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Pride Center hopes to grow Pasadena into LGBT haven

By Sara Cardine 03/29/2012

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On Saturday, the campus of Pasadena’s Messiah Lutheran Church will be the scene of a different sort of healing as 13 health service organizations convene for a free, daylong health fair hosted by the newly formed Pasadena Pride Center
From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the fair will offer a range of services, from vision and heart screenings to body fat and HIV testing, as well as information on diabetes and cancer from City of Hope, Huntington Hospital and Pasadena’s AIDS Service Center. And while the event is open to anyone, insured or uninsured, the Pride Center hopes to specifically reach out to the area’s lesbian, gay,  bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) community.

Why? Because when it comes to offering services for this segment of the population, Pasadena pales in comparison to gay-friendlier neighbors, like Hollywood and Santa Monica. Individuals in need of medical or mental health services, or who may be seeking LGBT social networks, must travel many miles out of town — something that is especially difficult for young people or those with disabilities. But while gay-friendly businesses and organizations in Pasadena are few and far between, the need continues to grow.

At least that’s the position of Pastor Rick Eisenlord of the city’s Good Shepherd Church, which opened its doors on Messiah’s church grounds in 2010 as a safe haven for gay and questioning locals. Good Shepherd is the parent organization of the Pride Center, though the new group is not religious in nature.

“When I came here two years ago, there was virtually nothing for the gay and lesbian community,” Eisenlord says. “There’s an active and vibrant gay community here in the San Gabriel Valley. It’s been under the radar in many respects, but it’s here. It’s just looking for a leader, someone to galvanize it and bring the community together.”

Lives at stake
Since the Pride Center formed in September, its board of directors has developed several programs and events for LGBT youth and adults. Despite that designation, anyone is welcome to attend and participate, because the center’s aim is to gradually reform Pasadena into a more open and accepting community for all, according to Eisenlord.

In addition to a LGBT youth choir and a men’s community service group, the Pride Center has created a group for gay and bisexual professional women and self-defense classes aimed at teaching teens how to protect themselves in dangerous situations, including confrontations with bullies.

The idea for the self-defense class was developed partially in response to a string of suicides in late 2010 among teens who had been bullied by peers for being or acting homosexual. Predation by bullies is a big concern for gay teens, many of whom are still questioning their identities, says Eisenlord, who is himself openly gay and has experienced discriminatory violence.

“We’re still one of the few minority groups it’s acceptable to discriminate against legally. We have young people ending their lives because of that discrimination,” Eisenlord says. “We, as adults, have a responsibility to make sure that doesn’t happen. We can’t afford to look away any longer. Lives are at stake; they really are.”

He hopes th Pasadena Pride Center will raise awareness of the need for more gay-friendly doctors, counselors and crisis prevention services. But he also hopes that as more and more individuals step up and give voice to their experiences, a shift in thinking will occur and people will understand, as he says, “We are all God’s children.”

To Patti Loitz, that shift in thinking can’t come soon enough. When the Altadena resident tried to find support for her own daughter, Lisa, who came out as a questioning lesbian at age 16, she was shocked at how few services there were in the San Gabriel Valley. How would her daughter make friends? Where could she go and just be herself without fear of being judged or misunderstood?

“I was just beside myself, because I didn’t know where to go or what to do. There was nothing over here at all,” she recalls.

Today, Loitz is president of the local chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), an outreach group that supports friends and families through and past a loved one’s coming out. Despite the area’s slow march toward openness and acceptance of homosexuality and those who live an “alternative” lifestyle, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

“We need people to be accepting and just give love,” she adds. “There are tons of gay families around here who don’t even know each other exist. Connection is what it’s about, so people aren’t doing it alone. Once word gets out, I think things will start to grow.”

A new day
One of the participating service providers at Saturday’s health fair will be the city’s own Public Health Department, which will offer free and confidential HIV testing and counseling for at-risk groups.

Providing medical and mental health services to members of the LGBT community is important, says Pasadena Public Health Director Dr. Eric Walsh, because marginalization of any minority group usually just deters people in that group from getting the care they need.

“If you go into a place and you feel you don’t belong, that they don’t understand you, you’re less likely to access services,” Walsh says. “At the end of the day, what we want to do is not only prevent disease, but promote wholeness and health. And that doesn’t happen in secret.”
Eisenlord says he is amazed at how many local businesses, organizations and agencies volunteered to be a part of Saturday’s health fair. He hopes it is a sign of good things to come in Pasadena.
“Already, the business community here in Pasadena is stepping up to the plate,” he says. “If we can provide that model of what can be done, maybe other cities will follow and take notice. It’s a new day, it really is.”

The Pride Center Health Fair takes place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the campus of Messiah Lutheran Church, 570 E. Orange Grove Blvd., Pasadena. For more information on the fair or the Pasadena Pride Center, including a list of upcoming events, visit pasadenapridecenter.org.

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