Santa Cruz Pride marks the anniversary of the movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) equality. Forty-two years ago this June, the Stonewall riots in New York were a turning point as queer people declared they would no longer stand for the status quo of harassment and persecution. California’s Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird’s article from Good Times (May 26) paints a compelling picture of the LGBTQ movement’s progress over the last 40 years. We owe trailblazers like Laird a debt of gratitude for their tireless commitment to equality and fairness.
As the LGBTQ movement matured, it became clear that our local queer community needed a home of its own—a safe and friendly space for LGBTQ-centered social opportunities and support groups. In 1989, the Diversity Center opened and for its first 10 years was completely volunteer run. Aside from the gay bars, the Center was one of very few safe spaces for LGBTQ people to gather.
Today, we have many straight allies and safe spaces are part of our culture. Gay/Straight Alliance clubs are a norm in many of our schools. Assisted living facilities exist specifically for LGBTQ seniors. Non-discrimination ordinances protect us at work and in our homes. Nonprofit and government service providers attend cultural competence trainings, and our relationships are legally recognized in many places. With all this, why do we still need an LGBTQ organization in Santa Cruz?
The civil rights movement has taught us that legal protection is just one of the first steps. Changing our deeply held and culturally engrained prejudices takes time. Despite the progressive and welcoming character of Santa Cruz County, discrimination against LGBTQ people still exists in our area, and with it a need for services.
The Diversity Center provides crucial advocacy and education, promoting fairness and equality. The Center also offers a safe space and support for those in need, like the woman coming to terms with her bisexuality who wants to preserve her marriage while living authentically; the wife whose husband has come out as transgender and is seeking support for herself and their son; the parents from rural Washington seeking a safe place to move their family where their lesbian daughter will be accepted; the 17-year-old gay paraplegic boy whose mother has kicked him out of their home and who is desperately in need of a wide range of services.
It would be impossible to demonstrate all the work The Diversity Center does in this one article, but it is important to highlight a few key programs and underscore the significance of the work they do. For 20 years, Triangle Speakers has been hosting educational speaker panels, mostly in local schools, debunking myths and stereotypes about LGBTQ people through the power of personal stories. To date, we have reached more than 45,000 people and increased the safety of LGBTQ youth in our schools.
Our 60+ Senior Program improves the lives of LGBTQ seniors through social and educational programming and by providing cultural competence trainings to agencies serving seniors, to ensure that they are welcoming. In collaboration with Planned Parenthood, the TransCare program provides a full range of services for transgender people, from support groups and low-cost therapy referrals, to hormone therapy and health services. The Queer Youth Scene works closely with the Santa Cruz Community Counseling Center’s STRANGE program to support Gay Straight Alliances in our schools, develop young leaders, provide peer support, and sponsor fun, age-appropriate events for Queer Youth. Conexiones works with agencies that serve the Latino community and ensures that their staff and volunteers are knowledgeable about LGBTQ issues and comfortable working with LGBTQ clients. And our groundbreaking Rainbow Vets program addresses the unique needs of LGBTQ veterans and active duty personnel who bravely served our country while under “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”
This brings us back to Santa Cruz Pride—produced each year by the Diversity Center. Thirty-six years ago the first Santa Cruz Pride was an act of defiance, to proudly declare themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer.
While it is important that we celebrate our progress, it is more than just a party. It is an opportunity for political action, to come together with straight allies, honor and celebrate our work, and renew our commitment to fairness and equality.
For all these reasons, we hope you will join us this Sunday, June 5 for the 37th annual Santa Cruz Pride—we look forward to seeing you there!
Jim Brown is Executive Director and Adam Spickler is Board President of The Diversity Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building a diversity community, advancing social justice, and promoting the health and well-being of Santa Cruz County’s LGBTQ community. Learn more at diversitycenter.org. See Events for more Pride 411. Photo Credit: Matt Wignall