helps LGBT-owned and allied small businesses grow; the monthly MBA small business development speaker series; monthly networking mixers; quarterly luncheons with esteemed guest speakers; and the annual Pride in Business Awards, recognizing the best LGBT and allied businesses and businesspeople in the Orlando area; Hotspots Media Group was honored to have been nominated for two Pride in Business Awards in 2014.
The MBA Orlando family of organizations includes the aforementioned RED Group and Pride in Business Awards, as well as The Wedding Alliance, Come Out with Pride Orlando and Converge Orlando. The Wedding Alliance is a network that provides resources and other assistance to the community as people plan their weddings. The Wedding Alliance also advocates for marriage equality from social and economic standpoints, and hopes equality will happen soon here in Florida. Come Out with Pride Orlando is Orlando’s week-long LGBT pride celebration, which has grown over the past ten years to become the largest such celebration in the state. Converge Orlando is the city’s LGBT convention and visitors bureau. They are the group behind organizing and promoting the first annual Family Outfest, which is geared toward gay families and will be held the first week in July. Learn more about MBA Orlando and its family of organizations by going to mbaorlando.org.
The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center of Central Florida, better known as simply The Center, is the oldest continuous LGBT service organization in the state. It started as a gay men’s crisis hotline in 1978 before it added other services and support for the gay male community in Orlando; the organization then expanded to serve the rest of the LGBT community, and has been incorporated since 1981.
The main location, located on Mills Avenue in Orlando, is staffed almost completely by volunteers; there are only two paid employees: one full-time and one part-time. The location is run very smoothly and accommodates on average approximately 1300 people per month. Over 25 different support and social groups meet at The Center each month, and the building also boasts a LGBT-themed lending library with over 3000 books, as well as an art gallery. Only a dozen LGBT community centers in the United States can say they host an art collection.
The Center organizes many events, such as a monthly bingo night with proceeds benefiting the organization. Other notable events include the Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast, which honors community leaders and is held each May; and the Black and White Gala, a benefit which is held every October. For more information on The Center, visit thecenterorlando.org.
HOPE AND HELP CENTER
The Hope and Help Center of Central Florida was founded in 1988 and is the largest HIV/AIDS service and advocacy organization in the Orlando metropolitan area, serving people in Orange, Seminole, Osceola and Lake Counties. Hope and Help offers a wide variety of services for people affected by HIV/AIDS as well as education initiatives that seek to prevent people from contracting HIV.
The services that Hope and Help offers include medical, Medicaid and non-medical case management, peer mentoring, mobile testing units, youth education, HIV prevention courses and a food pantry for people who need it. If you have questions regarding Hope and Help’s treatment and care outreach, call (407) 645-2577, extension 109, or visit hopeandhelp.org. The main office is located at 1935 Woodcrest Drive in Winter Park. There is also a location on Colonial Drive, and a peer mentoring center on Colonial Street, in addition to satellite locations in Kissimmee, Sanford, and at the Orange County Health Department.
One notable event that benefits the Hope and Help Center is the AIDS Walk Orlando, which is held at the end of March, and has been an important event on the Orlando social advocacy calendar for nearly 20 years. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are raised every year to help with the center’s upkeep and to aid in funding its many programs. The Headdress Ball, celebrating 25 years this year, is another notable fundraising event for Hope and Help. Billed as “Orlando’s Most Outrageous Charity Gala,” this black-tie event is the largest yearly event benefiting the organization, and this year it will be held on September 20. For more information, visit headdressball.org.
The Zebra Coalition is the only organization in Central Florida that provides an entire list of services to what they call homeless “LGBT+ youth.” LGBT+ youth means that while the LGBT community is a focus, they care about the welfare of all youth, and nobody will be turned away if they need help finding temporary, and eventually permanent, housing. Their services include a youth crisis hotline, groups and workshops, food and clothing, medical resources, mental health counseling, continuing education, and aftercare.
The Zebra Coalition is just four years old, but it has succeeded in helping a segment of the population that needed to be served. A year and a half ago, the Zebra Coalition was proud as they dedicated the Zebra Coalition House, located on Mills Avenue in Orlando. If LGBT+ youth need any help at all, including but not limited to housing, all they need to do is drop in at this house and someone will help them make arrangements.
There are various events that benefit the Zebra Coalition each year. These events are social in nature and are organized by the community with the proceeds donated to the Zebra Coalition afterwards. The next such event is Dine Out, presented by Girls in Wonderland, which will be held at Citrus Restaurant at 821 N. Orange Avenue on the evening of Thursday, June 5. For more information, visit zebrayouth.org.
ORLANDO YOUTH ALLIANCE
The Orlando Youth Alliance (stylized as oya!) is a group that provides a safe space for LGBT and allied youth to talk about issues that are pressing in their lives and to meet other people who are like them. This group specifically serves people between the ages of 13 and 24. The Orlando Youth Alliance was started in 1990 as the “Delta Youth Alliance,” and has served thousands of people across Central Florida in its nearly 25-year existence.
The Orlando Youth Alliance was started back before gay-straight alliances were allowed at secondary schools and at colleges, and the organization still bills itself as “the community gay-straight alliance.” Now that such groups are allowed at schools in Central Florida, the group serves as an opportunity for youth from other schools to meet, and still serves as a gay-straight alliance for the few schools that do not have such a group organized. People who are interested in donating or volunteering their time to the Orlando Youth Alliance can learn more by visiting orlandoyouthalliance.org.
Please “like” all of these outstanding organizations on facebook. You can do so by going to facebook.com/mbaorlando (MBA Orlando); facebook.com/thecenterorlando (The Center); facebook.com/hopeandhelp (Hope and Help Center); facebook.com/zebracoalition (Zebra Coalition); or facebook (Orlando Youth Alliance).