Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the Flathead Valley have a new place to hang out. In June, the Flathead Valley Gay Community Center opened in downtown Kalispell, offering referral services and information on LGBT-friendly businesses, churches and health care providers. The new office also hosts game nights, movies and conversation circles. Perhaps most importantly, the center is a place to make new friends.
It's meant to "give people a place to meet, to find out what's going on in the community, find out where to go, find out where is safe," says Dee Boyce, president of the Flathead Valley Gay Alliance, which opened the Flathead Valley center in June.
It's the second of its kind in the state. Missoula's Western Montana Community Center, also dedicated to helping LGBT people access resources and build community, opened in 1999.
The new Flathead Valley center highlights a slow shift in northwestern Montana as LGBT people become more visible. "We have had a functioning community for over 20 years," says Boyce, who moved to the Flathead from Boise in 1989. "But it's been a very closeted community."
That started to change about five years ago. In 2008, Kalispell hosted its first gay pride parade. That same year, Whitefish High School students launched a gay-straight alliance. In 2011, FVGA, along with Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, started sponsoring the annual "alternative prom" for Flathead Valley high school students. Similarly, the Flathead Valley Alliance formally changed its name last year to the Flathead Valley Gay Alliance. "We got to the point, it was like, okay, 'It's okay to say who we are,'" Boyce says. "So, somebody coming into the valley would know where to find us."
The community center is open for drop-in traffic almost every Friday night and on weekday afternoons. While the focus is on making the LGBT community more cohesive, FVGA Secretary Roger Blair says the center is open to everyone. "We want us to be a part of the community."