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Carving Out a Safe Space for LGBTQ Youth in Santa Cruz County

By Calvin Men, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Saturdays are safe days for some LGBTQ teens in Santa Cruz County.

On Saturdays, the Diversity Center of Santa Cruz County hosts a meet-up event for LGBTQ for middle and high school students.

“A lot of students that come to our group aren’t just gay or lesbian. They’re also bisexual, pansexual, trans,” said Alex Santana, lead youth program coordinator for the Diversity Center. “They’re students who are questioning their gender. Those are the students we see coming more often that are experiencing transphobia or homophobia at school.”

The group meets regularly in Santa Cruz to hang out, as many of the teens describe. While hanging out can mean the usual for teens — snacks, jokes, internet videos, sitting on the couch — it can also mean heavier topics — bullying, sexual identity and navigating the nuances of gender.

There were 18 teens in Saturday’s session and the mood was lighthearted. The group gathered to celebrate Piper DeBella’s 14th birthday. Piper, who was born female and transitioned to male last year, was all smiles and joked with the group. But it’s different for him at school.

“At school, people say a lot of horrible stuff,” said the Aptos teen, adding that peers at his school make jokes about being gay.

The group allowed Piper to make friends without feeling judged. Many of the teens called the meeting a safe space to discuss those topics, which some said could and do ostracize them at school.

Max Brandt, a 17-year-old Santa Cruz resident who identifies as trans and gay, attends every week and has been a part of the program for at least three years.

“It gives us a chance to be who we are in a safe space where we know we won’t be judged for it,” he said.

 

 

Santana said the program fills a gap in the area. While there are a number of LGBTQ support programs in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, a majority are affiliated with academic institutions. This group is focused on middle and high school kids, he said.

While Santana said the perception of the LGBTQ community has shifted from tolerance to acceptance, there is still a lot of ignorance on issues out there and still discrimination.

“People talk about what’s going on in their schools. If they’re being harassed at a certain school, the kids share affirmative advice. They’re there for each other,” Santana said.

More than support the group’s morale, the Diversity Center also works in coalition with other county and city agencies to identify and change pockets of problems. Schools with the most challenges with LGBTQ students are identified and the organizations work to assist them with changing policy, Santana said.

YOUTH MEETUPS

What: LGBTQ youth meetup for middle and high school students

Watsonville: 3:30-6 p.m. Fridays at First Christian Church, 15 Madison St.

Santa Cruz: 1-3 p.m. Saturdays at The Diversity Center, 1117 Soquel Ave.

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Beside Manners

Over the past year, the Diversity Center's medical initiative has led powerful trainings on Transgender Healthcare to create a more welcoming environment for transgender patients. With the help of Jennifer Hastings, director of transgender healthcare at Planned Parenthood Mar Monte; and UCSF assistant clinical professor, this work has created the possibility to expand proper treatment for transgender patients. Read the GoodTimes full article here.

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LGBTQ+ Immigrant Issues

Even though a lot of work is left to be done to improve the lives of the LGBTQ+ community in the United States, our situation pales in comparison to the violence some LGBTQ+ communities face in other countries. For LGBTQ+ people seeking asylum in the United States (many from Central and South America), Immigration and Customs Enforcement subject detained LGBTQ+ immigrants to sexual assault and psychological torture. Click here to read Sharon Papo's Connection's Magazine article on LGBTQ+ Immigrant Issues.

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Gender Freedom

Thanks to the agents of change in the LGBTQ+ community, our understanding of the fluidity of gender has profoundly evolved over the past few years—but the work is far from over. In this month's Connections Magazine article, Sharon Papo discusses how the Diversity Center's programs assist many transgender and gender questioning individuals in the community.

 

You can read the full article by clicking here

 

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Love Wins. #Equality

After decades of hard work and activism, marriage equality is now the law of the land for our nation. This decision is just one small step forward on the long road to justice.  Sharon Papo, Executive Director of the Diversity Center, shares her opinions on a few of the many areas where full equality remains negated today. 

Read the full article by clicking here

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OUTSpoken: Come Out for Youth

What are some challenges LGBTQ+ Youth face in today's world of post marriage equality? Sharon Papo, Executive Director of the Diversity Center, answers that question in her Connections Magazine article. 

Click here to read the full article

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A New Year, a New Pride

After 41 years of similar shape and direction, the  Santa Cruz Pride Committee is taking a leap in revamping the celebration. Read the Santa Cruz Sentinel's Interview with Pride organizer, Dina Izzo, online by clicking here.

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Marriage Tipping Point

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage, will the LGBTQ+ community finally gain full equality? Sharon Papo, Executive Director of The Diversity Center, discusses her thoughts on this question in her article "The Marriage Tipping Point."

Click here to read the full article.

 

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New Diversity Center Logo

Our new logo celebrates the Diversity Center's 25th anniversary. Look for the new look on all Diversity Center documents in the coming months.

Our new logo celebrates the Diversity Center's 25th anniversary. Look for the new look on all Diversity Center documents in the coming months.

The new Diversity Center logo has been chosen! Look for it on all Diversity Center documents in the coming months.

We would like to thank all of the community members who gave their feedback through community surveys about the logo design.  

We also want to thank the board for their review, and the Design Advisory Group:

  • Tobin Keller:  Program Co-Chair, Studio Arts Program. Cabrillo College
  • David Kerr:  San Francisco-based online advertising/web designer. Recipient of numerous interactive media awards, including several Web Awards.
  • Myke Reilly:  San Francisco-based visual artist and electronic media designer
  • Rose Sellery:  Art Gallery Program Coordinator, Cabrillo College. Co-founder of the annual Santa Cruz Fashion Art runway show
  • Mike Tossy:  Database and process engineering expert; recently retired from eBay. Known locally for his travel and nature photography. 

We hope this new logo will honor the Diversity Center's 25th anniversary - all of those who have built this community organization, and all of those who are still to come

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