TREASURE COAST – Does anyone remember ‘Cheers’? Not the television show so much, because that would mean dating ourselves, but the place where “everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came”?

Depending on where one lives, finding such a place that welcomes LGBTQ+ people and their allies can be challenging, scary even, and downright discouraging. Some places are blatant about not wanting “that kind” in their establishments. Others are more subtle, making a person feel uncomfortable or unsafe until they are “vibed out”, and forced to leave for their own protection.

It may be difficult to grasp that that is still very much the situation in so many places across America, even in this 21st century. It may be even harder to grasp that that has been the situation right here on the Treasure Coast for a very long time. With no particular bar, or club, or community center to gather in, the LGBTQ+ community on the Treasure Coast is fractured, with people living in isolation, separated from others who are like them, who share their life experiences, who understand the struggle of “being us.”

That’s the situation Jonothan Rix discovered when he moved here recently from Bloomington, Indiana- “a tiny blue dot in a sea of red.” Unlike other parts of Indiana, Bloomington had a reputation for always being “good trouble.” There were lots of established outlets and resources for LGBTQ+ people and their families, places where they could feel safe and accepted, and not merely tolerated.

The Treasure Coast offered nothing even remotely close, so Mr. Rix decided he would just have to do something about it.

Enter The Sanctuary of the Treasure Coast, a local nonprofit (status pending) that aims to serve the LGBTQ+ community as “a hub, a safe harbor, a place to be themselves, to be inspired, to engage with others, and to establish a consistent presence in the local community.”

Mr. Rix, along with a seven-member Board, have built the Sanctuary organization from the ground up. They initially encountered some naysayers telling them “don’t bother, it’s been tried before and didn’t work”, and lots of pushback from folks concerned about “that sort of thing” moving into their neighborhood.

But talking with Mr. Rix, and fellow Board member Kevin Hodges, it becomes quickly evident that it will take a whole lot more than some naysayers and pushback to dissuade them from their goals. “Pushback just means we’re doing our job right,” explains Mr. Rix.

This has been no easy task though, and an amazing amount of energy has already been poured into making this vision a reality. Mr. Rix has spent a good deal of his ‘down time’ (recovering from a recent revision of a previous cancer surgery) networking, establishing resources, performing outreach, connecting with other community service agencies, and building membership largely via social media., but also through word-of-mouth. A friend tells a friend who tells another, and at last count there were already 316 members. That’s quite a feat for a project that just got off the ground about six weeks ago.

An office space has been generously donated, and an activities center is still being sought.

The first official fundraiser happened last week, featuring a Drag Show and Lip Sync Battle, which was very well attended. Many other fundraising events are planned for the summer and beyond. All are welcome, and donations are suggested but not required. Some of these events include picnic potlucks, youth hangouts with swimming fun for the young folks, an HIV/PrEP support group, an Eat & Greet at a local restaurant, even a Sunset Beach Yoga event.

Funds raised go toward addressing the needs of the LGBTQ+ community, including social, spiritual, and mental health, as well as special focus on the needs of LGBTQ+ youth in the community.

When asked about the importance of such a project, and the impetus for getting involved, Mr. Hodges stated that he felt a personal responsibility to do what he could do. “So many people need help,” he said, “and I can be that help.”

Mr. Rix said that in 10-20 years’ time, he would like to see people taking advantage of all the resources he and Mr. Hodges and the others are working to establish, and that they might discover a sense of community right here on the Treasure Coast, without having to leave for more LGBTQ+ friendly places, like Tampa or Miami. He hopes the Sanctuary will be a presence in the community, welcoming to all people, for many years to come.

Mr. Rix and Mr. Hodges would also like to gratefully acknowledge the generosity and support that The Sanctuary has already received from the Treasure Coast Community.

To find out more about The Sanctuary of the Treasure Coast, their upcoming events, how to become a member, or where to send donations, please visit their website at - http://www.sanctuaryoftreasurecoast.org/, or like and follow them on Facebook at - https://www.facebook.com/groups/thesanctuaryofthetreasurecoast.

You may also reach them by email at -  thesanctuaryofthetreasurecoast@gmail.com.

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