By Dirk Smith, M.Sc, SDL (He/Him)

Our managing editor, David “Dirk” Smith, recently caught up with Chris Davin, executive director of the Henderson Equality Center in Henderson, Nevada. Check out our conversation.

Dirk Smith: Hi Chris, it’s great to connect with you, I love the work you do with the Henderson Equality Center! Tell me more about the backstory and how it all got started?

CD: We opened the center two and a half years ago. It was originally a 900 square foot office, but we’ve now expanded it to over 4000 square feet. We’re the first full-service food pantry and the first rapid HIV testing center in Henderson, Nevada. We just now got our license to do more, so we’re doing Monkey Pox vaccines, COVID testing, and we can actually provide linkage of care and assistance for those that would like to get on PrEP.  We also offer various social and support groups.

DS: Awesome! It sounds like a lot of great things you provide the community. Can you share more about the different groups you offer?

CD: Everything from transgender groups to bisexual meetups, AA meetings and such. All the groups that we do at the Center are social, meaning there’s no curriculum, there is nothing that has a particular agenda. All the groups are led by people within the community. It’s about being social, and more community based. For our Food Pantry, like I said we are the only one in Henderson and we serve as probably 15 to 20 people a day. We do various seasonal events like Trunk or Treat that brings out about 3500 people for Halloween, on Thanksgiving, we do about 175 families for Thanksgiving dinner, and a Christmas toy drive that serves 300 families. We put on the Pride Fest for Henderson every summer in June and now we’re getting ready to open our second location which will be in North Las Vegas. We’ll be doing everything that we do in the Henderson location, but also now in North Las Vegas as well. Once again, we’ll be the first and only rapid HIV testing center out there and the only full-service Food Pantry as well.

DS: That’s fantastic! And it’s so great to see you connect with so many people in the community.

CD: Yeah, we are branching out and we do a lot of different things. We offer services for everything from youth to seniors. We do various Gay/Straight Alliance programs in the libraries around the town, including Clark County Library. We were open for only a year when we won Best of Las Vegas for best networking organization, right now we’re a finalist in the 2022 Best Business of the Year for the nonprofit category. We’ve been recognized with a lot of awards for what we do and it’s primarily because we look at what the community needs, and we put it together. We’re a true nonprofit right now, payroll free, meaning everybody that works at our center and helps are all volunteers. All of us volunteering our time to make everything happen for everybody that utilizes our center.

DS: You’ve accomplished so much in such a short period of time, and you can really see just how passionate everybody is.

CD: Well, honestly the pandemic helped us grow so quickly.  Being that we were open during the pandemic, especially for the food pantries and a lot of people that needed assistance. Then the word got out and the kids started going back into school. One of the services we offer is free tutoring twice a week and we had various teachers that came in to volunteer on their free time to help tutor students. We’re not just an LGBTQ+ center, we are an equality center that is truly open to everybody.

DS: I’m surprised that the center is so new. I know that Las Vegas, and the areas around Las Vegas, have a huge LGBTQ+ community. So, it’s honestly surprising to me that there is only now an equality center that offers these kinds of services.

CD: Correct. So, Las Vegas itself has a center and they’ve been around for 30 years. But we’re in the outskirts, the next town over from Las Vegas. North Las Vegas is on one side, Henderson is on the other. If we look at the population size, Henderson is the second largest city in Nevada and North Las Vegas is the fourth. If we look at putting those two towns together, we have about the same size population that Las Vegas serves. It’s nice that we’re in both cities to cover those that don’t have access to transportation and still able to cover the services needed.

DS: You said that it’s more than just an LGBTQ+ center, it’s a full Equality Center which considers other forms of equality, can you talk a little bit about some of the different projects you’re working on in that area?

CD: We do through our other organization, Equality Nevada. Through them, we work with we legislators that come to us and want to work on different types of equality legislation. When we work with these legislators, we don’t want to just add LGBTQ+, we want to add people with disabilities, immigrants, refugees, women, etc. Like I said, we open the center up to everybody, that way; you don’t have to be LGBTQ+ to get food assistance, tutoring for the kids, etc. We’re providing the services so that way everybody can be able to take make use of them, regardless.

DS: That’s very important! To be able to offer these services and advance the mission of the Equality Center really helps these other communities that maybe would not otherwise come to an LGBTQ+ Center. This way you’re able to expand that outreach and work with more people. Connecting with our work in sports diversity, with the upcoming Sin City Classic, will Henderson Equality Center be part of that?

CD: Oh definitely! We’ve been with the Sin City Classic and Compete Sports Diversity now for probably five years before COVID. I think this is going to be our fourth event that we’re doing with them. We do provide the silent auction for the Compete Sports Diversity Awards dinner banquet, we’ll be there with a table at the registration/opening party as well, offering safe sex kits and such on Friday night. It helps us out because we’re able to reinvest the money that we’re making back into the community and help other organizations that need that sponsorship. It shows the community that we’re not just a business, but actively working with other organizations to partner with them and help promote them.

DS: Is there anything you’re looking forward to at the 2023 Sin City Classic this January?

CD: Just that we’re going to incorporate a live auction and we’re going to try to get a couple of big items for the live auction. Other than that, we’re just going out to have fun and show that we’re out there to support one another.

DS: Wonderful! I am looking forward to seeing you there!

Photo Credit: Henderson Equality Center