The LGBT non-profit organizations in Orlando do so much good work for the thousands of people who are part of the community in Central Florida. In the past few years, we’ve seen many of these organizations grow and prosper. Just this past year alone, a couple of these organizations have seen changes, all to help serve the community even better than they already do. Here’s a spotlight on five different organizations, their histories, and what’s going on with them now.
The Metropolitan Business Association of Orlando (MBA Orlando), the LGBT chamber of commerce for the Orlando metro area, was founded back in 1992. Today, nearly 400 active business members are a part of this organization, which also boasts over three dozen corporate partners. MBA Orlando is an affiliate of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
MBA Orlando’s Referral Exchange Development Group (RED Group) helps both small and large businesses grow by allowing businessowners to come together and network with one another. The networking mixers are organize in hopes that, with all the contacts a businessowner in the RED Group will receive, they can call on their new friends to spread the word about their business, which in turn would more sales and make the community aware of another LGBT-friendly business in the area. MBA Orlando also throws an annual dinner party and fundraiser, the Pride in Business Awards, which recognizes excellence in the LGBT-friendly Orlando business community.
2015 began with MBA Orlando moving their headquarters to a new building on Summerlin Avenue and installing a new president, Nayte Carrick. When we asked him earlier this year why a business should become involved with MBA Orlando, he said, “It can be very difficult to run your own business, not to mention being a minority business owner. It’s nice to know that with our organization and with our members, there are people to turn to for advice, or people who will give you a helping hand when you need it.”
The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center of Central Florida, better known in Central Florida circles as just “The Center,” stakes its claim on being the oldest continuous LGBT service organization in the Sunshine State. First starting as a gay men’s crisis hotline in 1978, the organization has been incorporated as a community center since 1981 and has since expanded to serve all of the Central Florida LGBT community.
Toward the end of 2014, a few changes occurred at The Center. First, Randy Stephens left his post as director and was replaced by Terry DeCarlo, who previously worked for Broward House in South Florida. Second, work began on a renovated community center building, next door to the current one on Mills Avenue in Orlando’s Mills 50 District. Over 1500 people per month visit The Center, with over 500 of those people taking advantage of the free rapid HIV testing that is offered there. The Center is proud to be the largest HIV testing agency in the state of Florida. The Center also offers a lending library and an art gallery, one of only a dozen LGBT community centers in the country that showcases its own art collection.
Popular yearly events that benefit The Center include May’s Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast, which is an awards event that honors people in the community who have made a difference in the LGBT rights movement, and also October’s Black and White Gala, The Center’s primary annual fundraiser, which was held last year at the Orlando Museum of Art and raised nearly $50,000.
HOPE AND HELP CENTER
The Center may boast the largest number of rapid HIV tests in the state of Florida, but it’s the Hope and Help Center of Central Florida that serves all people impacted by HIV and AIDS not just in Orange County but the suburbs as well. Founded in 1988, the Hope and Help Center is an LGBT service organization with a focus on the people dealing with HIV and AIDS. They serve thousands of people each year in Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Lake Counties.
As a full-service HIV/AIDS organization, Hope and Help offers people with medical care, access to Medicaid, non-medical case management, counseling, youth education, mobile HIV testing units, HIV prevention classes, and a food pantry. The main office is located in Winter Park at 1935 Woodcrest Drive. There are also Hope and Help office locations on Colonial Drive in Orlando, as well as in Kissimmee, Sanford, and the Orange County Health Department (located on Central Boulevard in Orlando).
Two big events that raise money to help the organization serve the community are the AIDS Walk Orlando and the Headdress Ball. The Headdress Ball has been around since 1989 and is the largest fundraiser Hope and Help puts on each year. Nicknamed “Orlando’s Most Outrageous Charity Gala,” the Headdress Ball brings together people not just from Orlando, but from all over the state. The AIDS Walk Orlando, traditionally held in late March, is a 3.1-mile walk/run around Downtown Orlando and Eola Heights. People raise money for the walkers who participate in the AIDS Walk, and that money is in turn donated to Hope and Help.
The Zebra Coalition has worked very hard over the last few years to curb the LGBT community’s homelessness problem, especially among the younger generation. The Zebra Coalition is the only organization in Central Florida that offers resources to what they call homeless “LGBT+ youth,” meaning primarily people who are homeless who identify as LGBT, but also other people in need as well. The Zebra Coalition offers food and clothing to homeless youth, as well as groups and workshops, medical resources, mental health counseling, continuing education, job referrals, and aftercare.
Over the last five years, the Zebra Coalition has seen many of their aims become realities, such as working with the City of Orlando and the Orange County School District to offer their resources to youth on a wider level. The opening of the Zebra Coalition House two years ago was also a big help in the organization’s quest to find temporary-to-permanent housing for the young people who so desperately need it.
ORLANDO YOUTH ALLIANCE
The Orlando Youth Alliance (perhaps more recognizable as an acronym in lower case: oya!) is another organization that aims to provide safe spaces for LGBT youth to be themselves, free from judgment and fear.
The organization, originally started as the “Delta Youth Alliance,” celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Started back when there were no gay-straight alliances at secondary or tertiary institutions in Central Florida, the Orlando Youth Alliance offers LGBT youth a chance to mingle with people who go to different schools across the area. There are still a few schools in the Orlando metro area that do not have gay-straight alliances, and those youth are served, de facto, by the Orlando Youth Alliance.
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).