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United Under the Rainbow

Diversity Collective Ventura County gathers LGBTQ+ individuals and programs under one roof.

By Chris O'Neal

Photo by T Christian Gapen

STANDING TOGETHER: Members of the Diversity Collective Ventura County during an Oct. 22 march. From left: Vincent Torres, Audrey Ford, Thrive’s Crystal Star, President Joseph Summers, Manny Edgar-Beltran, his daughter, Linda, and husband, Andy.

 

miling faces lit up Heritage Square in Oxnard on a cool Friday evening in October, when Diversity Collective Ventura County celebrated a year’s worth of service to the LGBTQ community.

That the gala happened at all is a feat, considering that not too long ago, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning community was left unorganized and disassociated, looking for leadership and advocacy. That all changed when a like-minded group of individuals came together to provide services and space for the many organizations in need of a home, giving adults and youth alike a voice in Ventura County.

In 2011, Rainbow Alliance, which assisted the county’s LGBTQ community, closed its doors, leaving Ventura County’s various LGBTQ individuals, volunteers and organizations without leadership. It was then that a group of individuals stepped in to fill the void, eventually leading to the founding of Diversity Collective. In 2014, the Collective became an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a singular mission: to promote advocacy, education, mental and physical health for the LGBTQ community in Ventura County.

The Collective has since reestablished the AIDS Walk, redeveloped the Ventura Pride Festival and created the community service award celebration, the Diversity Gala, all three of which help generate funding for the organization, its community resource center, the HIV and AIDS Education and Prevention Program and the youth program known as Rainbow Umbrella.

“[Rainbow Umbrella] went from being just a safe space for LGBTQ to being a peer-based support group facilitated by trained facilitators and doing outreach in schools,” said Audrey Ford, program coordinator. Rainbow Umbrella incorporated in 2014 as a nonprofit, and in 2018, the program became part of Diversity Collective as one program.

“When we incorporated, we found that there were about a half dozen LGBTQ organizations that had popped up when Rainbow Alliance closed its doors,” said Joseph Summers, president of Diversity Collective. “The goal was to bring them together under one umbrella.”

LGBTQ individuals face obstacles not often addressed by institutions, especially regarding issues surrounding mental health. A 2018 study of LGBTQ youth conducted by Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research & Evaluation found that mental health diagnoses were more common in transgender and gender-nonconforming youth than in those considered cisgender, a term used for those who identify with their gender at birth.

For Crystal Star, founder of resource and support group Thrive LGBTQ+, the gap in services for LGBTQ youth hit close to home when seeking therapy for her own 16-year-old child.

“The problem that my child was going in for, which was going back to school and having to go back into the closet after having been in this amazing safe space all summer long, was that she has to go back to [school] where there isn’t a [gay-straight alliance] and then go to therapy and the therapists don’t know what to do,” said Star. Star says that her child visited four therapists, most of whom had no experience working with non-binary or transgender youth. They finally found one who did — in Thousand Oaks, a 40-minute drive from home. “Those are some of the access problems we have. Something like Rainbow Umbrella may be the only space that kids can go and let their guard down, be who they are, dress how they want to dress, and identify with the name they feel that they want to be known as.”

For those 21 years of age and older, however, finding continued support proved difficult. In 2017, Star launched Thrive as a program, aimed at adults who have aged out of youth programs, to promote wellness and empowerment, free of politics and substances. She says that Thrive owes a lot to Diversity Collective.

“We wouldn’t be able to do that if it weren’t for Joseph and Diversity Collective having this community resource center, giving all of us the space to grow,” said Star.

“The way I see Diversity Collective making an impact in the community is broadening people’s understanding of what sexual and reproductive health means,” said Vicente Torres, HIV and AIDS Education and Prevention program coordinator. “Everybody has basic needs in regard to sexual reproductive health and that’s where people like myself design services and programs that meet their needs.”

One such method is known as cultural proficiency training, which looks to educate and promote understanding within institutions that serve the public, such as law enforcement and health services. Another is HOPE (Holding Our Pride and Equality), an LGBTQ-focused counseling center working with Diversity Collective.

As the Diversity Collective continues to grow, at its foundation is a new perspective on program funding. Rather than relying on traditional sources such as grants and scholarships, Summers says that primary funding comes from three annual events: the Ventura County Pride festival, which brings in roughly $55,000; the AIDS Walk, which funds the Collective’s HIV testing and prevention services and brings in $30,000 to $50,000; and the Pride Prom, a fundraiser for the Rainbow Umbrella that brings in $10,000. Independent fundraisers are sometimes held as well.

One of these was the reception hosted by the Museum of Ventura County in October (recognized as National AIDS Awareness Month). At the center of the reception was “Bringing the Boys Home,” four squares of quilt panels from the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt sewn by members of the NAMES Project Ventura County in the 1990s. Neil Coffman-Grey, secretary of the Diversity Collective’s HIV and AIDS Education and Prevention Advisory Committee, hosted the event with the Quilt Project Gold Coast.

For all involved with the Collective and its many programs, work can be challenging. Summers, who has 21 years of volunteering for LGBTQ causes under his belt, says there’s a specific reason why he perseveres.

“I keep doing it because there’s a need,” said Summers. “I initially did it to be of service, to keep myself on the right track. And now I do it so that others who most need it can be provided with services. I’m raising the voices of my community’s most marginalized, the people of color who identify as LGBTQ and our trans community, our gender non-conforming community, our youth . . . So that’s why I keep doing it: for them.”

Diversity Collective Ventura County
2471 Portola Road, Suite 100, Ventura
805.644.5428 or www.diversitycollectivevc.org


11-01-2018

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