By Janeece Woodson, Staff Writer
Pride St. Louis, an LGBTQIA+ organization that has served the St. Louis area since 1979, introduced a new resource for the community on January 8. The board members and volunteers of PrideSTL maintain the PrideCenter, a space for trainings, meetings, and connecting. One of the most valuable components of the PrideCenter, however, is the substantial library it offers.
Wolf Smith, director of organizational development, has been with PrideSTL for six years. Ze remarked about the Center, “Typically, when people come here, they’re looking for something.” As PrideSTL has primarily focused on the social aspect of the LGBTQIA+ community, the Center has been designed as a resource for members of the public who seek information, knowledge, emotional support, and more. The Center’s library ranges from gay and lesbian fiction novels and poetry to books concerning critical race theory, the history of sociopolitical movements, and gender identity. Each book chosen is meant to entertain, instruct, or both. Because the library is centered upon human experience, including art, health, law, history, and philosophy, the range of categories is vast. The extensive selection of books is primarily cared for by the official librarian and UMSL student Zachary Lee, senior, English. “We currently have over 2,000 books in our collection, with many more donations still to be entered,” Lee said. “I believe that this library can provide the resources others need to understand, accept, and affirm the variety and diversity of people in our community at large.”
The center offers hang-out areas, a business center, and meeting spaces for classes related to community issues. Several computers, donated by Ameren, are available for guests to access the Internet for personal or professional use. Some of the free classes offered at the Center as needed are concerned with gender identity and queer meditation. Smith and zir colleague, Landon Brownfield, secretary of the PrideSTL board, also plan to lead a course on the meaning of Queerness. Many of the courses reflect the subject matter of the books available in the library, including an intersectional approach to race, religion, nationality, gender identity, and sexuality. “We’re very intentional about making sure that being gay is not the only issue being addressed,” Brownfield said. “We also completely recognize that each person has a unique struggle.”
Several courses and meetings are open to the public through the Center. The Metro Trans Umbrella Group utilizes the space on Wednesdays, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. The PrideCenter also offers special events, such as their Teachable Tuesday meetings, which focus on explaining different aspects of the LGBTQIA+ experience; the next Teachable Tuesday will focus on the Intersex community on February 21 from 7 p.m to 9 p.m. Smith emphasized the need for local organizations to be aware of the PrideCenter’s offerings, as well as the opportunity to use the space and resources available, adding, “We are here to provide a safer space for people in the community to be their authentic self.” Any organizations or small groups are asked to reach out to PrideSTL in order to take advantage of the meeting spaces.
As the PrideCenter is a new resource, its services for the community are still growing. The PrideSTL board hopes to provide free in-house counseling for visitors, and are always looking for qualified volunteers. The catalog of classes offered continues to expand as students and professionals alike reach out to the PrideCenter to offer their assistance. For example, Smith and another volunteer have begun to plan a self-defense course. Smith has advocated for victims of sexual and domestic violence for nearly five years, beginning with zir years as a gender studies student.
Smith and Brownfield, alumni of Washington University in St. Louis and St. Louis University respectively, hope to see an inter-college alliance use the Center as a meeting place; they expressed the need for an LGBTQIA+ organization of college students that would not be contained within a particular school and would form a more inclusive community in the metropolitan area.
Because the PrideCenter is maintained by volunteers, not paid staff, both Smith and Brownfield encourage interested members of the community to take part. “When you’re helping others, you’re actually helping yourself,” said Smith. Ze specified that volunteers would mostly be needed on weekdays before 5 p.m. Interested individuals can visit volunteer.prideSTL.org, or email an application to center@prideSTL.org. Volunteers are necessary to keep the Center free and open to the public. As Smith and Brownfield reiterate to each visitor of the PrideCenter, everyone is always welcome to pick up a good book.
The PrideCenter is open weekly from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m., Wednesday to Sunday, at 3738 Chouteau Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63110.