Abdill-Ellis center shuts down
The Abdill-Ellis Lambda Community Center, which has been a support for the Rogue Valley gay and lesbian community for 14 years, is shutting down.
The Abdill-Ellis board decided that the Ashland-based center would close at the annual June meeting. Abdill-Ellis will transfer the remaining assets to the Lotus Rising Project and its non-profit status to the Rogue Valley Gay Men's Chorus.
"We put out a lot of questionnaires to find what people were looking for and didn't get a lot of responses. It seemed like the community center had outlived its purpose," said Kasie Henderson, who was on the Abdill-Ellis board and attended the meeting.
The center nearly closed down in 2004 because of a lack of funding and for the last year the center has not had a physical location. Its main role in the community has become more of a networking source, according to Henderson.
The center was created in memory of Michelle Abdill and Roxanne Ellis, the couple brutally murdered in 1995 by Robert James Acremant.
Fanda Bender and Sheila Gam, who moved to the Rogue Valley in the early '90s, were part of the community that started the center.
"The community was shocked at the murder," Bender said, explaining Abdill and Ellis were well known for standing up for social justice not only in the gay community but for any group of people being hurt.
When the center first opened, it served as a place for connection and community. Gam ran a women's support group through the center.
"Abdill-Ellis was a healing place. It was a place of pride," Bender said.
"I think it was very important at that time in history."
Gam and Bender agree that the center is no longer needed. Both are active in Basic Rights Oregon, a Portland-based group that promotes social change, and are also active in organizing a Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade in Ashland, to be held in October.
The Lotus Rising Project, a non-profit social justice group that is run by youth leadership, will continue the Abdill-Ellis center's outreach to adults in the community.
Delaine Due, an adult founder and volunteer at LRP, was also at the last board meeting of the Abdill-Ellis Center.
"(LRP) was started by youth, but now we want to make a safe space for everybody," Due said.
LRP traditionally has focused on programs and events for youth and families, but the Abdill-Ellis center has asked that the LRP continue support to the adult community in the Rogue Valley.
Due says she sees the "nitty-gritty" of young people struggling with issues of sexual orientation and gender identity all the time.
"I still see kids who have been kicked out of their homes," Due said.
While there is still a need for the support that organizations like Abdill-Ellis provided, the fact that the Ashland center is closing may mean that the community is strong enough to operate on its own.
"Ashland is more of a welcoming community. People feel safer in the Ashland and Talent area," Due said.
"There is a lot that needs to be done in the way of rights," Henderson said.
She would like to see more educational classes for the larger community to have access to.
"We're evolving — it's not just that the center is closing — it's that we are evolving and involved in different ways," Bender said.
Reach reporter Johanna Thompson at 541-482-3456, ext. 225.