Letter to the Editor, Sonoma Index-Tribune, January 12-15, 2018
Source: http://www.sonomanews.com/opinion/7859526-181/letters-to-the-editor-jan

EDITOR: In October, the North Bay nonprofit that I work for, LGBTQ Connection, launched a new Sonoma Valley site for our LGBTQ community building, support and youth leadership program. LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning individuals with and for whom my organization advocates.

My family left Mexico when I was 5 and we arrived to San Diego poor. My mom worked six days a week as a lunch lady, a cleaning lady, and as a bus driver to support our family. I quickly learned the price of family and belonging. I loved them, but I did not know if their love for me would stop if I told them that I like boys. As I grew, I began to isolate more and more since I wasn’t sure who to trust with my secret. If they knew I was gay, would my teachers and friends still like me? Would my mom still love me? Would my family stop inviting me over? Away at college, on the edge of backbreaking sadness, I finally and unexpectedly found a group of loving mentors under the group Queer People of Color. They not only accepted me for my sexuality, but also recognized how important my heritage was, and celebrated all of me.

Like me, some have to leave home in order to find a place they feel safe to come out and feel accepted and understood. No one should have to leave home or Sonoma Valley to feel part of a community that accepts all of them. At LGBTQ Connection, I work with youth to create stronger communities so that they can feel loved right where they are.

In order to better address mental health disparities within marginalized populations across the state, the California Department of Public Health’s Office of Health Equity is investing in exemplary promising programs like ours. LGBTQ Connection has years of proven success empowering LGBTQ youth in Napa and Santa Rosa as leaders of change, growing vibrant community movements that are multi-generational and cross-cultural.

To start this work in Sonoma Valley, we are launching a youth leadership team and bimonthly LGBTQ youth support group, and already have been offering LGBTQ trainings and support throughout the community. Currently, we are recruiting eight youth to be coached as leaders for our inaugural team launching in late January.

Connect with us if you’d like to be involved with our LGBTQ community and movement building and help us create more affirming spaces for youth, seniors and our full community. We’re always looking for support with events and trainings, food donations for our youth meetings, and volunteers to help us behind the scenes. eliseo@lgbtqconnection.org.

Eliseo Rivas
Sonoma Valley