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After 'I Do': Bringing LGBT centers to more diverse communities

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Organizing members of the future Pasadena Pride Center posing with the charity/street performance organization The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence at a March fundraiser. Pictured (from L-R) Aiden Aizumi, Aaron Saenz, Janette Ledea and Mary Aizumi.
Pasadena Pride Center
Organizing members of the future Pasadena Pride Center posing with the charity/street performance organization The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence at a March fundraiser. Pictured (from L-R) Aiden Aizumi, Aaron Saenz, Janette Ledea and Mary Aizumi.

The San Gabriel Valley is just miles from the LGBT support services in West Hollywood and Hollywood. But activists want their own center to deal with the specific needs of the local community.

This segment is part one of Take Two's five-part series "After I Do," on the issues and challenges that LGBT people face beyond the gay marriage movement. Hear parts one, two and three

There was a problem when Patti Loitz's daughter came out.

“Oh my gosh, I’ve got to take her to a place where she can meet other kids who are like her," she recalls thinking at the time.

But living in Pasadena, most resources for LGBT people are concentrated in areas like West Hollywood, about a dozen miles west of where she lives. "Not that it’s not that far, but I was hoping that there would be something that’s more local."

RELATED: What do you think is the biggest issue for the LGBT community beyond gay marriage?

She's now one of the many people involved in creating a new LGBT center specifically for the San Gabriel Valley.

A community just miles away but vastly different

As the acceptance of LGBT people grows, more are coming out in their own communities without the need to head to the traditional gay enclaves.

However, a place like Hollywood is also home to some of the largest LGBT organizations in the country. For example, the LA LGBT Center alone has five buildings, dozens of programs and hundreds of employees.

That's alluring to the people of the San Gabriel Valley, but getting there is another issue.

Liz Schiller is a lead organizer of the effort to create a new Pasadena Pride Center, and says the goal is to create a place that is accessible while recognizing the area's diversity.

"[There are] a huge number of different languages spoken, different cultures, different demographics," says Schiller.

More than half of the San Gabriel Valley’s residents are immigrants, with a majority coming from Asia. The language barrier is one issue that Asian LGBT teens might face, for example, when trying to explain to his or her parents that they're gay.

That may be because the closest word for it in their native and maybe only language is an insult or slur.

"They just don’t know how to come out to their parents," says resident Andre Ting. "They don’t have the vocabulary to explain to their parents."

A future service of the new center could then be connecting those kids with advisors and mentors who speak the language. There’s also the sheer size of the San Gabriel Valley — about 200 square miles — that's a logistical challenge.

"In L.A., it’s all one city, so if you have to call a service it’s very easy to find," says Aaron Saenz, who’s working on the future center with Liz Schiller. "But with the San Gabriel Valley, it’s individual cities that are separate."

Therefore a service in one city might not work for a resident in another. Compiling this network is another task on their to-do list. Saenz adds that the area suffers when it doesn’t have a central social hub where people can meet in person, and dating and hook-up apps have made that more problematic.

"Grindr, Scruff, GROWLr have really disconnected the LGBT community because it’s easy to find somebody, but it’s also made it harder to connect," he says.

Crowdsourcing what people want

Last January at a hotel conference room in the city of Monrovia, a cross-section of people from the San Gabriel Valley gathered to share their stories and talk about what they want out of a new center.

What was clear is that there’s a much different need for LGBT people who live in the area. For example, Ian Lawrence of Glendora said most doctors he’s found were just clueless about his health care needs.

"It ranges from everything to thinking you’re doing orgies all the time and need to be tested every two months, to just being in La-La Land about what some concerns are."

Meanwhile Aiden Izumi, who’s transgender, says it was hard to find other people like him even at the gay-straight alliance when he was in high school.

"There was maybe three, four people there, and the majority of those four people were straight allies," he said. "When you’re looking for someone who can relate to you and the things that you’re going through, that didn’t really work for me."

Despite these hurdles, there are many other things in the San Gabriel Valley’s favor.

First, it's defined itself as a place for couples who want to settle down, says Chris Ramirez.

“People that live in the San Gabriel Valley look to different sources of entertainment than they do in Boystown," referring to enclaves like West Hollywood.

But he says the San Gabriel Valley's pride is a more chill affair.

“There is no dance tent. Up until last year we had no beer,” he said.  

Also, last year "The Advocate" magazine named Pasadena as second gayest city in the country above places like New York and San Francisco. That took center organizers Liz Schiller and Aaron Saenz by surprise, actually, and also The Advocate’s own editor Matthew Breen.

"I did not think of Pasadena as a particularly gay or gay-friendly place," he says.

But the magazine gave more weight in its survey to things like LGBT elected officials and lesbian-coupled households, both of which are prevalent in Pasadena.

"It’s exactly the point," says Breen. "Changing the criteria was meant to look at different factors that would make a place a gay-friendly place."

As more people recognize that communities in the San Gabriel Valley are accepting, Liz Schiller hopes that a future center will have locations all throughout the area, each one tailor to a local community.

"I would love to see a center as large and well-established as the gay and lesbian center in Hollywood," she says, already on her way.

Her group announced that the first brick-and-mortar location of the Pasadena Pride Center will open soon just blocks from Old Town Pasadena.

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