CUAV helps LGBTQ survivors work through tough times

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Monday May 6, 2024
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Pablo Espinoza, the executive director of Community Against Violence, is working to add capacity to the longtime San Francisco nonprofit. Photo: John Ferrannini
Pablo Espinoza, the executive director of Community Against Violence, is working to add capacity to the longtime San Francisco nonprofit. Photo: John Ferrannini

When Alex's 12-year-old child came to them and said they'd discovered child pornography on their soon-to-be-ex-husband's electronic device, the trans and queer parent didn't know where to turn.

"I had him out the next day, because I'm a strong and determined person," Alex, who asked that that name be used and declined to give their last name, told the Bay Area Reporter in a phone interview.

"Trying to find anti-violence services — nobody had been physically hurt — there were not a lot of services available," said Alex, who lives in San Francisco. "He [the ex-partner] is a child sexual assault survivor himself, and while I had to get him out and get my child safe, I still had a lot of empathy for him. CUAV was a place I could come to talk to about this."

CUAV, or Community United Against Violence, is a Mission neighborhood-based nonprofit that addresses homophobic and transphobic violence. Alex showed up at a support group held on Tuesdays.

"I don't remember how I found them — it was days of calling, going in circles and trying to find someone who could help," Alex said of discovering the organization. "I just knew if I could find someone to help me, I could find a way to help [their child] as well."

Showing up at Take Care Tuesdays "was an out-of-body experience," Alex said.

"I was so confused," Alex added. "I couldn't relate to people laughing and smiling around me."

But as the session continued, Alex realized it was structured so that people's traumas could come out "in a more measured way." At one point, they were flummoxed by the book title "Rest is Resistance."

"Are you kidding me?" Alex said. "All I could do was worry about this."

But as time went on, it became clear to Alex that some things just didn't have adequate answers.

CUAV is hoping to bring on more staff now that it has been a recipient of state and local grants. As the B.A.R. previously reported, these include $750,000 that came from the Stop the Hate campaign of the California Department of Social Services, and a three-year, $420,000 grant to provide trauma-informed services to victims and witnesses of crime from the San Francisco District Attorney's office.

"We're hoping to hire maybe one to two more people," Pablo Espinoza, a trans man who is the executive director of CUAV, said in a recent interview. "These grants are cyclical, so we are hoping for a renewed cycle of the grants. We'll definitely be doing work with the grants in the next couple years — more courses, support groups, and trainings — and when the time comes to reapply for the money, we'll hopefully be first in line."

CUAV has already recently hired a new peer advocate and outreach coordinator, bringing its permanent staff to five. Another position opening up is to be a co-executive director alongside Espinoza, he confirmed.

People interested in job opportunities should check out CUAV's website, Espinoza said. The group's budget is currently "hovering around $690,000," he added.

Community United Against Violence, or CUAV, now operates out of a former artist's residence in San Francisco's Mission neighborhood. Photo: John Ferrannini  

Organization has downsized
The nonprofit has downsized from decades past. It was first founded in 1979, as the LGBTQ community was first becoming more visible in San Francisco and was dealing with homophobic street violence. Espinoza has been involved with the organization since the winter of 1997.

"I started out as a volunteer and then temporary staff and then hired permanent staff starting in 2000," Espinoza recalled.

The Great Recession in 2008 caused CUAV to lose half its funding and half its staff, he explained.

"We were a staff of 15," he said.

As the B.A.R. reported, the organization moved to more of a shared leadership model in 2009. Two years later, it moved from a larger, two-story office to its current space inside a former artist's house at 427 South Van Ness Avenue.

The district attorney's office touted CUAV as a proud partner in a statement to the B.A.R.

"The San Francisco District Attorney's Office Victim Services Division is proud to partner with Communities United Against Violence (CUAV) to provide innovative, culturally responsive services to members of the LGBTQ+ community who have been impacted by crime," Randy Quezada, a spokesperson for the office, stated.

"CUAV has been a trusted partner to the SFDA Victim Services Division for over a decade, coordinating impactful initiatives to better serve LGBTQ+ victims of crime through trauma-informed counseling, crisis response, healing justice activities, self-defense, and peer support groups," he added.

"In order to further the work that CUAV leads, SFDA has awarded it a three-year grant of $420,000," Quezada added.

So, too, did the California Department of Social Services.

Theresa Mier, a spokesperson for the department, stated that among the goals of the Stop the Hate program are "to help victims of bias and hate through community-based culturally responsive services that promote healing for victims and their families, and to prevent future hate incidents."

"Community United Against Violence is one of many nonprofit organizations that were awarded grants to provide direct, prevention, and intervention services and supports to victims and survivors of hate crimes and hate incidents," Mier stated. "Community United Against Violence was awarded to provide direct, prevention, and intervention services based on their demonstrated experience serving victims and survivors of violence in their community."

People who could benefit from CUAV services are often referred through partner organizations.

"There's people who seek us out, find us when they get referred by an organization or they may get referred from the DA's office," Espinoza said.

One such partner organization is El/La Para TransLatinas. Executive Director Nicole Santamaria stated to the B.A.R., "El/La Para TransLatinas has had a long working relationship with CUAV, we have shared participants over the years and we also refer to them when there is a need of peer counseling when our resource navigators identify the need with a survivor of any kind of violence.

"We also seek CUAV's trainings to help our participants and staff members to grow in understanding trauma and violence in the LGBTQI+ community," Santamaria continued.

"El/La stands alongside CUAV in our values and in our approach of trauma-informed services providing services with dignity for those who have been marginalized and excluded as the TransLatinx community and promoting self determination to our participants to move towards healing, collective liberation and Black and Brown unity," Santamaria added.

Another partner is the San Francisco LGBT Community Center. A spokesperson stated to the B.A.R. that "we are grateful for our ongoing partnership with CUAV in supporting impacted LGBTQ+ community members in building pathways to thrive."

Espinoza told the B.A.R. that CUAV is currently wrapping up a program called SAF-T, a 40-hour course where people who have received services can learn more about how to take on leadership roles in their communities.

Moises Lara, who identifies as Two-Spirit, is the program manager for SAF-T, which stands for Survivors Advocate for Freedom Today.

"We work with them [participants] on life skills, political education, and organizing in the community," Lara told the B.A.R.

Lara has been working for CUAV for almost two years.

"I love it," Lara said. "I wanted to work with a team specifically LGBT, and it's been a wonderful experience to not have to educate folks on how to work with someone who is LGBT, to not have to be isolated or discriminated against."

One of the 14 participants in that SAF-T course is Alex.

"The kind of materials we studied in this six-week course — it's a short-term thing, a 40-hour training — but this is the kind of stuff in college courses I took or wanted to take, and they are making this kind of material available to people who don't have access to it," Alex said. "It's a healing experience. They have helped me through one of the hardest times in my life."

Take Care Tuesdays, from 6 to 7:30 p.m., is virtual the first Tuesday of the month and in person the third Tuesday of the month. For more information about CUAV, go to

The State of California offers help for victims or witnesses to a hate crime or hate incident. This resource is supported in whole or in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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