Rewind: Identity Inc. has big plans for 2016

Mike Easterling
"People have been good to us," said Judy Palier, president of Identity Inc., third from left. Identity Inc. board members on Tuesday stand in front of the building the center has occupied since last January at 218 West Main Street.

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FARMINGTON – It’s been 11 months since the local nonprofit group Identity Inc. opened the doors of its downtown community center at the site that formerly housed Andrea Kristina's Bookstore and Café, and in most ways, the center has exceeded the expectations of its organizers since its grand opening took place on Jan. 31.

But the leaders of Identity Inc. — who created the center as a safe place for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people to gather — understand that momentum will be difficult to maintain in year No. 2 as they try to conquer sizable financial and organizational challenges.

"You have to be able to build the community you want to live in," said Judy Palier, president of Identity Inc., on Tuesday at the center's meeting place on 218 West Main Street.

“I’d have to say we’ve done awesome,” board member James Penrod said Tuesday when asked to evaluate the center’s first year. “We’ve made some significant strides in the community. As far as getting out and making ourselves known, we’ve done quite a few events and had really good attendance. I would have to say we’ve done pretty well.”

Board President Judy Palier echoed Penrod’s assessment, adding that she is especially pleased at the relationships that have been built between Identity officials and the city government, the Farmington Police Department and the Farmington Municipal School District.

“We’ve been getting out into the community and normalizing the idea that there are (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender) people who live here, and they’re just like everybody else,” she said.

Last week, the six members of the Identity board compiled a list of their accomplishments in the center’s first year, and it was a lengthy one. In addition to providing meeting space for a variety of local groups, including Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and teen and young adult LGBT support groups, Identity officials have organized a training session for local police on how to deal with transgender individuals and provided advice for same-sex couples on how to obtain a New Mexico marriage license.

The center also rents meeting space to a local group of progressive Democrats, participates in the quarterly downtown art walks, presents a monthly dinner-and-a-movie night, and plays host to several concerts, fundraisers and private parties each month.

"We all have full-time jobs, and we still spend a significant amount of time here making this place work," said Identity Inc. board member James Penrod, hidden in back. Penrod and fellow board members Kris Woodward, left, and Don Stage gathered for a photo on Tuesday at Identity Inc. 218 West Main St.

Those activities have brought hundreds of people, both gay and straight, through the doors of the community center and helped build trust and understanding among folks on both sides, Palier said.

“You have to build the community you want to live in,” she said, explaining how grateful she is for support shown for the center in its first year, especially that of police Chief Steve Hebbe and Mayor Tommy Roberts.

“I’ve been very surprised, actually,” Penrod said of the way the public has reacted to the center. “A lot of people I’ve talked to who I never would have guessed would show support (for the center) have done that.”

Identity supporters opened the center primarily with the idea of having a place where members of the LGBT community could feel safe and welcome. But both Palier and Penrod have been pleased to see the community center turn into a place where people of all sexual orientations, ages and backgrounds can gather and have a good time.

Palier said the organization began opening its doors for concerts largely as a money-making endeavor — the proceeds are split evenly with the performers — but they have become more than that. Local groups such as the Tundra Tigers, Hoyle Osborne and Jane Voss, and High Desert Fusion have performed there, and local music promoter Anthony Lee of War Party Productions regularly books heavy metal shows there.

“We started it out because that’s how we pay the bills,” Palier said. “But that’s also how we build community.”

The community center is usually open from 5 to 7 p.m. each weekday with additional hours for special events. Goodies such as chips and sodas are sold from the snack bar, and free Wi-Fi is offered.

A part-time staff member, paid for by a Community Development Block Grant that Identity Inc. received through the city, will begin work soon, and board members said that will help the center keep regular hours. Up until now, volunteers have filled that role.

From left to right: Identity Inc. board members Judy Palier, Kris Woodward, Kris Moore, James Penrod and Don Stage on Tuesday at the center's location on 218 West Main St.

In addition to the CDBG money, Palier said Identity Inc. also has drawn a grant from the McCune Charitable Foundation for operating expenses and received some sound equipment from the Connie Gotsch Arts Foundation. But the organization’s fundraising efforts will be stepped up considerably in 2016, as it takes on a pair of new expenses.

The organization will begin paying rent of $650 a month for its community center space in January, an expense it didn’t have to contend with in its first year. And board members hope to hire an executive director for the organization at an annual salary of $50,000 to tend to the center's day-to-day needs.

“Right now is really a pivotal time for us,” Penrod said. “We have to start looking at making enough money to start paying rent and making enough to pay the bills. That’s coming at the end of January, so we really have to step up our game. If we can do that, I have no doubt we can make it. If not, then it’s very much up in the air.”

Palier, who spends much of her time writing grants for the organization, said Identity officials will need to be much more aggressive about identifying and pursuing potential funding sources. Having a full-time executive director on board would help with those duties, she said, but first the organization has to be able to cover that person’s salary and benefits.

“It would be somebody whose time would be devoted to this place,” she said. “That would allow (board members) to step back and have some breathing space. It would be somebody whose job would be to look out for the needs of the center.”

Not everything associated with the center has been a success. Despite the positive reception for the special events, especially the three drag shows that have been staged so far, Both Penrod and Palier said they are disappointed that the day-to-day attendance at the center has not been good. And even with the limited expenses at the center in the first year, it’s been a struggle just to pay the bills, Palier said.

“We’re always working in a condition of scarce resources,” she said. “Every month when we can pay the utilities, we do a little happy dance.”

But the center is an increasingly important place for members of the local LGBT community, said Penrod, a Farmington native.

“There was none of this when I was growing up,” he said. “There wasn’t any sort of resources, any sort of help, anybody to talk to, nothing. We’re providing such a great service to all these groups. For people growing up now, all they have to do is show up.”

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.