Ann Arbor's gay community gets WRAP-ed up

Washtenaw Rainbow Action Project grows, prepares for OutFest

by Jessica Carreras

ANN ARBOR -

It's move in weekend for University of Michigan students in Ann Arbor, and as such, Washtenaw Rainbow Action Project board President Barry MacDougall has spent ten minutes driving around, dodging 18-to-20-somethings while looking for a parking spot. Luckily, he's used to it.

MacDougall, who started out as treasurer for WRAP and became president some eight months ago, is a 20-year resident of the city. But more than weary of the back-to-school rush of a college town, MacDougall is excited. More students means more volunteers, and at a nonprofit organization like WRAP, which is holding its 13th annual OutFest on Sept. 13, that makes all the difference.

"The summer is always a challenging time," MacDougall explained. "Since we're all volunteers, we can only keep the office open when we can get volunteers. This fall, I think we'll see that we'll be able to reestablish our office hours so that people can come in.

"We want to be open as much as possible."

MacDougall himself, who started off as a volunteer, is often at the center 10 to 20 hours a week in addition to doing WRAP work from home. That time is all unpaid and all in addition to his full-time job as the Information Technology Director of Finance at U of M. However, he doesn't mind it. "I just got to a point in my life where I felt like I needed to give something back," he said about getting involved with WRAP. "There was a call for board members and I said 'I think I want to get involved.'"

In a city with a school with LGBT resources rival major organizations, WRAP has managed to find a niche for itself. The University of Michigan's Spectrum Center serves the same area, but MacDougall insists that their objectives and uses are different. "We really try to be community focused," he said. "One of our big goals is to provide a space for groups. We really provide more of a community center for everyone in the community."

Moreover, MacDougall said that though anyone is welcome at WRAP, the issues they address are often not those of young adults. "We also really don't target on a lot of college-age issues," he said, "because Spectrum does such a good job at that and it doesn't make sense for us to do the things that they're doing already."

Their attempts to create a community space, however, have been successful. WRAP hosts up to five groups a week, including Older Lesbians Organizing, Polyamory Network and Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

In addition, they also offer free, anonymous HIV testing and needle exchange from the HIV/AIDS Resource Center two days a week and boast a library of over a thousand LGBTQ books, all of which are available to check out.

Now in its 13th year, WRAP has spent 2008 working on specific objectives. These include revamping their Web site, increasing fundraising and adding members to their volunteer and e-mail lists, as well as their board, which is currently seeking members.

According to MacDougall, all endeavors are moving along smoothly. They have new people interested in being on their board, as well as several hundred new names and e-mails on their contact list. "We feel good when we can let people know what's going on and invite them to things," MacDougall said.

More specifically, things like the upcoming OutFest, which takes place in Braun Court. OutFest will offer info and vendor booths, a silent auction and dancing in the streets, as well as food and drink specials at /'aut/ Bar, which is also located in the court. There will also be games and fun things to do for kids at the event, which usually brings over one thousand people.

There, anyone can get a taste of Ann Arbor's gay community, which is exemplified right in Braun Court in the heart of the city's Kerrytown district. In addition to WRAP and /'aut/ Bar, the court is home to Sh/'aut/ Cabaret and the Common Language bookstore. All four places are LGBT-run and LGBT-friendly. "Ann Arbor's a great town, but this is kind of the gay neighborhood," MacDougall explained. "Except for parking, it's great."

And what could make WRAP better? Growth, MacDougall said, including more groups, more sponsors, more members and, eventually, maybe even a bigger facility. He praised Affirmations as a model for WRAP's future, noting the Ferndale LGBT center's move to a large, new facility on Nine Mile Road two years ago. "They really did that well," he said. 'They really thought about the types of spaces they needed."

MacDougall said that he hopes that WRAP can follow in their footsteps in the near future. "We want to be a place where groups can have this space...and we're trying to get more groups to meet here," he said. " I think that's really what makes it a special place."

For more information about the Washtenaw Rainbow Action Project, or to donate or volunteer, visit http://www.wrap-up.org.

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