By Ian Morton | Profiles in Advocacy
For some fortunate cities and regions, there exists in the nexus of the LGBTQ community a hub or center where members can meet, celebrate, mourn and receive services.
San Diego is one such city and the past years have shown impressive and responsive programming from the San Diego LGBT Community Center (The Center).
From the seed planted in 1971, when community member Jess Jessop set up an answering machine as a gay and lesbian “helpline,” to its formal incorporation in 1973, and to the thriving hive of projects and services that exists today, The Center has come a very long way.
I cannot begin to encapsulate the breadth of services at The Center in one column, so I am very excited that this will be the first of a three-part series, published over the next three quarters.
I sat down with Ben Cartwright, The Center’s director of community outreach, to procure some insights on the mechanisms that allow The Center to be sensitively responsive to our community’s needs.
“Our view of programming continues to be increasingly ‘holistic,’ ensuring that our project coordinators avoid working in silos,” Cartwright explained. “Our coordinators and navigators work as a team — to serve the full scope of an individual’s intersecting identities — through an integrated approach.”
With the date of this column’s publication (March 31) being International Transgender Day of Visibility and also with the Transgender Day of Empowerment and Tracie Jada O’Brien scholarship event being hosted at The Center on April 14, kicking off this series with “Project Trans” seemed especially appropriate.
Project Trans — the formal “umbrella” program for transgender services — is overseen by Connor Maddocks, transgender services coordinator. In a time when trans rights are under attack, The Center provides an array of tailored services, ranging from support groups, gender and ID name change processes, and HIV/STD education and services.
Of particular and alarming note is the disproportionate rate of HIV infection among transgender individuals, specifically trans women of color. When the CDC reviewed 29 published HIV studies, it was revealed that about 28 percent of transgender women were HIV-positive and upwards of 56 percent of African-American transgender women were living with HIV.
Addressing this need is the “#BeTheGeneration Trans” campaign. #BeTheGeneration is a widely successful HIV awareness campaign launch by The Center in 2014, with the goal of ending HIV transmissions in San Diego by 2024.
I got some feedback from PrEP coordinator David Vance as to how this branch of the campaign centered on and prioritized transgender voices.
“All of the #BeTheGeneration Trans promotional materials feature trans individuals and only trans individuals,” he said. “This representation helps raise the visibility of the trans community and communicates the message that sexual health services, free HIV testing and PrEP should be accessible safely and comfortably by all members of the LGBTQ community, including trans folks. “#BeTheGeneration Trans hosts both social events and informational panels — led by trans community members — with the goal of raising HIV, PrEP and PEP awareness for the trans community in particular.”
In line with their leading-edge programming, The Center has instituted one of the first Transgender Youth Services Navigator positions in the nation.
a.t. furuya — who has spent much of their time as an advocate prioritizing the voices of LGBTQ youth — assumed this position in late 2016. Having facilitated the creation of Trans Youth Project, a trans and gender non-conforming youth-led initiative, furuya possesses first-hand experience in navigating this evolution and understands the sensitivity needed to support and assist these youth.
“When I came out as transgender, I started reflecting on what it would have meant to have a transgender person of color in my life when I was a teenager,” furuya said. “I think it would have been incredibly affirming to know I wasn’t alone.”
While Vance and furuya both support trans and gender non-conforming youth and adults, one life at a time, they also spoke to the broader societal changes that would make a safer world for these members of our community.
“I know we can start as basic as learning, understanding and witnessing the power of our intersectional identities,” furuya said. “We are a whole complex people. While our sexuality and gender have some commonalities, we also have incredible differences. It is honoring those incredible differences — not erasing, not homogenizing them, and not blending them into one narrative.”
Vance spoke of how the broader community could show support.
“Members of the LGB community can be allies to trans folks by listening to them, trusting them and centering their voices, particularly when it comes to issues that uniquely affect them, and especially in trans-prioritized spaces or at trans-prioritized events,” he said. “Also, I would encourage LGB people and even binary trans folks to listen to, trust and affirm the identities of the non-binary, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming folks who may not feel they fit perfectly into any “LGBT” box — especially with our LGBTQ youth, it is important to maintain an open mind and continue honest dialogue.”
Cartwright and I closed our conversation with a discussion regarding how this agency-wide holistic approach is maintained.
“All staff members — from accounting, to directors, to providers of direct services are committed to seeing The Center serve all of the facets of an individual,” he said. “Every staff member who works with a client, or is in the community, is encouraged to explore what scope of services will provide comprehensive support,” Cartwright said. “We consistently have discussions at all levels of staffing about the importance of intersectionality and how it helps us to better support our clients.”
For more information, visit thecentersd.org or find “TGCenter” on Facebook.
Look for the second part of this series in June.
—Ian D. Morton is s freelance grant writer and the producer of Y.E.S. San Diego, an LGBTQ youth empowerment conference. To nominate an individual or non-profit for this column, please email the information to firstname.lastname@example.org.