The Napa LGBTQ Project is inviting Napa County’s gay community as well as their friends, family and allies to discuss the future of an LGBTQ Community Center.
The Napa County LGBTQ Community Forum will take place Thursday evening to coincide with National Coming Out Day.
The discussion will include how to raise funds for the proposed LGBTQ Community Center, what programs and services the center should offer, and what the actual building and facilities should look like.
Fernando Escobar, a 19-year-old Napa resident, said he hopes the community center will offer a “safe space for all people” — regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
“Safe spaces are important to me because, where I live, I can’t really be myself,” Escobar said. “There’s always that possibility of getting kicked out.”
Beth Nelsen, 38, said a community center would be a “stepping stone” toward LGBTQ people feeling equal and more welcome in Napa.
“There are young people considering taking their lives because they don't feel like they have any place to turn. A community center makes a statement,” Nelsen said. “By just having a visible presence it tells these kids who are wondering whether or not they belong in our community that there is a place here for them.”
The need for a community center was proposed last year during a forum attended by more than 200 people. Participants also identified “raising awareness” and creating safer schools as top priorities for the local LGBTQ community, said Ian Stanley, program director of the Napa LGBTQ Project.
If the LGBTQ Community Center is built, officials said it would be the first of its kind for the city and county of Napa.
“While Napa County is technically part of the Greater San Francisco Bay Area, it is worlds apart in terms of acceptance and visibility for the estimated 11,000 LGBTQ people that live, work and go to school here,” according to a statement from the nonprofit Napa LGBTQ Project, which aims to create a safer, more welcoming and inclusive Napa County for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning people.
In late August, the Napa LGBTQ Project released a survey to help further identify the needs of the county’s gay community. The survey received nearly 400 replies and is still ongoing. Stanley said the response is more than double what he expected.
The preliminary results show that Napa’s LGBTQ community is a mix of races, ages, and income levels. Nearly half of participants thus far say they are in relationships, and fewer than half say they are not fully open with their doctors about being gay. Some respondents — particularly those who identify as transgender — say they leave Napa County for their medical needs.
The preliminary results also show that many LGBTQ people want to be acknowledged by their elected officials, and most feel uninformed about local LGBTQ events and news.
Stanley said the final survey results will be presented in June to coincide with LGBT Pride Month.