By Kim Hoffman, PQ Monthly
It all began as a youth support group meeting in 2004 at Southern Oregon University. “After a few years of this affirming experience, the youth decided they wanted younger youth — high school age — to have the same affirming experience and that they wanted to openly embrace diversity of all kinds and invite the community to do the same,” says Executive and Development Director Kathy Bates. Such was the birth of the Lotus Rising Project — a non-profit agency that would pick up from where the youth support group left off, it’s mission: youth empowerment, the fight for equal rights and social change.
As of January 6, the LRP opened their new lending library doors—a space that houses 2,719 books in nearly 20 different categories, catalogued into a database of LGBTQ history, education and archival of our queer writers. The bulk of these texts were turned over from the Abdill-Ellis Center in Ashland. That center closed its doors in 2010, but felt their large collection of books deserved a good home, the LRP. Elizabeth Morag, the LRP’s Not Straight Not Sure Coordinator, along with the help of her daughter, spent about 20 hours over this past summer cataloguing, shelving and arranging the checkout system for the new library. And who better to be at the helm of such a large undertaking than Morag — who taught and received her Master of Arts in Women’s studies?
“It is our hope, and will be a promotional focus, to reach out to the general public to avail themselves of this rich history and explore contemporary issues, as well as for the exploration of our youth,” says Bates. Deep regard for education has always been LRP’s main purpose, beyond creating a safe space for LGBTQ youth. The space — an office suite in Medford — houses a resource center, one meeting room, a lounge area, the new lending library and the Del’s House pantry — a generous resource for homeless or near-homeless LGBTQ youth and adults that offers food, clothing and hygiene products.
Bates describes the initial dream of the LRP’s founders to create an entire house as a community center. To get there, first LRP must outgrow its current space and receive proper funding. In the meantime, the fire behind the makers and movers at LRP burns bright, and the importance of maintaining a community hearth for LGBTQ youth, especially here in Oregon where ballot measures affect our rights and our potential for progress, is vital. “[We were] drawing on the image of a lotus, which blooms beautifully out of the muddy bottom of the lake, rising like a Phoenix would out of the ashes of a life often in turmoil,” says Bates. It’s a Zen visual; it reminds us to go inward and empower from within. Isn’t that our hope for youth in our community — to find peace and vitality from within? The LGBTQ youth of today deserves an abundance of education; they deserve to know where we came from, how we fought, who was involved — they need to know about Stonewall and the Lavender Menace. There must always be a place where these texts are archived and accessible.
In a digital age where we can become so easily saturated by media, as we continue to fight the uphill anti-bullying battles in schools and online, while we grapple with each teen suicide we read about in the news every year, LRP is an invaluable place to create a little glue in the life of someone seeking support. “Social media has not replaced print. Many youth still read books for self-validation and to educate themselves. Still, our library serves the entire community of all ages, which includes those who were not raised on social media and who value books. Our library contains books of historical significance, a record of our LGBT history. Readers will find that history in our library, including feminist texts, among others. Also, we feature an extensive fiction section for self-affirmation and entertainment of queer readers,” says Board President Julian Spalding. “All texts in our library deserve to be preserved as the voices of generations past and present.”
Visit the new lending library at the Lotus Rising Project:
Hours: 3-6 p.m. Monday through Friday
Woolworth Building, 29 N. Central Ave., Medford