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West Texas Welcomes Its First Permanent LGBTQ+ Community Center

Patty Reeves stood at the forefront of a park, surveying a gathering of West Texas’ LGBTQ+ community. Groups of families and friends dotted the scene, while members of a local church sat in the front rows on lawn chairs.

The atmosphere at the fifth annual pride festival in West Texas had taken on a somber tone following a recent tragedy. Luna Harris, a 19-year-old gender-nonconforming individual, had tragically taken their own life just two days prior.

As a warm gust carried dust through the park, Reeves began her address.

“What I see here in West Texas is a community that declares, ‘We are here. We are thriving. You cannot erase us,’” she proclaimed.

Like many present that day, Reeves, president of PFLAG’s Midland and Odessa chapter, desperately wanted to believe her own words. But in that moment, doubt crept in.

“I said those words because that’s what I hope for,” Reeves admitted offstage. “But right now, I’m not sure.”

The recent loss cast a shadow over what was meant to be a celebratory culmination of a busy week, including the opening of a permanent community center for the LGBTQ+ community in the region.

The center’s grand opening had been a four-year journey. It began when Bryan and Clint Wilson relocated to Midland from Florida in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. The couple, previously involved in LGBTQ+ nonprofits in Florida, established Pride Center West Texas as a nonprofit with plans to open a physical center once they settled. By that summer, the first center was operational on the third floor of a downtown Odessa building, offering conference rooms and group spaces.

Over time, the center relocated due to expanding needs, moving downtown next to a bank in 2021 and subsequently to a church in 2023, before finding its current home in a strip mall earlier this year. Despite these challenges, the Wilsons, alongside volunteers and the center’s board, persevered, hosting events and group sessions throughout.

The center now features a welcoming environment with desks, a cozy seating area, and a collection of books. It offers various programs, including youth groups and support sessions, and serves as a hub for other local LGBTQ+ organizations.

For Reeves, the Pride Center became a lifeline when she and her husband moved to Midland in 2020, seeking resources for their transgender teenager. The Wilsons helped connect them to the local support network, and Reeves eventually became president of PFLAG in 2021.

“Discovering the Pride Center was a game changer for us,” Reeves reflected. “I came here as a parent, uncertain of where to turn.”

Supporting community centers like this one is a priority for the Texas Pride Impact Fund, which has granted over $2 million to LGBTQ+ organizations across the state since 2018. The fund’s executive director, Ron Guillard, noted the challenges faced by rural centers like Pride Center West Texas, which operate with limited resources but are crucial for fostering community cohesion.

“Rural LGBTQ+ centers often do more with less,” Guillard observed. “They build networks and pool resources, creating a collective impact greater than the sum of their parts.”

Despite these efforts, the broader Texas legislative landscape poses significant challenges. Recent years have seen a barrage of bills targeting LGBTQ+ rights, impacting daily life and eroding hard-won protections.

In West Texas, local LGBTQ+ organizations such as PFLAG, Out West Texas, and Basin Pride have emerged in response. These groups navigate not only community-building but also resistance and occasional hostility, exemplified by a recent incident involving a proposed family-friendly event that faced organized protests and logistical challenges.

In the face of adversity, the community remains resilient, finding support even in unexpected places. Events like bingo nights at the Odessa Veterans of Foreign Wars hall, which now support the Pride Center, underscore the growing acceptance and solidarity within the broader community.

The journey continues for advocates like the Wilsons, Reeves, and others, driven by a commitment to inclusivity and support for all.

“Despite the setbacks, we press on,” Clint Wilson affirmed. “We must continue to expand our reach and improve our services, especially in the wake of recent tragedies.”

In honoring Harris’ memory and the resilience of the LGBTQ+ community, they forge ahead, determined to build a brighter future for all West Texans.

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