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Bend's leading LGBTQ organization falls on tough times

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There is no doubting the need for organizations like Bend's Human Dignity Coalition.

Jadin Bell, a gay teenager from La Grande, died Sunday after he was taken off life support. The 15-year-old was hospitalized after he attempted to hang himself on Jan. 19.

Bell was a victim of bullying. Sadly, such torture is commonplace. But groups such as HDC that provide resources to youth like Bell are often underfunded and understaffed.

HDC, Bend's leading advocacy group for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer community is no different. Last week, HDC board members felt forced to remove their executive director due to financial constraints. All but two board members have since resigned. It's no understatement to say the future of the organization hangs in the balance.

"It's really a shame," said Melissa Adams Gianoplus, who was HDC's most recent executive director. "Our LGBQ community is underserved as it is."

The two remaining board members, Megan Stackhouse and Kirsten Winters, are unsure how HDC will proceed. For now, the organization is not closing, though its website is down and calls to the office have gone unanswered. Staff members have been out of the office for a week now, according to Yaju Dharmarajah, an organizer at the Central Oregon Social Justice Center, the building that houses HDC.

"Due to a lack of funding HDC is being forced to undergo some major restructuring," Stackhouse wrote in Facebook message to the Source. "At this point we are hoping to transition the organization, but it is going to involve making some very tough cuts, including the need to turn into a volunteer run organization without paid staff. As of now HDC has not officially closed, but that is a potential outcome of our current crisis."

Like most small nonprofits, HDC has for years struggled to secure funding. The last couple of years have been especially tough, said Adams Gianoplus, who cited a down economy as a reason.

"When I took the job I didn't know what kind of state it was in," Adams Gianoplus said. "I just knew it wasn't in a good state. It's not any one person's fault, just a culmination of factors."

Cliff Cook, who had been an HDC board member for nearly 10 years and is an organizer for Stars and Rainbows, a local LGBT advocacy and meetup group, said he was saddened by the news, but not surprised.

"Maybe they were spreading themselves too thin with the programs [HDC was offering]," Cook said. "I happen to be a gay man, and I think that HDC is an organization that needs to be exclusively LGBTQ."

The straw that perhaps broke the camel's back came earlier this winter. HDC lost two grants that it expected to receive from regional nonprofits: one from Portland's Equity FoundationMcKenzie River Gathering Foundation and one from Seattle's Pride Foundation.

Cook said that while he's disheartened by the news coming out of HDC, overall, he's seen conditions improve for Central Oregon's LGBTQ community.

"Bend is a big city now," said Cook. "I came to Bend when it was 35,000 people. I remember when we held luncheons and people were too scared to announce a location."

So, there's hope.

Cook, and others, like Bruce Morris, HDC's former executive director, said that such organizations are too important to fail. Both men are convinced that if HDC were to dissolve another organization would fill the void. Stackhouse and Adams Gianoplus are still working on Bend's ninth annual Gay Pride week, slated for sometime in June. And Cook is expecting to join the gay night outing at Seven on Saturday night—another mini-victory for Central Oregon's LGBTQ community.

"We will be trying to keep supporters up to date once we have more information ourselves," Stackhouse said of HDC's future.

Department of Corrections: In the original version of this story, we incorrectly stated that The Equity Foundation had not provided a grant to HDC in 2012. That is incorrect, the group that did not provide the grant was the McKenzie River Gathering Foundation. We regret the error.

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