GIVE BACK

THE LGBTQ CENTER ORANGE COUNTY

CELEBRATES 50 YEARS OF SERVICE

By Carrie Freitas | Editor

MAR-APR 2021 ISSUE

Peg Corley, Executive Director, LGBTQ Center of Orange County

As the LGBTQ Center of Orange County website’s introductory video states (and I paraphrase here), Orange County is a beautiful place with arguably perfect weather — but the climate here is not perfect for everyone. It certainly isn’t always a welcoming social, economic or political environment for those who are marginalized. And that’s a big reason that the LGBTQ Center Orange County exists, to improve the quality of life for the members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community in Orange County, and often beyond. 

Headquartered in Santa Ana, the LGBTQ Center Orange County is one of the oldest gay and lesbian centers in the United States and is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. First established as a volunteer organization and helpline in 1971, the Center was incorporated in 1975 as a non-profit. 

 

Today, this community-based organization brings all members and allies of the LGBTQ community of OC together in a network of support and unity, and provides an impressive slate of services to more than 14,000 individuals annually across a broad spectrum of culture, ethnicity, age, and economic backgrounds. In addition to providing life-affirming programs, the Center also undertakes advocacy efforts focused on speaking out against hate and discrimination. 

I recently sat down (virtually) with the LGBTQ Center of Orange County’s Executive Director, Peg Corley, to learn more about the current landscape for members of the LGBTQ community in OC and ways that we all can support the Center’s important work. Below is an excerpt of our conversation.

CARRIE FREITAS: The LGBTQ Center of Orange County offers what is, to me, a mind-boggling array of services for the LGBTQ community in OC. While I realize the breadth of programming is important to address the varying needs of the people you serve, would you say that there is an area of focus for the Center in recent years? 

PEG CORLEY: Over the past 5-10 years, the impact of intersectionality has been a growing focus within the LGBTQ community worldwide, nationally and for the Center, specifically. Here in Orange County, we see many members of the LGBTQ community who are twice and thrice marginalized. In addition to identifying as LGBTQ, they also may be marginalized due to race, immigration status, and income. These people need our services now, more than ever.

 

CF: What is an example of how the Center is tackling the issue of intersectionality? 

 

PC: Right now, we’re on the front lines helping transgender immigrants who are seeking asylum in our country. Not many LGBTQ centers in the U.S. have the network and experience that we do in this area. We are partnering with the Public Law Center and other community organizations to assist trans immigrants in ICE detention centers to secure legal representation, mental health care, transportation, and the jobs they need to be granted release and to build a life here. Last year, the Center was instrumental in helping 19 people to gain release. 

 

CF: I know that transgender people of color in the U.S. and elsewhere are at disproportionately high risk for violent attacks. How does the LGBTQ Center of Orange County work to protect these and other members of the LBGTQ community?

 

PC: As a nonprofit, we are prohibited from active lobbying activities, but what we can do, and what we are doing to address this issue, is meeting with District Attorneys across the county on the topic of hate crimes. We are advocating for the protection of our LGBTQ population by seeking assurance that hate crimes against our community members will be tried and punishable by the strictest standards available by law.

 

CF: Mental health is, thankfully, seems to be becoming less stigmatized in our culture as a whole — or maybe that is wishful thinking on my part. What is the Center doing on the mental health front for OC’s LGBTQ community?

PC: We still have a ways to go to reduce the stigma around seeking out mental health services across the board, and this includes within the LGBTQ community. The Center offers mental health care and counseling seven days a week in three languages and on a sliding scale so that no one is ever turned away. Right now, due to the pandemic, our individual, couples and group therapy sessions are being held virtually and are, of course, LGBTQ affirming. 

CF: I know that mental health issues, and particularly suicidal thoughts or actions, can be a major issue for our LGBTQ youth. How does the LGBTQ Center of OC address this population?

PC: The Center is heavily invested in services and programs to support LGBTQ youth. We have robust school programs that have our staff visiting middle and high schools throughout Orange County to provide education to students and staff, as well as to support the schools’ Gay-Straight Alliances and Gender-Sexuality Alliances. In addition, our Center’s youth program hosts conferences, including the upcoming virtual “Youth Convening” three-day conference coming up May 15, 22 and 29, 2021. This conference typically draws more than 600 youth attendees and this year’s event will place a major focus on mental health.

CF: We’ve talked about the youth population, what issues are currently facing seniors in our LGBTQ community?

 

PC: Many people don’t realize that when an LGBTQ senior moves into an assisted living facility, they often have to go back into the closet. They fear not being safe or accepted at the facility, unsure of the potential reactions from other residents or staff. Teams from the Center are working with staff at these facilities within Orange County to build inclusivity and understanding and to create safe spaces for LGBTQ seniors.

 

CF: This is not the most natural of segues, but I’d love to get your insights on pronouns. I find that a lot of people are confused by the use of pronouns, especially when it comes to the 

LGBTQ community and even more so when we’re talking about someone who identifies as nonbinary. Are there any tips or rules you can share?

 

PC: A couple of rules of thumb apply here. The first is, ask. It’s appropriate and welcomed for you to ask someone which pronouns they prefer. And, it’s okay to ask them again should you forget. The second rule is that it’s okay to get it wrong the first few times. The important thing is that you show respect and consideration in honoring someone’s identity.

WAYS YOU CAN HELP

Join the Tableau team in supporting the LGBTQ Center of Orange County and its important work in our community in the following ways:

DONATE

Please consider donating to support the critical services and programs of the LGBTQ Center of Orange County. Visit

LGBTQCENTEROC.ORG

for more information.

VOLUNTEER

With only 20 staff, the Center runs lean and can use volunteers. In-person volunteering will resume when it’s safe to do so. In the meantime, you can contact the Center at

(714) 953-LGBT (5428)

or info@lgbtqcenteroc.org

o see how you can help with their virtual events and advocacy. 

VIRTUAL GALA

Plan to “attend” the LGBTQ Center of OC’s virtual gala, the Indigo Ball, set for May 1. Visit HERE for details. 

PARENTS

  • Make your home a place of inclusion and diversity, celebrate differences.

  • Select library books to read with your child that feature diversity in families and family structures.

  • Bring representation of other cultures and races into your home, including cultural celebrations.

  • •Expose your children to a wide variety of people throughout their lives, starting early on.

  • Push your child’s school to provide inclusive curriculum.

EVERYONE

  • Normalize asking people for their preferred pronouns and volunteering yours, as well. One idea — be like the Tableau team and include your preferred pronouns in your email e-signature block.

  • Educate yourself on LGBTQ issues globally and within your community; talk to your friends and family about what you learn.

  • Do your part to stop discrimination in its tracks, speak up if you hear or see members of our LGBTQ community being mistreated or disrespected.

  • Remember that we’re all much more alike than we are different.