Louis Medina and Jan Hefner

Exactly six years since its 11/11/11 inauguration in response to the death of Seth Walsh, a Tehachapi teen who killed himself in 2010 after suffering bullying in school for being gay, the Gay & Lesbian Center of Bakersfield officially announced that it is changing its name to The Center for Sexuality & Gender Diversity.

Just like the opening of The Center, the name change was a carefully thought-out endeavor that was a natural response to needs expressed by the local lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) community, and in keeping with a national trend observed in similar service organizations.

“Centers all around the U.S. have gone through this same journey,” said Center Board President Emily Fisher, who works for Aera Energy LLC, a generous Center sponsor. “While it was very common for similar centers to open as the ‘Gay & Lesbian Center’ in their respective communities, most of them have since changed their name to be broader.”

Fisher cited a 2011 study from the Williams Institute, a think tank at UCLA School of Law, that suggests bisexuality represents as much as half of the LGBTQ community nationally. “And when you add in the transgender component,” she said, “‘Gay & Lesbian’ simply wasn’t representing everyone we serve. We also removed ‘Bakersfield’ from the name because our vision is to serve all of Kern County. Our community knows us as ‘The Center’ anyway, and our tag line — ‘for Sexuality & Gender Diversity’ — incorporates all sexual orientations (who you are attracted to) and gender identities (the gender you identify with).”

In short, we wanted a name that celebrates the richness of an LGBTQ community that continues to evolve and make its voice heard.

Center staff, board and volunteers had to quickly improve their own LGBTQ cultural competency while educating the community about such notions as gender-fluidity (which applies to people who don’t identify themselves as having a fixed gender), and sensitivity to preferred pronoun usage by, for example, transgender or asexual persons.

The time was right for this change for a very important reason: While we have always provided services to all LGBTQ persons since we opened our doors, over the past year we have added a deeper level of activities and workshops specifically to support persons who do not identify as gay or lesbian.

This is part of our new program, Reducing Isolation through Support and Empowerment (RISE), which is funded by a grant from the California Reducing Disparities Project. In making this grant, California’s Office of Health Equity demonstrates their support for programs designed to help LGBTQ persons live fulfilled, authentic and happy lives in California’s most rural and conservative communities. The Center is one of only three California LGBTQ organizations to receive this capacity building grant.

As we implemented RISE, we met new clients who had not participated in many Center activities before, because they did not feel included by our name, causing them to feel even more isolated and alone. The Center’s board heard these concerns and has responded.

The acceptance and support of the name change from clients and allies on social media was immediate and overwhelmingly positive, with a flurry of Facebook likes and shares, and such comments as, “That’s super cool!”; “Nice”; and “Love the name change!”

Our LGBTQ community is a diverse, vibrant and strong part of the fabric of Kern County. We work, pay taxes, go to school, marry, build families, shop, play sports, serve our country, retire and enjoy life-affirming activities like everyone else.

It is important that every person in the LGBTQ community knows, without question, that they are welcomed and valued.

For more information about The Center — whose mission is to provide a safe, supportive space and services to the LGBTQ community and serve as a bridge to the greater community — please visit glcenterbak.org.

Louis Medina is a board member and Jan Hefner is the executive director of The Center for Sexuality & Gender Diversity.

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