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Amid Delta COVID surge, some LGBTQ centers delay reopening their doors

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The Rainbow Community Center in Concord is one of several in the region that remains closed to in-person events, opting to offer online services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Cynthia Laird
The Rainbow Community Center in Concord is one of several in the region that remains closed to in-person events, opting to offer online services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Cynthia Laird  

The latest surge in COVID-19 cases in the Bay Area due to the Delta variant has led some LGBTQ community centers in the region to push back offering indoor programming. Instead, they continue to offer services virtually or in outdoor venues.

Both the Rainbow Community Center in Concord and the San Mateo County Pride Center are delaying their plans to reopen their doors as the latest wave of coronavirus cases has brought about a return of mask mandates and other policies to stem the increase. In the case of the Peninsula center, it is taking the time to remodel its space at 1021 South El Camino Real in the city of San Mateo.

It that it was adding a meeting space to its main room that will be accessible for folks who cannot use stairs and making additional changes to the layout of its offices. The Pride Center also revealed it had acquired Owl Technology so it will be able to offer hybrid meeting options going forward.

Any group hosting an in-person meeting will also be able to have people participate remotely from their home or other location. The system includes a built-in speaker, mic, and 360-degree camera that the center noted will help "remote callers feel present and fully integrated into the group meeting."

"Since the Pride Center's physical space has been closed, our intention is to capitalize on this opportunity to redesign the layout to be more accessible for both community members and staff when we reopen," stated the center.

Francisco "Frankie" Sapp, the center's program director who is on vacation until August 26, had told the Bay Area Reporter last month he was still working on an exact timeline for when the center could welcome people back. An August 6 email sent out by the center to its constituents noted it would likely do so sometime on or after September 23, which marks the start of fall.

"As the state has opened up and many businesses have reopened their doors, we've received a lot of questions about when the Pride Center will reopen ours. Since shelter-in-place began, the Pride Center has been effectively offering our programs and services online," noted the email. "However, we know many are eager to resume services within the cozy corners of the center itself. Our hope is to reopen our physical space by the end of the summer or very early fall."

After returning back to work Sapp told the B.A.R. the center is likely to gradually reopen sometime in October. The staff is determining which services should be prioritized to be the first offered as in-person services in a safe manner, likely case management services and the center's older adult program.

But going forward the center plans to continue offering remote services so those clients that lack access to transportation or have mobility issues can continue to receive care.

"These barriers may have only been amplified by COVID-19. Regardless, remote services are needed," noted Sapp in an emailed reply. "However, we also know that some LGBTQ community folks don't connect well with remote support. It is the Pride Center's intention to offer both virtual and in-person programs and services moving forward but to always do that with the safety of our staff and community in mind."

While the Rainbow center in Contra Costa County is preparing to hold a "Progress Pride Together" gathering sometime in October, it too has no plans to immediately begin offering in-person services again. It has created a special page on its website explaining what virtual programs and other services it continues to offer.

In a note sent to the center's constituents August 13, Executive Director Kiku Johnson explained it was "not safe, nor appropriate role modeling for Rainbow to 'open' for services even if masked and distanced" because its building at 2118 Willow Pass Road has "improper ventilation" and no spaces to accommodate large groups.

"We hoped we would be able to reopen our center and services to offer more in-person connection in early summer," wrote Johnson. "We continue to manage the risks and expectations and we care too deeply about each of you and us that are youth — not able to be vaccinated, older adults — that simply cannot risk exposure, our immunocompromised folx — managing compounded stigmas around status."

The Billy DeFrank LGBTQ+ Community Center at 938 The Alameda in downtown San Jose also remains closed for indoor meetings and events. Along with its online programs and services, it has moved a variety of its offerings into its parking lot that this summer received a cosmetic upgrade influenced by the colors used in different Pride flag iterations. This past weekend the center held a rummage sale, for instance, in its parking lot.

The center said in a recent email to constituents to "look for news about when and how we will be re-opening the Billy DeFrank Center SOON!" DeFrank board President Gabrielle Antolovich did not respond to a request for comment by the B.A.R.'s press deadline Wednesday.

Other centers
Several local LGBTQ centers are offering in-person events and programs. Since officially opening its doors in June, the Coast Pride Center in downtown Half Moon Bay has changed its hours and is now offering a new group for middle-schoolers at its 711 Main Street location from 3:30 to 5 p.m. the first and third Wednesday of the month.

It is now open for people to drop by from 2 to 6 p.m. on Mondays and from noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays. It also opens its doors from 2 to 6 p.m. the second and fourth Wednesday of the month.

The Solano Pride Center brought back in Pride Month its in-person counseling sessions, youth drop-in groups, and senior luncheons held every other Friday. It did so because its entire staff is fully vaccinated and is requiring all participants of its programs to be vaccinated and wear masks while inside the center at 1234 Empire Street in Fairfield.

"We are trying to follow the science and weighing the benefits of making sure we are able to provide community for folks and reduce isolation that LGBTQ youth and seniors particularly face," said Jonathon Cook, the center's executive director. "We are making sure we are able to focus on folks' well-being and mental health during this pandemic."

It was planning to have a Pride gathering in October outdoors in Benicia but this week decided against doing so due to the ongoing health crisis. It also once again postponed a casino-themed fundraiser it was going to host September 25 since it was to be an indoor event. Cook told the B.A.R. the center would likely have an online fundraiser in its place.

A full calendar of its programming and upcoming events can be found on the homepage of its website.

The Pacific Center for Human Growth continues to keep its building at 2712 Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley closed and all of its programming offered online. It has been asking people to make a $45 donation to cover the cost of a therapy session (or $135 to pay for three sessions) during the COVID pandemic via its website.

The Oakland LGBTQ Community Center has canceled its drop-in services "until further notice" due to the health crisis. But it continues to be open by appointment and for a limited number of support groups.

Masks, temperature, and wellness checks are required for all of its in-person services at 3207 Lakeshore Avenue across from Lake Merritt. Updated information about its various offerings can be found here.

Marin County's The Spahr Center at 150 Nellen Avenue in Corte Madera has remained open to the public with limited hours on weekdays during the COVID pandemic but has altered how it provides various services due to the health crisis. Its food pantry, for example, is now by delivery three days a week and its senior groups meet via Zoom. A listing of its offerings can be found here.

Since May the LGBT Community Center in San Francisco has been offering select in-person services with its other offerings available by appointment or online. For instance, its Cyber Center is open from noon to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday each week and requires that masks be worn. Also on those three weekdays youth can schedule appointments for services from noon to 4 p.m.

The San Francisco Community Health Center's Castro Clinic it operates on the fourth floor of the LGBT center is currently closed due to the pandemic. The agency's CEO Lance Toma recently told the B.A.R. it would remain shuttered for the foreseeable future because of the ongoing health crisis.

As its hours and programming options continue to change, the LGBT Community Center posts updates to a special page on its website.

UPDATED 8/26/2021 with comments from San Mateo County Pride Center program manager Francisco "Frankie" Sapp.

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