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Lesbian Center Provides Place to Call Their Own

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Gathered in a circle, a dozen or so women were talking about pain.

Some told stories of the physical and mental abuse they had suffered at the hands of former lovers. Others talked about the problems of being single. And nearly all said that they wanted to get off the emotional roller coaster and get on with their lives.

The women were participating in one of several programs at Time To Play Inc. women’s center, described by its founders as the first Long Beach facility established exclusively for lesbians.

“We needed a space of our own,” said Jane Brooks, the 29-year-old horticulturist who founded Time to Play Inc., which serves about 75 women a week. “Even though we’ve come so far, there are still very few public arenas in which lesbians can feel supported.”

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The center, which opened about nine months ago, has a full schedule. Monday night is a gathering for lesbians over 40. Wednesdays are reserved for general-discussion groups. Thursday’s itinerary includes separate support groups for professionals and lesbians in the military or law enforcement. There are discussions on homophobia, social invisibility, political clout and male oppression.

The center also sponsors numerous leisure activities: weekend camping trips, beach parties, golf tournaments, bowling parties, comedy nights, dances.

And in the future, Brooks said, the group hopes to add workshops on breast cancer, self-defense, career counseling, mental health therapy and legal aid.

“It’s a new frontier,” said Jan Ward, 37, who’s been attending Time to Play functions for several months. The new support groups, she said, fill a void in local lesbian-related services. “We live in a male-dominated society,” she said, “and that’s as true in the gay community as (in the rest of society). If women don’t take the initiative to deal with their own issues, the men won’t do it; they have problems of their own.”

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It was the issue of male domination, in fact, that prompted Brooks to set up Time to Play as an independent organization. Previously, the program had operated under the auspices of One in Long Beach Inc., the city’s oldest and largest gay and lesbian social service agency.

“They weren’t focused on women,” she said. “It was frustrating. We felt that we could accomplish more without going through their bureaucracy.”

Steve Ready, a spokesman for One in Long Beach Inc., denied that the organization is male-oriented. “We try to provide something for everyone,” he said, adding that the organization also offers support groups for lesbians.

Brooks said that many supporters of One in Long Beach reacted angrily when Time to Play leaders decided to break away. “It was a classic parent reaction--they were very disappointed,” she said. “They called us a radical separatist organization. It was one of the hardest things we ever had to do.”

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Ready said critics simply believed that the split would undermine the unity of the gay and lesbian community. “It’s a very expensive, difficult proposition to keep a social service agency going,” he said. “If you are all pulling in different directions, you provide less--you dilute your effectiveness and political influence when you begin fragmenting yourself.”

Nevertheless, the women’s group moved into a modest three-room suite in the 1400 block of East Fourth Street, a few blocks from One in Long Beach’s offices.

The cost of keeping the place open, according to Brooks, is sometimes daunting. The organization has a budget of about $22,000 a year, from individual donations and grants, and fees paid by participants. The group is managed by a core of 15 volunteers.

Brooks said the group has no formal membership, but added that she hopes to begin asking regular participants and other supporters to make annual pledges.

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“Many women may not need our services now,” Brooks said, “but will need them at some point in their lives. We’d like to be here for them.”

For the women attending the recent support session, the need was immediate. “I just broke up with the psycho . . . from hell,” declared one, who like most group members preferred anonymity. “It’s nice to know there are some normal women around.”


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