A Story of Community
1970s-1990: The Early Years
The roots of Wingspan go back to the late 1970s, when local community members offered their homes on a rotating basis for a weekly youth support group. As the numbers attending these meetings grew, and the need to establish additional groups arose, leaders of this informal group and other community members saw the need for a dedicated Center.
On February 7, 1988, 50 people met at the Unitarian Universalist Church on 22nd Street to form a “Lesbian and Gay Resource Center.” They envisioned a space where meetings could be held on a regular basis, a lending library could be available, and an Info Line telephone service could be established to share community information.
Wayne Blankenship suggested the name “Wingspan,” and the group agreed. As Amy Funghi wrote in Wingspan’s first newsletter, UpFront, “The word Wingspan… represents the enfolding of wings around us, cradling us in our struggle for survival. It expresses our desire for freedom; the freedom symbolized by a bird in flight. And it represents the spreading of our own wings, as each of us reach beyond our limits.”
Through an affiliation with the Southwest Alternatives Institute, Wingspan successfully applied for nonprofit 501(c)(3) status. We received a grant from the Chicago Resource Center to rent a small space in the Pima County/Tucson Women’s Commission Offices. The original Court Street office was cramped and windowless, but the members of the Tucson Women’s Commission were good roommates, and Wingspan’s low-key presence in the community fit its needs perfectly.
During this time, Wingspan offered weekly youth support groups and coming-out meetings. The library, info line, newsletter, dances, performances, an art gallery, and political actions were the primary activities of this young, all-volunteer organization.
Around 1990, with grants running out and community priorities turning more toward political action, many Wingspan members redirected their energies toward women’s rights and AIDS activism. While Wingspan as an organization continued to function, the Center lost much of the impetus that had brought it into being.
1991-1995: Growing Pains
In 1991-92, Wingspan searched for new ways to connect with the lesbian and gay community, and a team of concerned community members moved the Center from its Presidio sublet to a slightly more economical and significantly more visible storefront on Tucson’s busy North Fourth Avenue. The rent was almost identical to its previous home, but the space was entirely raw, and over $2,500 in renovations were needed just to make the space livable. All of this came at a time when Wingspan’s bank balance teetered between $2,000 and $700.
During the years 1992 to 1995, defining the Community Center’s role in Tucson gay and lesbian life became a significant priority. New groups now met at the Center; new dances, art exhibits and social events were held; an annual Film Festival was inaugurated; and political action blended (sometimes uneasily) with the day-to-day activities of the Center. Volunteers came and went as each person tried to find their own best “fit” within the Center.
The Wingspan Board, through a series of annual planning meetings, began the task of establishing long-term goals for the organization, goals that were respectful and inclusive of the many diverse members of Tucson’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. The Center became more directed toward service to the community, expanding its hours, expanding the library substantially, and integrating its activities with numerous other community organizations, both LGBT and non-LGBT.
1996-1999: Maturing and a New Space
By early 1996, with more groups using the Center, it was clear that Wingspan would soon outgrow its Fourth Avenue space. In the spring of 1997, the Board made a series of bold decisions aimed to help the Center expand and improve the services that it provided to Southern Arizona’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. The Board signed a lease for office and meeting space at 300 East 6th Street, just around the corner from the Center’s second location on Fourth Avenue.
The new space served as a catalyst for another round of Wingspan’s growth. It was three times larger than its previous location, and offered significant benefits: secure offices, central heating and cooling, and several meeting spaces that allowed the Center can remain open when meetings were held. All of these features added up to a space that permitted Wingspan to expand services and access to a larger portion of our community. We hired our first paid staff member in 1998.
2000-2008: Recent Past
By 2002, Wingspan had a 14-person professional staff in addition to a volunteer staff of over 150 dedicated individuals. The Center was visited and used by more of the community than ever, and new community services and activities were developed. The Wingspan Anti-Violence Programs, founded in 1996 as the Wingspan Anti-Violence Project, soon garnered national recognition, and was honored by the Arizona State Attorney General’s office with its 2000 Distinguished Service Award.
In 2001, Wingspan and Eon created Tucson’s first comprehensive LGBT youth program, which included a youth drop-in lounge, a six-computer CyberCenter, programs in leadership development, after-school tutoring and mentoring, and community outreach. We also continued to hold the weekly support group that dates back to the 1970s.
Under Construction!! Check back soon to read the rest of Wingspan’s vibrant history!
Wingspan began as a dedicated group of caring LGBT people who sought to create a sense of family for Tucson’s community. Today, 23 years later, that spirit remains – and can be seen daily in the faces of the Center’s hardworking volunteers as they answer phone calls, greet new visitors, and lend a hand to our community.
Based on articles by Ken Godat (March 1998) and Joyce Bolinger (March 2002)