La Crosse’s LGBT resource center has a new home, a new name and a renewed commitment to serving the area’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
The Center, 7 Rivers LGBTQ Connection — formerly the 7 Rivers LGBT Resource Center — moved from its space at 309 Pearl St. to 230 S. Sixth St. this month. Community members are invited to an open house at the new location on from 6 to 8 p.m. today.
The move coincides with the nonprofit’s 10th anniversary as well as a major rebranding effort aimed at boosting the center’s visibility as a leader in sexual orientation and gender identity issues and promoting its mission of providing a safe, welcoming place for LGBTQ members to connect.
“This is a professional setting that allows us to be more diverse in what we can offer our members,” said Jackson Jantzen, the Center’s executive director. “We want to let people know we’re here as an organization to serve.”
The new location provides a larger location for group meetings, greater visibility for signage in the downtown area as well as increased privacy for members who may be struggling with gender identity and have not yet come out, Jantzen said.
The Center hosts a number of programs and initiatives that include a support group for LGBTQ youth, cultural competency training for caregivers of LGBTQ elders, a gay-friendly professional networking group and community outreach in local schools, health providers and businesses. It also organizes community events like La Crosse Pride, which will be Sept. 12-14.
One of the most prominent gay resource organizations in western Wisconsin, the Center faced financial difficulties in 2012, laying off full-time director Roseanne St. Sauver. Board members took time to reorganize, and Jantzen took over in March of 2013.
“I was amazed (the board members and volunteers) were able to keep the doors open,” Jantzen said of the transition. His goal is to provide stability to the organization and extend the Center’s financial and programmatic vision into the next five years.
Besides a new name and tagline, the rebranding includes a revamped website, a new logo and plans for billboard advertisements and radio spots, said Kathy Van Kirk-Przywojski of Vendi Advertising. A longtime corporate sponsor of the Center, Vendi did the work pro bono as a part of their Vendi Share program.
“We saw the need for how an elevated brand identity could really help (the Center) with awareness and perception,” said Van Kirk-Przywojski, whose daughter benefitted from attending the LGBT youth group in high school. “Hopefully this will help people understand how the Center benefits the community.”
Trempealeau resident Chris Olson was a founding member of the 7 Rivers LGBT Resource Center when it opened in 2004, but her first experience with LGBT support groups was more than 30 years ago in Anchorage, Alaska.
“It wasn’t easy for anybody to be out then,” Olson said, recalling the Anchorage LGBT center’s understated, almost secretive location in the back of an unlabeled building. She credits that center and the support she received there for saving her life.
For La Crosse to have a prominent, active and visible center in the heart of its downtown sends a welcoming message to the LGBT community and its allies.
“I think every community needs an LGBT center,” she said. “I think it’s important that its presence is made known for every kind of conceivable group it could help.”