As we head to Memphis (half-way through the #30Friends30Days tour) we reached out to MGLCC to find out more about the organization's ideals and ongoing outreach in this political year. Have a listen to our chat with Memphians Audrey May and Elokin CaPece.
LF - Thanks so much for the invitation to join the group on Wednesday evening to talk about indie publishing and the Mata Morrow Lesbian Mystery series. It seems like everyone I know from Memphis is familiar with Meristem. Can you give me some background on the group…how it began, number of readers, and so on?
AM - Meristem Book Club is named for the lesbian feminist bookstore I co-owned in Memphis from 1990 to 1998. It was a wonderful gathering place "for women and their friends." About five years ago, MGLCC had been doing more intentional outreach to women and more women's programming. I became involved at the Center and saw doing a women's book club as a way I could contribute to making more "women's space". The group has changed and evolved, but our focus is still the same -- to be a space for all women (however defined, cis-or trans, etc.) to come together to support one another and our experiences through talking about books by women and LGBT writers.
About twice a year, we bring in titles we'd like to consider and vote on the ones we want to read in the coming months, We read in a variety of genres -- fiction, nonfiction, mystery, fantasy, biography/autobiography, etc, We rotate leadership in the group so each month someone different facilitates the discussion.. And we don't always agree -- some of our best discussions are when group members express differences of opinion or experience. Occasionally we have gone on outings -- to a poetry reading, play or book-related film. For the past three years, the group has been a partial sponsor of one of the "women's films" at OUTflix, MGLCC's annual LGBT film festival. But mainly, we are book-lovers who love to schmooze about women and books.
LF - To what do you attribute the success of the group? What’s the connection between the group and the Community Center?
AM - The growing diversity -- and hence, shifting perspectives -- of the group is what's most interesting to me. We try to find books that have some common ground (i.e., growing up in the South) to explore in depth or that delve into a new topic we'd like to know more about. Some of my favorite books have been titles or topics I would not have picked to read otherwise. Some of the members are women who have been friends for 30 years; others just met when they came in the door and sat down. The group is one of the "social groups" of the Center. We are a peer-led group but can ask for assistance from Center staff if we need it.
LF - And what’s on the slate for the upcoming year? What kind of outreach is the Center currently working on? From what I’ve read, there has been good work being done in a number of quarters. What projects are you most excited about?
AM - Wow -- there is sooooo much going on at MGLCC. I used to refer to us as "the little Center that could" but we may be about to outgrow that description. We now have six staff members (amazing!) who work out of our tiny bungalow in Cooper-Young in Midtown Memphis -- and we have numerous volunteers who support and help lead the groups and programs that function out of the Center. Some significant things that have happened in the past year:
* Development of our innovative Metamorphosis plan to house homeless LGBT young adults
* Expanding Transgender programs and services
* Development of a Multicultural Advisory Committee to help guide us in serving a diverse community
* Development of a Senior Services Committee to develop programs for LGBT seniors
* Significant growth in grant funding, from both local and national sources
* Significant community partnerships, such as one with a local hospital which supports us in doing sex education, anti-bullying work and education about LGBT youth issues in the public schools
EC - That's right. To Audrey's note, MGLCC is expanding so fast that it is hard to bullet out all of the new programming, social events, and services we offer. The best way to take all that in is to check out the 31 Days of MGLCC campaign where we try to touch on a little bit of everything MGLCC does.
AM - MGLCC serves a diverse community with a radius of about 250 miles throughout the Mid-South. Our mission is to empower, connect, education and advocate for the LGBT community of the Mid-South. For some of the folks coming to us from rural west TN, north MS or east AR, we may be the only in-person LGBT-affirming support or resource available.
Our vision is that LGBT people live in a world where everyone has equal rights, and is safe, respected and celebrated. In the still-deeply conservative South, making that vision a reality is still challenging -- and we know that the safe space, services and programs we provide at the Center are sometimes literally life-saving. We also know that the times they are a'changin', and MGLCC plays a crucial role in continuing to help steer our community toward that vision of equality and celebration of our rainbow nation.
So, that's why our little book club matters. I believe through valuing our lives and reading and talking about them, we are helping change the world.
LF - So looking forward to seeing the whole Meristem crew on Wednesday night at 7. Until then!