On July 21, 2016 Equality California Program Director Robbie Rodriguez, was invited to represent Equality California at this year’s California Rural LGBT Summit. Held in Visalia, CA, this summit was a part of the #RuralPride Campaign – a nationwide project of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in partnership with the Campaign for Southern Equality, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and True Colors Fund. The #RuralPride Campaign is intended to lift up the voices of the rural LGBT community and to connect the rural LGBT community with local, state and federal resources.
Robbie joined Chris Stoll, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Taylor Brown, The Williams Institute, Sarah Fielding, Legal Services of Northern California, and Van Landingham, The Trevor Project, on the LGBT Community at the Intersection of Poverty and Healthcare panel.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 10 percent of all same-sex couples in America live in rural areas. These families are more likely to be families of color, raising children, live in poverty and receive public assistance. Given the challenges of living in a rural community (especially during a persistent drought), facing entrenched trans- and homophobia still present in less metropolitan communities, and navigating the immigration system, rural undocumented LGBT individuals, in particular, face significant barriers to access to adequate health care.
Robbie talked about existing health disparities in the LGBT and undocumented communities and explained Equality California’s current on-the-ground healthcare work. Among Equality California’s various healthcare related activities, Robbie highlighted our progress in organizing two Health Care Action Teams (HCAT) in the Central Valley. The HCATs are comprised of representatives from the local LGBT activists, immigration rights organizations and healthcare partners. The teams provide a space for local community members to identify the unique barriers to access for the LGBT and undocumented populations.
Over 200 individuals attended the summit. During the first plenary session, attendees were prompted to voice any and all community issues. Participants brought up concerns around the need for housing for transient LGBT youth and young adults, finding safe spiritual places for the LGBT community, and finding adequate legal services for immigration-related issues. Healthcare professionals and teachers expressed, a fear to come out. Young people rejected by their families often find a lack of coordinated social services, and the region suffers a ‘brain drain’ of its LGBT youth. Overall people expressed that while their rural communities have improved in the acceptance of the LGBT community, progress has been spotty across the various counties and there is still a lot of work to be done to achieve full justice and equality.
Perhaps one of the most uplifting stories from Visalia is the opening of the city’s first LGBT center – The SOURCE. Thanks to the resolute dedication of a handful of LGBT + and ally community members, the Visalia community now has a dedicated space for the LGBT community to convene. The SOURCE is all volunteer run and is located in the Visalia downtown area.