Strengthening North County's Gay Community
>>> North County's gay community recently celebrated a milestone. A decade ago, there was not any formal support for people who often felt he felt invisible. This month, the North County LGBTQ resource Center celebrated their 10 year anniversary at the colloidal ocean -- coalition that created a. The founder tells us about his struggle to build the support. >> The first time I reached out to elected officials around the county or school board members and shared with them the statistics and data about LGBT and visibility, the answers I got at the time, there were not LGBT students in that particular school district. There were not -- was not in need for a councilmember to address it because there were not LGBT people. This is a town where nobody will expect you. Those are phrases that now I go back to these people and share with them in a positive way. I say, do you remember when you used to tell me then? It was just 9 years ago. My name is Max. I am the executive director of the North country -- County LGBTQ center. Growing up in Rome, just prior to the age crisis. -- AIDS crisis, it was not easy. We were marching in gay pride with our heads covered and sunglasses and I lost many friends of mine to suicide and hate crimes. They were never investigated. In one way, because Rome was a big place, we had thousands of LGBT people that I knew but we did not have the political power that I was hoping for. I had the confidence and the strength but I would be surrounded by tragic stories and see my community broken or split apart. When I came to San Diego, I always believed that our community can make a huge difference. When I moved to North San Diego County in 2002, we were lacking visibility for LGBT people. There were not visible papal -- places where we could go in. We were pretty much invisible. I felt like that for somebody like me who was privileged to come out when I was 14 years old, I lived my stance for LGBT rights quite openly. I was being an activist or an advocate. When I moved to North San Diego County, I felt I had to go back in the closet just to survive around the expectations of the conversations in North San Diego County. Having to disclose myself or that I was LGBT. The normative around me was very oppressive. I felt this was my opportunity to put my skills to work and my years of advocacy to do something and not just complain about the lack of visibility. The North County LGBT coalition was formed at the end of 2007. The dreams were big since the beginning. I gathered with a few people who were willing to create something in North San Diego County be we did not know if it would be a center but a physical, visible presence. In May, 2008, we were officially a nonprofit 501(c)(3). The challenges were various, we did not have a meeting space we will meeting at restaurants and coffee shops. In the process of confirming the coalition during the first few months, the people we were serving, the silent multitude of souls in North San Diego County, never had the opportunity to express themselves. They started to come to us every day. It was overwhelming. We realized right away that this could not just be a group of people that gathers energy to put a pride together. We needed to look for something bigger than that right away. We felt the responsibility on our shoulders to give those answers to people and organize them. We opened our first LGBT Center in December 2011. Opening a place was emotional. Is still is, to be honest. People were coming and walking through the center. They could not believe their eyes. They could not believe that there was something like that in North San Diego County. We had people from past generations that were coming and congratulating us and literally crying and they were walking through the center because what they experienced, the solitude and isolation was too much to take for many of them. I am humbled because I am happy that people feel comfortable enough to come and share their life stories with us. I will never forget that. At the same time, I know how these stories can turn into a powerful tool for defining difference and discrimination and isolation. We have been able to turn that energy into a positive outcome. It does not mean that people are not still broken. It does not mean you do not have the stories anymore. Actually there are more and more. We were able to transform lives and hopes because of the channel that we experience. It is the same in San Francisco, San Diego, Rome, everywhere you go in the Rome is back in the world that you have an LGBT center working. That is very powerful. >> That was Max, executive distractor -- director of the LGBT center. The store was produced by Michael Lipkin. -- Story was produced by Michael Lipkin.