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Wingspan’s History: A Story of Community

Early Beginnings

The roots of Wingspan go back to the late 1970s, when local community members offered their homes on a rotating basis for a weekly youth support group. As the numbers attending these meetings grew, and the need to establish additional groups arose, leaders of this informal group and other community members saw the need for a dedicated Center. On February 7, 1988, 50 people met at the Unitarian Universalist Church on 22nd Street to form a "Lesbian and Gay Resource Center." They envisioned a space where meetings could be held on a regular basis, a lending library could be available, and an Info Line telephone service could be established to share community information.

Wayne Blankenship suggested the name "Wingspan," and the group agreed. As Amy Funghi wrote in Wingspan’s first newsletter, UpFront, "The word Wingspan… represents the enfolding of wings around us, cradling us in our struggle for survival. It expresses our desire for freedom; the freedom symbolized by a bird in flight. And it represents the spreading of our own wings, as each of us reach beyond our limits."

Through an affiliation with the Southwest Alternatives Institute, Wingspan successfully applied for nonprofit 501(c)(3) status. We received a grant from the Chicago Resource Center to rent a small space in the Pima County/Tucson Women’s Commission Offices. The original Court Street office was cramped and windowless, but the members of the Tucson Women’s Commission were good roommates, and Wingspan’s low-key presence in the  community fit its needs perfectly.

During this time, Wingspan offered weekly youth support groups and coming-out meetings. The library, info line, newsletter, dances, performances, an art gallery, and political actions were the primary activities of this young, all-volunteer organization.

Around 1990, with grants running out and community priorities turning more toward political action, many Wingspan members redirected their energies toward women’s rights and AIDS activism. While Wingspan as an organization continued to function, the Center lost much of the impetus that had brought it into being.

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