OCEANSIDE — After three years of serving the local lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning community, North County LGBTQ opened its resource center at 510 N. Coast Highway 101 on Dec. 4.
The grand opening of the center comes three months after the sunset of the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. Cpl. Ashley Cardona, U.S. Marine Corps, shared her appreciation of having a place to go where she feels comfortable.
“It’s so important that active duty military have a place to go,” Cardona said.
The focus of the North County LGBTQ Center is to support military, youth and seniors in the LGBTQ community.
“It’s a place to go for youth who still feel like a target for discrimination and stigma, and elderly who came out late and didn’t have gay pride and gay marriage,” Max Disposti, executive director of the North County LGBTQ Center, said. “It’s a great thing for the whole community.”
“I’m happy they’re here,” Councilman Jerry Kern said. “They’re filling a need in the community that’s sorely needed. Any help with a support group will help all of society.”
Tom DiCioccio, fundraising development coordinator for North County LGBTQ, spoke of the challenges of being gay and misunderstood. He shared his personal story and talked about his suicide attempt several years ago.
DiCioccio said gays and lesbians continue to have a high suicide rate because of the pressure of not being accepted.
“There are so many young, beautiful people in their teens that suicide took from us,” DiCioccio said.
Social acceptance is important to all human beings. The center helps remove the sense of isolation for its members.
“LGBT families’ only resources are on the Internet,” Disposti said. “They have rights, but don’t have community support.”
The center is a place where gays and lesbians can feel safe, free and accepted.
“It’s a safe environment where it is OK to love someone of the same sex,” Disposti said. “You don’t have to hide from it. It’s not about coming out. We’re here. We have always been here.”
Ryley Mueller, 18, is a youth member of the North County LGBTQ Center. She said she felt a sense of joy when she found a supportive community. She was able to grow and share her life with her family.
“My mother took me and my girlfriend out for lunch,” Mueller said. “Something so simple as that is a big deal.”
North County LGBTQ teams up with well-established agencies to provide a wide range of support services to its members.
Support groups address specific needs and age groups within the LGBTQ community. Five specific addiction recovery groups are already on the calendar.
“If an individual is not accepted in their family they have a hard time accepting themselves,” Disposti said. “They may drop out of school or become affected by drugs.”
The center also offers Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) family support groups and HIV testing.
Social events, movie nights and art displays are also planned.
“Our services reflect the need in the community,” Disposti said.
A brick and mortar center gives interested members a place to go for services and support.
“We’re realizing more and more the need in our community,” Disposti said. “Working down here already 20 to 30 people stopped by asking if we have support groups. Parents are coming to find answers. There’s nothing like this … in North County.”
The center is 1,000 square feet and includes a large meeting room, two offices and a kitchen area.
Future plans are to add computers for youth programs. “We have a lot of things we’d like to do,” Disposti said.
May fundraising efforts at Oceanside Museum of Art raised $20,000 toward the rent and operations of the of business space for the center. DiCioccio said he hopes to make Harvey Milk Day at Oceanside Museum of Art an annual fundraising event.