By Jesse Case, Albemarle HS (Charlottesville, Virginia)
A rainbow flag, as wide as I am tall, whips back and forth in the South Carolina wind.
I’m greeted from the porch with a loose smile and a firm handshake.
Framed photos line the walls, some signed by famous drag queens or queer celebrities. Sitting just beyond the front door is a picture of Harriet Hancock posing with President Barack Obama.
It’s a home-like building, complete with a snack-filled kitchen, worn leather sofas and a condom dispenser at the door.
I feel as if I’ve found a hidden sanctuary and a second home.
The Harriet Hancock LGBT Center was founded in 1982 by Harriet Hancock shortly after her gay son came out of the closet.
South Carolina was yet to have its first pride march, seven years later, also organized by Hancock.
Thousands would take over the capitol building tied to rainbow balloons and toting hand-made signs in 1989.
Thousands would feel free for the first time with the help of Hancock.
Currently, the center is making efforts to support the community in this time of fear and anger after the shooting in Orlando. The attack on Pulse, a gay night club, caused the death of 49 people and another 53 injured.
Dr. Laura C. Hein, member of the advisory board at the center, said her first reaction to the news of the shooting was one of anger.
“Anger that somebody would come into a place of safety for our community.” Hein said. “A lot of allies don’t understand that because they have it in their churches, they have it in their homes, they have it walking down the street.”
On June 18, the center sponsored a rally and protest for the victims of Orlando. 58 protesters laid across the statehouse steps to represent victims of mass shootings, dressed in rainbow t-shirts.
49 for those in Orlando, another 9 for those lost just over a year ago at the Mother Emmanuel Church on June 17, 2015.
Guest speakers, including the aunt of a victim of the Orlando shooting, stood and spoke before hundreds of ralliers. As they gave short speeches about gun legislation, racism and homophobia, a petition was passed from person to person to increase FBI background checks and to further restrict gun rights in South Carolina.
The names of victims were read aloud and the protestors on the stairs fell to the rythm of the names towards the end of the rally. Post cards were given out to ask local legislators for stricter gun laws.
The crowd slowly dissolved in the midday sun, some staying behind to help with the cleanup effort.
Today, the center hosts youth support groups, queer proms, potlucks and festivals for the Columbia community, serving as a primary resource for queer USC students.
The center hosts a bimonthly support group titled “Youth Outloud” in which teenagers discuss the community and themselves in an effort to build leadership skills.
Along with Youth Outloud, the center hosts a weekly transgender support meeting every Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., organized by Dayna Smith and Ivan Munn.
Now 34 years old, the center continues to serve and support the Columbia LGBT community with Harriet Hancock still waving a rainbow flag on its porch.