Naming a Community Center 

For a Community Without a Single Name

It's one thing to declare how you identify: gay, straight, lesbian, bi, trans, fluid. It's another thing to name a community center for all of those definitions, and more. We've been going around this issue at Q Center, Portland's LGBTQ community center, for the past year.

Here's a community in which many of us shun labels. We don't want to be labeled, and often it's from labeling by others that we have to protect ourselves. It's gotten to be that every time a politician uses the word "homosexual," I know exactly what side of the fence he is on: "homosexual" is conservative right, "gay and lesbian" is liberal left.

But back to Q Center. We're not a political organization, and we're not a community center without a purpose. Four years ago, we conducted surveys with 1,600 individuals and 30 LGBTQ organizations, to see if you even wanted a community center. The answer was a resounding yes. And you wanted a visible symbol, a place to connect.

At one point, a working name—Q Center—stuck, and it was carried forward until we could really delve into the topic. And believe me, we have. Over this past year, we've involved the board and asked our members and community what you thought about our name and potential taglines. We've identified our promise, values, and what we stand for. We've solidified our mission. But we'd always end up with, "How do you name a community center for a community who disagrees on its name?"

The alphabet soup answer—LGBTQQI ad infinitum—prompts many different responses, mostly negative, from a broad array of people. It's not inclusive to many, and it's too inclusive to others. A lot of people make fun of it—especially people we don't call friends. But how do we claim visibility if we don't say in our name who we're for?

The answer, we've found, is to use the most unique letter in the alphabet, Q, and let people define it as they see fit: questioning, queer, quick, quiver. There isn't a name that succinctly encompasses our community. And we all define differently. Our language doesn't offer a word, but allowing us to claim it ourselves, well, that's a little different, and a lot more empowering. Our tagline offers the ability to clarify who we are and what we're about: Connecting the spectrum of Portland's LGBTQ community. In case there's any confusion about who we are regarding our name, you can always look to our tagline.

The tough thing about finalizing our name and tagline is knowing there are people who won't like it. It's not them, they'll say. But we think it's more "you" when you define it. And we all define differently. As our community grows and different forms of self-identification grow, I hope we're able to develop language that is open to our growing community. Until then, we have the hottest letter of the alphabet, that sexy, odd Q.

Q Center, connecting the spectrum of Portland's LGBTQ community, is located at 69 SE Taylor, at Water Ave., 234-7837, pdxqcenter.org

LeAnn Locher is a branding, communication, and graphic design consultant, and is on the Q Center board of directors.

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