LGBTQ youth find outlets at resources available throughout the county
By Danielle Brubaker 08/22/2013
At 16, Bonnie Rodriguez faced traumatizing treatment when she came out as a transgender. Being the only one at Pacifica High in Oxnard, she was bullied and harassed on a daily basis and eventually dropped out in order to avoid further discrimination.
Rodriguez purposely cut all her friends off before they had the chance to pass judgment on her. Now, four years later, she is attempting to reintroduce herself to those friends.
“It’s hard because even though I’m the same person I was when they knew me, they now have a completely different view of me. It’s hard to convey and present the image that I have of myself to others around me.”
Rodriguez is just one of many LGBTQ youth in Ventura County who constantly struggle with acceptance. In order to reach out to outcast youth who are dealing with various issues, Christine Cortez opened the James Cosper Stepping Stone Foundation (JCSS) on Jan. 1, 2011. The Foundation is in honor of Cortez’s uncle James Cosper, who was tormented in the ’70s when he came out as gay.
Cortez is also the executive director of the Ventura County LGBTQ Center, under the JCSS Foundation. She founded the center in order to better serve youth in Ventura County. The LGBTQ Center is located at 391 Dawson Drive, #1A, in Camarillo.
“We provide support groups, free individual counseling, couples counseling, counseling for parents trying to understand their kids, youth groups, sensitivity training for government services dealing with LGBTQ issues in the workplace, and training for group home leaders,” Cortez said.
The LGBTQ Center currently serves 25 youth, all of whom are between 14 and 24. They are involved with Pacific and Buena High Schools in Ventura, and are currently waiting on an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with Oxnard K-8.
Staying open hasn’t been easy. From yard sales to car washes, Cortez and other volunteers did everything they could to earn money for the foundation’s first year.
“I have sold everything of value that I own in order to keep the foundation open,” Cortez said. “To open the foundation the first day, I sold my seven-passenger van, and last year I sold my car and donated the money to the foundation.”
Cortez, however, isn’t the only LGBTQ advocate willing to put in the time and money to do outreach. When the Rainbow Alliance of Ventura, which provided counseling HIV/AIDS related services, closed due to state budget cuts, other resources popped up around the county.
About six months after opening, the United Parents Foundation donated the Camarillo building for use every Tuesday and Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m., and every other Friday. The transgender counseling group meets every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.
Counseling is available for parents and friends of LGBTQ youth at the Different Path Counseling Center at United Parents every Tuesday and Thursday night from 6 to 9 p.m. and at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Ventura every other Friday at 7 p.m.
The LGBTQ youth group Common Ground meets every Wednesday from 3 to 6 p.m. at 5654 Ralston St. in Ventura. This is a place where kids can hang out, play games, make crafts, engage in art projects and field trips, watch movies, have meals and get peer mentoring.
All the outreach has not been for naught. Rodriguez, now 20, is a regular attendee at the LGBTQ Center and Common Ground youth group. She goes to counseling and hangs out with other transgender kids at the youth group.
“I love hanging out with people who accept me for who I am, who support me, who have been through the exact same struggles that I have been through, and who know what it’s like to live in an uninformed and unaware world.”
All of the counselors at the LGBTQ Center are interns/trainees of professional therapists. They work with the individuals to better help them cope at home, at work and at school, and also frequently advocate for kids in court cases.
Rodriguez strongly believes the public needs to become more educated about the issues facing transgender youth.
“Instead of just taking in what the media says, people need to actually understand these issues and digest them so that perhaps there won’t be all these outcast kids who feel so alone in this world,” Rodriguez said. “No one was there for me in high school and I don’t want other kids to have to go through that.”
Despite the help that Rodriguez and other youth are receiving from places like the LGBTQ Center, kids are still facing an onslaught of public opposition to acceptance.
“It’s not getting easier for kids to come out,” Cortez said. “The world is cruel and harsh to issues that cannot be understood by everyone. Therefore, counseling, fellowship and community outreach reinforces positivity in the lives of these youth.”
The LGBTQ Center will also be hosting its annual youth/volunteer fundraiser on Aug. 31 at 255 Stanley Ave. in Ventura. This will be an AIDS fair and a health expo where many guest speakers will talk about issues such as sexual assault, bullying, domestic violence, etc.
For more information, call 419-9369, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.vcsfvlgbtq.org or www.jamescospersteppingstonefoundation.org