Central Valley LGBTQ+ organization relaunches with new name, expanded focus

  • by Marijke Rowland
  • Wednesday June 26, 2024
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CalPride CEO John Aguirre, holding scissors, and CalPride Stanislaus Executive Director Roman Scanlon, wearing hat, cut the ceremonial ribbon to relaunch the LGBTQ+ center in Modesto, California. Photo: Marijke Rowland/CVJC
CalPride CEO John Aguirre, holding scissors, and CalPride Stanislaus Executive Director Roman Scanlon, wearing hat, cut the ceremonial ribbon to relaunch the LGBTQ+ center in Modesto, California. Photo: Marijke Rowland/CVJC

It turns out that there can be a lot in a name.

For a Central Valley LGBTQ+ community, a new name means a unified front and expanded horizon.

The Central California LGBTQ+ Collaborative is now CalPride, after celebrating the rebranding with a ribbon cutting in early June to kick off Pride Month. The change both unites the nonprofit organization's community resource centers and signals its intentions to reach out to other parts of the state.

The collaborative previously ran three resource centers for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community in the region, which now all carry the CalPride name. The Rainbow Resource Center in Modesto is now CalPride Stanislaus, the LGBTQ Rural Resource Center in Sonora is CalPride Sierras and Somos Familia Valle Central in Merced is CalPride Valle Central.

The organization, which opened its first center in 2019, offers free public services across seven neighboring counties: Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Tuolumne, Calaveras, Mariposa, and Amador. (CalPride is not associated with MoPride a separate grassroots LGBTQ+ outreach and advocacy group that recently celebrated 10 years of operating in Modesto.)

For CalPride CEO John Aguirre, who helped found the original collaborative with former fellow Stanislaus County Behavioral Health & Recovery Services staff in 2015, the name change is another way to welcome people.

"Growing up in the Valley as a farm worker's kid," Aguirre said, "I always felt alone. I felt like I was the only queer in in the area. ... A lot of folks still feel that way today. I don't want them to feel alone. I want them to see we are everywhere."

New name, same services offered at local LGBTQ+ centers

The CalPride banner is also a way to showcase a roster of services the collaborative offers across the region, said CalPride Valle Central Executive Director Katalina Zambrano, a trans woman. Each of the three locations offers peer support, STD/STI testing, gender-affirming care, and harm reduction programs.

"As our (locations) developed, we realized there was a disconnect between our three centers," Zambrano said. "As wonderful as it is for us to have our own flavors, having our own names sometimes confused people. Now it's clear we're all one entity, just different regions. When individuals reach out to us, it'll be easier to find us."

In addition to running a variety of support groups, the centers offer everything from free Narcan and fentanyl testing strips to needle exchange, and housing and work programs.

Each center will continue to cater some of its on-site services to its specific regions. For example, the Merced center offers immigration services for its large Latino population, and the Modesto center provides an on-site shower, washer, and dryer for its unhoused visitors.

In addition to highlighting its existing services, the new CalPride name is a sign the organization is open to expanding support services to other parts of the state.

CalPride Stanislaus Executive Director Roman Scanlon, a gay man, said that in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic the collective saw the need for its services in other regions as well. Since COVID relief funding has run out, some smaller LGBTQ+ organizations have struggled with funding, and others have folded.

Those groups, and others, wanting to start LGBTQ+ centers in their communities are welcome to reach out, Scanlon said, and the group is happy to provide whatever help needed. That could range from sharing funding strategies and resources to becoming official members of the CalPride network.

"We hope to partner and expand across the entire state," Scanlon said. "We would love to share resources and our information to help (organizations) either create their own or we'd love for them to carry on the CalPride name."

CalPride staff and supporters attended the grand reopening of the LGBTQ+ center in Modesto, California. Photo: Marijke Rowland/CVJC  

Pride Month events and festivities held
CalPride has about 20 employees and a budget of a little over $1 million a year, mostly from state and federal grants.

Across the three centers CalPride serves about 3,500 people annually. The demand across the seven counties CalPride covers has been apparent since it started, said CalPride Sierras Executive Director Morgan Rain who identifies as nonbinary and bisexual. The Sonora center opened with Rain as its only employee in 2022, and has since added two more staff and several paid interns.

"It was just immediately clear how much need for LGBTQ+ services there was throughout our whole region," Rain said. "We've grown so quickly, I'm excited to see what the future brings."

As part of this year's rebranding, CalPride is also hosting a series of events in several Valley towns that have not held Pride events before. Festivities started with Sonora Pride in early June and continued this month with Ceres Pride at Whitmore Park, Waterford Pride at Beard Park, and Turlock Pride at Donnelly Park and Coulterville Pride in Coulterville Park.

"I know a lot of people might be thinking, why do they need Pride Month, or why are these events necessary?" Scanlon said. "It's necessary because there's kids like myself (who were suicidal) at one point who thought that they were alone who had no one else to talk to to understand what was happening with them. ... We're here for them. They're not alone."

Scanlon said it's more important than ever for LGBTQ+ community members and supporters to be visible. Last year some 510 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in state legislatures across the country, part of an ongoing backlash against the civil rights advances made in recent years. Less than half way through this year, the American Civil Liberties Union is already tracking 515 anti-LGBTQ bills.

"One of the things that we're really trying to do is be visible," Scanlon said. "The idea is to showcase that we are here and we're not going anywhere. This is CalPride. We're growing daily."

Marijke Rowland is the senior health equity reporter for the Central Valley Journalism Collaborative, a nonprofit newsroom that publishes The Merced FOCUS, where this article first appeared, in collaboration with the California Health Care Foundation (CHCF).

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