Abdill-Ellis center continues to offer service

By Alan Panebaker,Ashland Daily Tidings
Posted: 2:00 AM November 11, 2006

Stereotypes and challenges may have changed since the opening of the Abdill-Ellis Lambda Community Center on August 9, 1966, but the service is still the same.

More than 10 years after the murders of Michelle Abdill and Roxanne Ellis sparked the opening of a non-profit community center for gay, lesbian, transgender and questioning people, directors of the center said it is a constant struggle to offer necessary services because volunteers and funding can be hard to come by.

“The center seems to have this ebb and flow that goes on,” said Michael Erceg, one of the center’s directors. “It’s evolving and constantly trying to reinvent itself to provide what the community needs.”

A new public relations campaign and events like tonight’s Black and White Ball at the Historic Ashland Armory will spread the word about the center, its directors hope.

The 1995 murders of Abdill and Ellis created an uproar in the community, Erceg said. The two had been partners for 12 years and had worked politically for the rights of homosexuals. They also cared for AIDS patients.

The center began as a place for people to go for advice or someone to talk with. Now, it sits in a quiet corner in the basement of the Historic Ashland Armory. It offers a small library, free HIV testing and other resources for people who need advice or help.

The center is open three hours every weekday. A new board of directors started this summer, and they said the main goal now is to educate people about the gay community and let people know the center is there.

“This year, the emphasis is definitely on community,” Erceg said. “I think if you try to isolate yourself, you’ll never break those barriers down.”

Erceg lived in Southern Oregon in the 1970s. After moving to San Francisco, he returned to the Valley a few years ago and became involved with the center. He said attitudes toward the gay community have shifted in the Rogue Valley.

“Things are changing constantly,” Erceg said. “For example, the use of the word ‘queer’ &

meaning different or strange. In some sense, it’s a term that encompasses all of us.”

He said older people find the term offensive, but for the younger generation it is a descriptive word to describe gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people.

Misconceptions and prejudice are still alive, Erceg noted.

About eight months ago, students from Southern Oregon University were threatened and followed back to their dorm.

After an “Anti-Hate Crime Rally” in August, 2005, Alicia-Lynne Ryland-Nation &

a member of the center’s board of directors &

said she was targeted.

Ryland-Nation had spoken on behalf of the Associated Students of Southern Oregon University about a “hate-free campus.” Students staged the rally in response to a “hate crime” that had occurred in April of that year. Written and verbal threats followed, she said.

More than a year later, Ryland-Nation said homophobia is still an issue for gay students, but places like the Queer Resource Center on campus offer a safe haven and place to discuss problems.

“There’s a lot of bias and subtle homophobic speech toward the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender population,” she said of the atmosphere at SOU.

Ryland-Nation said the center is a hub for the entire region where people can unite. She said it is constantly in need of volunteers.

“The hours aren’t really conducive to people who work,” she said, “but as we market it and people become more familiar with where we’re at, I think it will take off.”

Erceg hopes the center will continue to function as a safe haven because being gay provides a constant struggle for people.

“Coming out is not a process that you do once,” Erceg said. “It’s an ongoing process. You’re not sure how someone’s going to react.”

The Abdill-Ellis Lambda Community Center can be reached by phone at 488-6990 or online at .

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 x 227

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