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San Mateo LGBT center launches

by Matthew S. Bajko

The entrance of the new San Mateo County Pride Center.<br>Photo: Alyssa Canfield.
The entrance of the new San Mateo County Pride Center.
Photo: Alyssa Canfield.  

The Bay Area's newest LGBT community center will officially open its doors in San Mateo County on June 1 to mark the start of Pride Month. Its launching means that all nine of the region's counties now have community centers serving the needs of the local LGBT community.

"I wish I had something like this when I was growing up," said San Bruno native Lisa Putkey, 31, who is queer and was hired to be the center's program director.

The San Mateo County Pride Center is located at 1021 South El Camino Real in San Mateo, roughly 20 miles south of San Francisco. It soft-opened in February and has already begun hosting services, programs, and the meetings of the county's LGBT commission.

Convening in the building for the first time, having spent a decade advocating for the creation of an LGBT center, "it felt real," said Commissioner Jei Africa, 47, a transgender man who lives in San Carlos.

Africa, a psychologist and director of the San Mateo Health System's Office of Diversity and Equity, said the idea of having an LGBT center on the Peninsula was first broached by the county's Pride Initiative. It was then taken up by the LGBT County Commission, which was formed in 2014 to advise county leaders on the needs of the community.

Last year county officials designated $2.2 million over three years toward the establishment of the LGBT center. The funding is from the Mental Health Services Act, a special property tax state voters passed in 2004.

"Having the center in the city of San Mateo is hopefully really convenient," said Africa, noting it is a 10-minute walk from the city's Caltrain station and located on several bus lines.

The center is a joint project between five county nonprofits that have been delivering various LGBT-focused services under the auspices of the San Mateo County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services. The agencies are StarVista, Peninsula Family Service, Outlet of Adolescent Counseling Services, Daly City Partnership, and Pyramid Alternatives.

The quintet has been moving its LGBT-related programs into the center, while StarVista, as the lead agency, has been hiring a number of positions to staff the center, such as an administrative assistant, peer support worker, and a community outreach coordinator.

"We will have social events, education workshops, trainings, and programs in addition to direct clinical services for individuals and family counseling," said Putkey, who is an employee of StarVista.

The center has a three-year lease for the nearly 4,400 square foot space, formerly a bank branch, with an option to extend it for several years. Its hours are still being worked out, but it is expected to be open weekdays from late in the morning into early evening and at least one weekend day.

The Pride center is hosting a community forum from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, May 13 to hear from the public what sorts of programs and services it should offer. Its grand opening ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday, June 1.

It will also debut its website that day at


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