Centre Gai et Lesbien

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 With walls the color of Van Gogh’s sunflowers, the inside of the Centre Gai et Lesbien (CGL) provides a welcome change to the ubiquitous grey that had blanketed the Parisian landscape on this particularly rainy Saturday. I’ve come to see for myself the place whose name has been dodging in and out of my conversations since I arrived in Paris two months ago. As I step inside, Roland, one of 40 volunteers at the CGL, greets me with a smile and asks me if I need any help. I begin to realize that the Centre is not at all what I had anticipated. I had expected a more formal setting, more corporate, more bureaucratic complete with cranky automatons behind massive counters: what I found was closer to a café. Scattered throughout the main lobby were tables with chairs surrounded by racks of colorful brochures and pamphlets spanning a range of topics from AIDS to Lesbian cinema. The soft background music and the complimentary coffee create a relaxed atmosphere in which visitors can be comfortable asking the staff questions or browsing the racks of pamphlets for information. After offering me some coffee, Alexis Meunier, the Director of the CGL, explains that the Centre had smaller beginnings. The CGL was first founded in 1989 under the title “Maison des Homosexualités” (MH). Located on the third floor of an apartment building at 25, rue Michel Lecomte in the third arrondissement, the MH struggled for its existence against minimal funding and little support from public powers. In 1993, the MH became the Centre Gai et Lesbien, and in 1994 moved to its present location at 3, rue Keller in the 11th. The Centre has been expanding its clientele and services ever since. The casual, welcoming ambiance may explain why the Centre now boasts around 15,000 visitors each year. It not only serves as a library, café, and boutique, but also provides other avenues of support for the community as well. Among the programs offered are psychological services, legal advice and counseling, and general support, that aids in everything from finding a job to reserving a hotel room. All services are free and though they are offered in support of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered community in Paris, they are available to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation. Appointments for legal consultations and other specialized services must be made in advance. The CGL staff offers support in French, English, Spanish, and Italian, making for quite a diverse clientele. Among the social events sponsored by the CGL is Café Positif, a friendly gathering for people diagnosed with AIDS or HIV and their loved ones that takes place Sunday afternoons. In addition, the Centre offers HIV discussion groups (Les Groupes de Paroles), led by a psychologist that also meet each week. Each month, the CGL offers weekend retreats for participants in Café Positif and Les Groupes de Paroles. Every Friday at 8 p.m., the Centre is reserved for L’accueil des lesbiennes. For these nights, the Centre organizes debates, cultural excursions, and discussion groups. The CGL also serves as a meeting place for young homosexuals on Thursdays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and for gay parents on the third Wednesday of each month from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. And this is just a sampling of what the Centre has to offer. Once again, all events are free, thanks to the financial contributions from La Direction Générale de la Santé, La DASS (Direction des Affaires Sanitaires et Sociales) Paris-Ile-de-France, le Ministère de la Jeunesse et des Sports, Ensemble Contre le Sida, Solidays, et Agnès B. The determination and dedication that has gone into the formation of CGL is apparent: there seems to be no end to the information and support they are able to provide. And as far as its future is concerned, Meunier hopes to expand the diversity of services and physical space available at the Centre to better accommodate the growing numbers of people using the CGL as a resource. After taking my leave of Alexis, Roland, and a few other visitors gathered around the bar, I step back out into the grey street, my bag full of flyers for expositions, lectures, and film screenings. I am sure that I will be coming back. Centre Gai et Lesbien3, rue Keller BP 255-75524 Paris Cedex 11Metro Bastille, Ledru Rollin ou VoltaireOpen Monday through Saturday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and one Sunday each month Phone (general): 01 43 57 21 47Office: 01 43 57 75 95Fax: 01 43 57 27 93 Internet: http://www.cglparis.orge-mail: [email protected] —Rebecca Pekron is currently a senior at Stanford University in California. majoring in Comparative Literature. She is living in the 18th Arrondissement for the Autumn quarter of the school year while taking classes in French Literature and Art History.
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