by Mallory Moad
Two months ago, we celebrated Pride Month. Each year during the month of June, the achievements, advances, and absolute fabulousness of the LGBTQ culture are celebrated and supported on a national scale with parades, shows, marches, and other activities. And while music, glitter, and lots of rainbow flags are festive, struggles and setbacks – private, public, and political – still exist within the community. And those issues will still be in evidence after the party’s over.
But the good news is, the needs of LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning) residents in Fresno County are being taken seriously and addressed, thanks to the Fresno Economic Opportunity Commission (or EOC). This local organization has a history of providing a wide variety of programs and support services for the most marginalized groups in Fresno, whether they be racial, age, or gender related. Operating under the umbrella of the Fresno EOC Sanctuary and Support Services, The Fresno EOC LGBTQ+ Resource Center is part of that agenda.
The Fresno EOC LGBTQ+ Resource Center came to be when the LGBT Community Center, located in Fresno’s Tower District, closed in 2017. Project Manager, Jen Cruz explains the circumstances that led to its creation: “When the LGBT Community Center Center closed down, it left a gap in services for the LGBTQ+ community here in our great city. Fresno EOC, through its inclusion team and board, were able to vote to open something to help fill that gap.” She was hired in March, 2019, and given the task of building a new center.
Jen began by meeting with staff from the old LGBT Center as well as many of the key organizations who were serving the LGBTQ community regularly. Starting small and taking one step at a time, an office was rented in Downtown Fresno where support groups were held four times a week. In 2020, the Fresno EOC LGBTQ+ Resource Center was awarded several grants that funded the expansion of programs. The center was able to move to a larger space (its current location) and increase staff size and the number of services offered.
The variety of programs and services continues to grow and is tailored to the changing needs of the local LGBTQ population. Peer support groups, counseling, and financial programs are now offered. A number of services for individuals who are transgender or transitioning are currently available. The center operates a Q closet where gender-affirming clothing and accessories are available. A transgender medical needs fund provides financial assistance to members of the transgender community who are in need of help paying for medical expenses, travel for procedures, and more.
The Fresno EOC LGBTQ+ Resource Center participates in community outreach programs, anywhere from four to six each month. Frequently open to everyone, including LGBTQ allies and families, they are often fun and entertaining occasions and feature games, educational activities, and drag performances in family-friendly surroundings. Some are low-key but enjoyable, like Game Nights at the center. Others are more elaborate, such as Family Pride Night at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo and Illuminate Our Pride, a massive street festival in Downtown Fresno. There are also monthly mental health and wellness events that address issues that are more specific to LGBTQ experiences.
As the center has expanded its services, its staff has increased in size, too. Currently, there are six paid employees and fifty volunteers who organize and maintain a myriad of programs. Enthusiastic, talented, and dedicated, their duties are many and varied.
After having started the center, Jen Cruz now writes grants, completes forms for funding, hires staff, and works closely with other staff members in her position as Project Manager. “I am absolutely in love with how we pay attention to our clients and watching them thrive and overcome their challenges.”Valeria Rodriguez Pedroza is the center’s Community Engagement Coordinator. Her main duties are to collaborate with community groups, organizations, and advocacy groups to provide services for clients and volunteers. She also manages the support staff and sings their praises: “I could not do this job without them! They are the heart of the center, and their efforts make it possible for all of my event organizing to go as planned.”
Case Manager Savun Sean started working for the center after participating in one of its programs, an experience he describes as “incredible.” He provides peer support, facilitates a variety of group meetings, and creates and runs workshops. “What makes me happy is working with kind, compassionate, and undeniably talented team members.”
Getsemani Rios and Kaede Acuna-Coronado are Community Outreach Specialists. Focusing on networking with the community and partner organizations, their job often involves attending community events to raise awareness of the center. Kaede says, “I do a lot of interaction with people in the community so it brings me joy when people come up to our booth or to the center and are able to be themselves.”
As Community Outreach Specialist, Jess Fitzpatrick has one title but many responsibilities. He provides presentations to outside organizations about the center and Worker’s Competency Training that addresses California law regarding diversity (specifically LGBTQ). He is unofficially the office Trans Manager (affectionately referred to as the Tranager), curating and verifying gender affirming resources for Fresno county, assisting clients with name and gender marker changes and managing the Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Medical Needs Fund’s applicants. As if that isn’t enough, Jess is also the current facilitator for the trans and non-binary peer groups. “We are a small staff but all of us truly have a passion to help others and will do everything we can to help our community members.”
Over the course of three years, an organization that began simply with support groups and resource referrals now provides assistance to over 600 LGBTQ+ community members each month. Let that number sink in. In just three years, the Fresno EOC LGBTQ+ Resource Center has done better than just fill the gap left in services in 2017 – that gap is overflowing.
To learn more about Fresno EOC LGBTQ+ Resource Center, including about programs, services and upcoming events, visit Fresno EOC LGBTQ+ Resource Center on Facebook, Instagram, or at fresnoeoc.org/lgbtq.
My name is Mallory Moad, and I believe a small number of people can do big things.
All photos provided by Fresno EOC LGBTQ+ Resource Center.