The first LGBT organization to officially serve the public was founded in November 1978 with the incorporation of Gay Social Services, Inc. (GSS). David Slaughter of the University of Central Florida (then called the Florida Technological University) spearheaded its formation.
GSS initially started as a social group mostly for college-educated types. However, it soon became apparent that there were lots of gays in town who were not college educated (or only had a little college education) but who wanted to be a part of the organization. The "college-educated" restrictions were quickly dropped.
Early meetings often were social events in and of themselves. The host (and friends) often made drinks, cookies, cakes, etc. to serve. One GSS member, Thom Costa, had a very nice pool...so the members sometimes had pool party meetings at his house where they grilled hot dogs, hamburgers, etc.
In the initial few years, members explored ways to serve the gay community of Orlando. They tried to organize events like hikes, bike rides, etc. Sometimes they were somewhat successful...other times, not so successful.
As a group, several GSS members would go to movies, theatre, etc. They often booked a block of seats at a dinner theatre (usually at one that no longer exists...on Park Ave. in Winter Park or at Par and Edgewater) and attended as group. Attendance varied between 15-30 people most months.
GSS sometimes partnered with Bill Miller of the Parliament House to hold fundraisers for GSS. For several years, they held a Valentine's Day fundraiser there. At these fundraisers, Valentine events occurred throughout the Parliament House property including a "Dating Game" on stage in the Footlights Theater and various "mix and matching" partners on the dance floor. Bill Miller would usually donate the cover charge from the door. GSS members helped him staff the door, etc. Money raised was used by GSS for its future events.
GSS started a phone line where callers could discuss gay issues (or anything else they wanted to talk about). It also served as a referral service to the gay community (and visitors) for such things as professionals, (gay friendly doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc.) and bars, clubs, etc (mostly used by the tourists). It was open 7 nights per week from 8pm until 12:00am. The phone number actually spelled out, THE-GAYS. They paid an answering service to take the incoming calls...(24 hrs) and the calls were then returned by volunteers from 8-12.
GSS also started the original Gay Skate Night at Semoran Skateway in Casselberry. It started as a gay event one night per month...and eventually expanded to one night per week. A small fee was charged. The facility was paid for and GSS made a buck or so from each admission. It was one of the only gay events in Orlando that did not serve alcohol and did not have an age minimum of 21, so a lot of teens came as well as older folks. Everyone got along well...and the older folks looked out for the younger ones. Rarely did they have kids under 18...but a few did show up. Some even came with their gay parents.
A few years later, the name of GSS was changed to Gay Community Services, Inc (GCS).
In the mid-1980s, a group of GCS members wanted the organization to open a Gay and Lesbian Community Center, but the GCS organization resisted the idea. The officers were not convinced that the regular funding needed to pay the rent could be met and their priority was the operation of the gay and lesbian hotline.
A splinter group became discouraged with the resistance to opening a physical space for GCS activities and decided to go out on its own and take the plunge. They formed an organization known simply as "The Center" and successfully opened the first Gay and Lesbian Center at 1036 Mills Avenue in September 1987. Thus, there were then two separate organizations, GCS and The Center.
The Center and GCS operated independently for the next 2 years. In 1989 the Center fell on hard times. Furthermore, many of the volunteers who worked for The Center, were also volunteering for GCS. The beginning of the AIDS pandemic added to their troubles, with more volunteers, and community funding going toward newly formed AIDS organizations. There was tremendous pressure for fundraising dollars to be spent on the care of AIDS victims.
As a result, a meeting was held at the home of Center volunteer Michael Wanzie with key members of the board of directors for both organizations. David Bain was president of GCS, and E. Scott Lang was the president of The Center. It was during this meeting that both organizations decided to merge. The board of directors of The Center voted to dissolve, and the board of directors of GCS agreed to acquire The Center's lease and to select board members from The Center. David Bain assumed the position of president of the newly named Gay and Lesbian Community Services of Central Florida (GLCS) who continued to refer to their offices as "The Center".
At the same time, Michael Wanzie, Scott Alles, and Larry Nicastro began planning a fundraiser for the newly merged organization. This GayEscape cruise, marked a historical occasion as the number one gay and lesbian fundraiser. The proceeds from the sell out event allowed The Center to hire its first employees. Michael Wanzie was hired as Center Director, and Linda Cartwright was office manager.
In October of 1989 GLCS moved to a larger location on West Colonial Drive and remained there for 3 years until it was demolished to make way for a Burger King that sits on the site today.
Losing its West Colonial site, in January 1993 GLCS moved to an East Colonial Drive location and remained there for another 5 years. Six years later, in 1999 GLCS purchased a building and then moved to its present Mills Avenue location. It was at this time that the organization again changed its moniker to Gay Lesbian and Bisexual Community Center (GLBCC).