Pride center reaches out to Stockton area youth

 

The San Joaquin Pride Center is located in downtown Stockton. Photo: Seth Hemmelgarn. 
 

On a recent Friday afternoon, a group of teenagers sat around a table at the San Joaquin Pride Center in downtown Stockton discussing where they were going to college, ideas for social activities at the center, and drag.

Listening to a group of LGBT youth, some of whom are still in their mid-teens, confidently discussing their sexuality and their futures may seem unlikely to happen in Stockton, a city with around 300,000 people that's about two hours east of San Francisco in California's Central Valley. The region is best known for agriculture, and LGBTs in the region are scattered.

 

 

 

 

Blair Eversley, 21, who's gay and grew up in Stockton, experienced bullying in high school and abuse at home. Speaking to the Bay Area Reporter earlier in the day, he said it was "really, really hard for me to come out," but when he was introduced to the center, people shared their coming out stories with him and made him comfortable.

Nicholas Hatten, the center's executive director, said with that kind of experience with youth at the center, "I realized this is what they need more than anything. They need that peer support."

The center, which has been working for more than five years to create a safe space for LGBT youth and others, has received a boost in its efforts with a grant awarded by the state health department's Office of Health Equity to launch its Cultivating Acceptance project.

With the grant - $1.18 million over five years - the center aims to expand outreach efforts to youth and help them make their school campuses safer, educate parents, and increase cultural competency among mental health professionals, among other goals, said Hatten, who's 42 and gay.

The funding will help boost the center's budget to $365,000 in the next fiscal year and enable the organization to hire an additional outreach director and other staff. It will also allow it to provide stipends for people who are earning their master's in social work.

In a news release announcing the grant awards for the center and other groups, Dr. Karen Smith, the lesbian director of the state's health department, said, "The California Reducing Disparities Project recognizes that many of the promising mental health services in our most diverse communities need additional support in order to improve their effectiveness."

 

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