Community Counseling Center

Ron Lawrence, 1997

(c) Dennis McBride, 2009

Ron Lawrence & Bridge Counseling

Opened on April 1, 1990 by Las Vegas activist Ron Lawrence, the Community Counseling Center [CCC], together with the Gay and Lesbian Community Center [1993] and the Metropolitan Community Church [1979], was a pillar of the Las Vegas gay community, doing more to shape and guide the community's identity in the 1990s than any other service of its kind. CCC was the birthplace of a number of Las Vegas's gay organizations and provided meeting space for dozens of others.

Lawrence had been active in the Las Vegas gay community since 1979 when he moved from Pittsburgh with his husband, Ernie Egyed. Lawrence finished his Bachelor's degree in psychology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 1982, and his Master's in marriage and family therapy at California Lutheran University in 1984-87. Impressed by what the gay community was doing in Los Angeles, Lawrence determined to create a similar place in Las Vegas when he returned from his graduate work.

Aside from a couple of private therapists who advertised in theBohemian Bugle and who offered counseling for gay people in Las Vegas, there was no agency whose focus was primarily the gay community. Initially, Lawrence found a professional home at Bridge Counseling, founded in Las Vegas in 1971.[1] While Bridge's focus at the time was on adolescent drug and alcohol abuse, it did offer a Gay Growth Group briefly in the spring of 1984 open to individuals 16 and older.[2] Beyond that, until Lawrence went to work at Bridge, the mental health system in Las Vegas largely ignored the gay community. And as the AIDS epidemic began spreading through Las Vegas (see AIDS in Southern Nevada), organizations such as AFAN met the physical needs of HIV-positive people, but there was nowhere they could go to work out their mental and emotional issues. As clinical director for Bridge in 1987, Lawrence created programs for Las Vegas's gay community, including support groups for HIV-positive men and women.

Spanish CCC Brochure

Community AIDS Intervention Project

By the end of 1988 Lawrence, with co-workers Phillip Carracher, Marlene Smith, and others had established a Gay Men's Growth Group at Bridge, a Lesbian Growth Group, a Gay and Lesbian Couples group, and groups for gay parents and gay people dealing with mid-life.[3] Lawrence forged professional associations between Bridge and several organizations in the Las Vegas gay community including AFAN. It was with help from AFAN that Lawrence created a new division of Bridge Counseling in 1989 called CAIP [Community AIDS Intervention Project] which served as an umbrella for Bridge's gay outreach programs and received funding from the Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Abuse [BADA] and the Centers for Disease Control [CDC]. Among these programs were an HIV-negative support group, the Gay Men's Health Project, Significant Others, and a Survivors group of those who had lost loved ones to AIDS. The Survivors group produced panels for the AIDS Memorial Quilt a year before a chapter of the NAMES Project was established in Las Vegas.[4]

Birth of the Community Counseling Center

When Lawrence’s efforts to accommodate the gay community created conflict with his superior at Bridge Counseling, Lawrence determined to start his own agency. With $2000 of his own money Lawrence had his non-profit application papers drawn up and presented them to his boss at Bridge--who then gave Lawrence two weeks to vacate his office and take all his clients with him. In addition to his clients, Lawrence took three counselors with him from Bridge—Marlene Smith, Phillip Carracher, and Sheri DeMott—into a tiny suite of offices at 1006 East Sahara where they named their new service the Community Counseling Center. Later, Lawrence hired another prominent counselor, Kathy Reinken, away from Bridge.[5]

It was financially difficult in the months after Community Counseling was established--Lawrence lived on a thousand dollars a month and he and Phil Carracher had to do private practice on the side to pay office rent and utilities. Community Counseling raised money however it could, hosting pancake breakfasts, auctions, a High Tea in the Liberace Mansion, as well as raffling off a restored 1983 Monte Carlo automobile.[6] Eventually the gay community itself pitched in and such organizations as the Nevada AIDS Project, the Fun Ones gay bowling league, and the Nevada Gay Rodeo Association donated money. The agency's funding came from a number of other sources including the United Way, the Ryan White Bill, the Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Abuse, the CDC, the Levi-Strauss Corporation, and through fundraisers mounted by local bars, Golden Rainbow, AFAN, and other community organizations.

Transgender Support Group, 1998

Support Groups for the Community

While the gay community made up more than 60% of Community Counseling's client base in the early 1990s, that figure declined to just 20% in the late '90s. But the programs which serve that 20% are among the most important such programs offered in Las Vegas's gay community. Community Counseling has been home to transgender support groups, lesbian AA, a group for gay Jews, bisexuals, and men and women who need coming out support. In addition, after PFLAG [Parents, Friends & Families of Lesbians and Gays] was re-established in Las Vegas in October 1990, it met at Community Counseling. The Gay Men's Therapy Growth Group Ron started at Bridge became the famous Friday Night Men's Rap Group at Community Counseling. An anonymous letter to the editor of the Las Vegas Bugle provided testimony from one man of what the Gay Men's Rap Group meant to him: "While I still have some difficulty understanding and accepting myself," he wrote, "I have found this group of men to be the most understanding, compassionate, helpful and caring people I have ever been involved with.” [7]

City Life 1999

Working Throughout Southern Nevada

Through Community Counseling Lawrence has conducted AIDS- and gay-related training seminars for Nevada state welfare workers, the Metropolitan Community Police Department, and the Teamsters Union. Lawrence also established a close relationship with the Departments of Social Work and Psychology at UNLV by offering internships for counseling program graduates—and in so doing turned a public spotlight on several disturbing instances of the university's institutionalized homophobia.[8] Unique among such services in Las Vegas, Community Counseling is unafraid to publicly advocate by confronting the social and legal injustices that have created the trauma its clients suffer. Lawrence and his counselors have faced down homophobic churches, government bureaucrats—even biased medical personnel in emergency rooms to be sure transgendered patients are treated respectfully.

From the $2000 Lawrence started with in 1990 the Community Counseling Center has grown into a budget which surpassed $2.5 million by 2009. Though the core of Community Counseling’s services remains the gay community, its scope has broadened to include substance abuse services, behavioral health services, women’s services, DUI services, and adolescent services. In addition, CCC is one of the leading providers of continuing education for the professional and lay communities.[9]

“A lot of people who come here have a sense of powerlessness over their addictions, emotional problems, health problems like HIV,” Lawrence said in a 1999 interview. “In this culture there’s nothing that creates empowerment more than creating coping skills to be who we are and do the things we need to do.”[10]

Notes

  1. Nevada Gay Times (October 1983), 5.
  2. Nevada Gay Times (October 1983), 5; (April 1984), 4.
  3. Las Vegas Bugle (December 1988), 18.
  4. Las Vegas Bugle (August 1989), 1, 6; (December 1989), 15; (January 1990), 19, 21; (February 1990), 1; Las Vegas Sun (November 23, 1989), 8B;; Wes Davis, interview by Dennis McBride, July 13, 2008 [author’s transcript]; Jerry Cade, interview by Dennis McBride, February 8, May 17, June 21, July 26, November 1 and 22, 2003 [author’s transcript].
  5. Ronald Lawrence, interview by Dennis McBride, June 22, July 11, August 8 and 22, 1997 [University of Nevada, Las Vegas Lied Library Special Collections (hereafter noted as UNLS) transcript HQ76.2 U52 N35 1997].
  6. Ronald Lawrence, interview by Dennis McBride, June 22, July 11, August 8 and 22, 1997 [University of Nevada, Las Vegas Lied Library Special Collections (hereafter noted as UNLS) transcript HQ76.2 U52 N35 1997].
  7. Las Vegas Bugle (January 1991), 6; (October/November 1994), 29, 31; (April/May 1995), 8; (August/September 1995), 4; (June/July 1997), 41; ephemera [UNLS MS 85-121: Las Vegas Gay Archives].
  8. Las Vegas Bugle (March/April 1993), 8; (April/May 1995), 46; (October/November 1996), 50.
  9. Lawrence interview.
  10. Las Vegas City Life (March 4, 1999), 22.