Diversity of Rockford reorganizes

Not-for-profit offers HIV prevention, discussion groups and teen programs

Since reorganizing about a year ago, Diversity of Rockford, a not-for-profit gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered organization, has developed a number of programs to make an individual’s post-closet experience easier.

Jim Coulter said the organization helped him realize there were other gay people in Rockford.

“The idea that (Diversity was) here at all gave me a sense of community…belonging,” Coulter said.

He and his partner of more than 20 years, Bryan Latham, have lived in Rockford for three years. Coulter and Latham, of course, increased the number of same-sex couples in Winnebago County cited in the 2000 U.S. Census—470. More than 930 same-sex couples, the Census said, lived within the 16th U.S. Congressional District.

Diversity of Rockford Board President Lance Mitchell said a sharp decrease in support forced Diversity of Rockford to reorganize. He said some volunteers left after burning out with no one stepping in to replace them. And, he said, “You survive on the volunteers.”

Diversity HIV Prevention Specialist Chris Greenwood said lack of funding and overall community support have contributed to the organization’s struggles. Greenwood is an independently-contracted provider funded through a state grant.

“Rockford has always been so conservative,” he said.

Mitchell said the group has offered a number of programs since regrouping, including gay Christian and spirituality discussion groups. He said the organization is pondering a grief counseling group. According to Mitchell, Diversity of Rockford now has about 200 subscribers on its mailing list.

Mitchell said Diversity of Rockford was launched in 1989, though it became more active after the 1993 march on Washington. The march’s platform demanded, among other things, an increase in AIDS research funding and discrimination legislation. Mitchell said the march ignited a renewed passion for the group.

“There were so many gay men and women (in Rockford) that (the march) inspired them to have an organization that could help them,” Mitchell said.

But, after an initial growth in interest following the march, Diversity of Rockford’s visibility slowly dwindled.

“A lot of people don’t know Diversity exists,” Greenwood said.

In addition to discussion groups, Diversity of Rockford services include providing condoms to local gay bars, The Office and Oh! Zone, Greenwood said. He also said the group holds HIV prevention discussions at schools, churches and social organizations. Free and confidential HIV testing is offered the first Monday of the month at the group’s headquarters at 117 S. Third St.

Greenwood also said the organization is partnering with the Winnebago County Health Department, Crusader Clinic, Chicago Southside Help Center and Diverse Communications to target African-American men on the “down low.” These are men who are intimate with both sexes.

Greenwood added Diversity of Rockford and Crusader Clinic are collaborating on the Living With HIV program.

The organization reaches young people, ages 13 through 21, through Diversateen, a social group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered youth and their allies.

Greenwood said school counselors have directed some students to the organization. He also said a number of parents have introduced their children to the organization. Greenwood couldn’t contain his excitement about the chance to offer non-traditional youth support.

“I’m ecstatic,” he said. “When I was growing up, there was no place to go.”

As part of its youth efforts, Diversity of Rockford hosted the fourth annual Gay Prom at Second Congregational Church Saturday, June 3.

Greenwood stressed the group turns no one willing to help—including straight people—away.

“You have to be diverse to let everyone in,” he said.

Mitchell also said he was “glad to have heterosexuals on board.”

Diversity of Rockford has earned recognition from Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey, who in May invited the group to participate in his youth summit.

For more information, contact Diversity of Rockford, 117 S. Third St., Rockford, visit www.diversityrockford.org or call 964-2639.

From the June 14-20, 2006, issue

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