|TOPMAN ¶ Online Writings by and about John Preston|
In January 1972, The Advocate, which at that time was a California gay newspaper, ran an article reporting that two youths from Minneapolis had received a $5000 grant from the United States government's National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to provide counseling and education to gay people in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. The Advocate stated that the project as possibly "the first to win federal funds directly to gay people for work in the gay community." The name of the project was Gay Community Services.
John Preston, one of the youths who received the grant, eventually transferred the name over to another project sponsored by Minneapolis's Walk-In Counseling Center. Gary Schoener was a member of the staff there and is now executive director of the center. He comments below on the accuracy of the Advocate article. Both the Advocate quotations and Gary Schoener's quotations are out of order from their original texts.
Two gay counsellors have been awarded a $5000 federal grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to provide counseling and education efforts in the Twin Cities. . . .
Preston said that the new project is designed to supplement crisis counseling efforts at Gay House by providing long-term professional and para-professional counseling on a residential basis.
I am sure that with that little bit of money, there was no way that they were going to open a counseling service. The Gay People and Mental Health newsletter was the sole thing they did other than some advocacy.
The project was designed and proposed by John Preston and Jenny Fortier, both of Minneapolis, and won federal approval as one of eight youth-initiated health projects across the country. . . .
A former seminary student, Preston has taken college courses in counseling and did a good deal of it at Gay House [the gay and lesbian community center he helped found].
Although NIMH may have been sold on the idea of funding counseling, John didn't do much of it. He was more an advocate and activist and the newsletter was the main thing.
[The project] will also sponsor workshops to train counselors, gay and straight, in working with gay people who seek help.
The grant provides $200 monthly salaries for Preston and Miss Fortier to conduct regular walk-in counseling sessions at least one night a week – one in St. Paul, probably at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in the Midway district, and one in Minneapolis, probably at the walk-in counseling center on Chicago Ave.
There was never a plan for John or Jenny to do counseling at WICC – I have been with WICC since 1969 and its Executive Director since mid year 1972. However, we would have considered such a request. We already had the Maverick AA group meeting there – the first local gay AA group.
The other half of the grant will be used for printing, postage, buying films, and retaining consultants for training efforts.
[Preston and Fortier's Gay Community Services] had as its main function the publishing of Gay People and Mental Health newsletter. [Preston] not only wrote for it – he was "it." It was remarkable for a number of reasons:
(1) It was created in the days when "homosexuality" was a crime and a mental illness. It was before we got the new Minneapolis Civil Rights ordinance which began to change all that. . . .
This was very early in the game.
(2) It had NIMH funding in an era when gay groups couldn't even get non-profit status. When Gay Community Services, the clinic, as opposed to John's entity, began trying to get it years later, it took about two years to get it.
(3) It was mailed out by Playboy Foundation who also printed it – thus the money went much further. This blows lots of people's minds.
"The $5000 can be considered only a seed grant," Preston says. "The only way this needed service can survive is if the gay community is willing to commit itself with more money."
[Later, a Gay House counselor named] Jim Frost came along with the idea of starting a [new counseling program for gays and lesbians]. Seven people – five gay men and two lesbians – were dissatisfied with Gay House because they felt that the counseling [there] was not mixing smoothly with the advocacy and the socializing. It would be easy for someone to come for "counseling" and end up with a bed partner.
Jim was a student at Metro Community College and I served as "advisor" for the project. His lover, John (Jack) Yoakam, came from Chicago, and I helped them get the project off the ground. John Preston gave them the name. . . .
Just an added note, because the above has a vaguely negative ring to it. I am not saying that John and Jenny did no counseling – only that they did not open a counseling service and certainly not a residential program. There's no way they could. That was a "seed money" grant and without a lot more funding they could never have pulled it off.
I think that they did a lot with that money – the Gay People and Mental Health newsletter was national and remarkable. Even in those days that was a pittance in terms of funding.
And out of those early efforts there was support for the idea of going beyond the informal counseling of Gay House, and John to his credit was supportive of those efforts. Even giving the name was helpful – it was a great name – Gay Community Services. Did not offend. It soon became Gay & Lesbian Community Services.
Topman's Timeline: A Documentary Biography of John Preston
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