The Gay and Lesbian Center of Bakersfield celebrated the opening of its new home with an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday.
The Annex, as it's called, located at 841 Mohawk St., provides private counseling, workshops and other services. Vice Mayor Bob Smith and Councilman Andrae Gonzales, as well as representatives from the offices of Congressmen Kevin McCarthy and David Valadao, were among those attending the event.
“We’re very excited about what today represents. This is such an achievement for the center,” Center Executive Director Jan Hefner said. “Before the center was born in 2011, there was no specific place available year-round where LGBTQ people could gather in comfort and create a community. This new facility gives us the ability to expand our services.”
The Annex was developed after the center received a five-year $1.18 million grant in September 2016 from the California Reducing Disparities Project, a program of the California Department of Public Health.
With that grant money, the center, which originally ran with just volunteers, was able to hire some full-time staffers. The center's leaders also created the Reducing Isolation through Support and Empowerment program, aimed at helping LGBTQ residents succeed in school, their careers and other major life milestones.
“I just want to congratulate the Gay and Lesbian Center for their incredible accomplishment on the grant,” Gonzales said at Thursday’s ceremony. “This is a wonderful place for all of our community.”
Smith also congratulated the center on its new facility.
“People helping people builds community, and that’s what we all work for,” he said.
Hefner said one of the biggest changes the center saw with Thursday’s event is far more support from elected officials and their representatives than when it first opened in 2011.
“We’re happy to have support from our elected representatives,” she said. “That gives us hope that they will be willing to educate themselves about issues relating to the LGBTQ community. I’m hopeful this will open a door somewhat to being able to work more with them. We want them to see that the LGBTQ community is a valuable part of our community.”
The elected officials' representatives each provided the center with certificates of appreciation during the ceremony.
When the center opened in 2011, Hefner said there were hardly any elected officials in attendance, although she said that may, in part, have to do with the fact that they were a smaller operation back then.
Over the years, she said the center has grown and been a more visible part of the community.
“We weren’t able to do that much outreach at that time, so that may have had something to do with it,” she said.
Hefner said the increased support from elected officials this time around is part of a larger cultural change regarding LGBTQ people. People are more willing to come out to friends and family and there are more services now than ever to support them. The community has more visibility than it has had in the past, she said.
“More and more, people are finding out they have relative or friend that’s LGBTQ and see the challenges that they’re facing,” she said. “When someone knows [an LGBTQ person] personally, people’s attitudes start changing.”
Mayor Karen Goh said she could not attend because of another commitment. She had been scheduled to participate in a ribbon-cutting for the University of La Verne’s new Bakersfield campus at 5 p.m. on Thursday, according to the college. The Annex's event started at 3 p.m., with the actual ribbon-cutting at 4 p.m.
Smith, the vice-mayor, and Gonzales represented the city's government.
This story was updated with the correct grant amount. It's $1.18 million, not $1.8 million.