As tensions mount across the nation’s chaotic political landscape, county officials look to support local lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) youth with a new resource center opening in October.
“The goal of this program is to identify opportunities to reach out to youth in the community who identify as LGBTQ, create a welcoming environment within the community, and offer support to help youth understand how their personal experiences affect their mental health,” San Benito County Behavioral Health Clinical Supervisor Veronica Gallacher said.
The new center, which opens on Saturday October 14, will serve LGBTQ community members and supporters in high school and individuals up to 24 years old.
The center will offer access to resources, support groups, art workshops, yoga groups, guest speakers, open mics, connection resources and other performances. There will also be regularly scheduled family events to help family members understand the stigma, discrimination and experiences of LGBTQ youth. Activities will change monthly and ongoing events will be driven by the needs of the LGBTQ community.
“The LGBTQ Resource Center is intended to create a supportive and safe environment for youth who may be reluctant to be seen entering our main outpatient clinic,” Gallacher said. “It is important to have a safe space for the LGBTQ community in Hollister to provide resources to LGBTQ youth and offer support groups while advocating for change in the community.”
The idea for the center stemmed from the 2016 Pulse nightclub shootings in Florida. Supervisor Robert Rivas and former Supervisor Margie Barrios held a meeting soon after the shooting to discuss the needs of the local LGBTQ community.
“The San Benito Board of Supervisors expressed interest in devolving services in our community to create accessible services to meet the needs of these high-risk youth,” Gallacher said. “This was especially important since studies show one of the leading causes of death for LGBTQ individual’s ages 10-24 is suicide. Also, LGBTQ youth are more likely to experience negative mental health outcomes due to stigmatization.”
County supervisors approved a prevention and early intervention plan from behavioral health this June that included the center.
The new LGBTQ Resource Center will be located inside the Esperanza Center in downtown Hollister. Gallacher said the central location will help dissolve negative stereotypes by offering mainstream visibility.
“In contrast to our main outpatient clinic on San Felipe Road, the Esperanza Center’s environment is more relaxed and focused on activities that highlight individual’s strengths and abilities as well as community support,” Gallacher said. “The Esperanza Center is less formal than our main office helping to eliminate stigmas promote acceptance.”
While the LGBTQ Resource Center is still in development, three peer mentors have been hired to help lead the project.
“Right now, we’re just trying to get as many people to know it’s being built,” said Raymond Andrade, one of the peer mentors. “Until recently, there’s been nothing like this in the community. We want as many participants as we can between the ages of 13 to 24.”
The center will be a judgement-free zone where youth can ask questions they might not get to ask elsewhere. It’s grand opening on Saturday, October 14 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. is open to the entire community. Attendees can vote on the center’s official name.
“A lot of these people are going through the same situations, but don’t have a way to connect with each other,” Andrade said. “My vision for our group is to create somewhere people can go to have a safe space. This would be a place to be themselves, ask questions and learn about things that are taboo in some households. I want to make it somewhere where people can learn more about themselves while also realizing they aren’t alone.”