Note: This post was written before the COVID-19 outbreak. All groups mentioned here are currently meeting on Facebook instead. The groups are private and moderated closely for the safety of all participants. Schedules, links, and flyers for each group can be found at the end of this post.
By Angie Baker, TX HIV Syndicate Member
I was hired several years ago by the Coastal Bend Wellness Foundation to create a program for our local Corpus Christi LGBTQIA+ youth population ages 13-24. After creating that program, YNOT (Youth Network Out Together), we realized there were still many unmet needs within the community. We then created a program called Golden Greats in August 2018 to serve our LGBTQIA+ community members ages 55+ to help build community and reduce social isolation. At the end of June 2019, the agency moved into its new permanent home; the first building owned by the agency. This new space includes an area dedicated to the Coastal Bend PRIDE Center. As a result, our center moved from a virtual one to a brick and mortar one, dedicated to LGBTQIA+ community programming, resources and support. It is the first and currently only LGBTQIA+ community center in Texas south of San Antonio.
The Coastal Bend Wellness Foundation (CBWF), the parent organization of the Coastal Bend PRIDE Center, was initially founded in 1986 to serve those impacted by HIV. Over time, the agency has grown and expanded. While we are still the local HIV/AIDS service provider, the agency now offers a wide array of programs and services from primary medical care through our community health clinic and mental health services, to outpatient substance use services, youth programming and education, HIV & STI prevention, education and testing, and so much more. Offering these expanded services clearly highlighted a need to better serve the LGBTQIA+ community. Two local transgender women began facilitating a peer-led support group for transgender and nonbinary individuals hosted at CBWF. The group continues to meet weekly to this day (now called Transgender Therapeutic Support) and provides a vital source of support, information and resources to the local trans community.
There are many things that have surprised me through this experience. The resilience of the local community in the face of adversity is always something to reflect on. Learning people’s personal stories and hearing about their struggles and challenges, though perhaps not surprising, is a constant reminder that here in Texas, we still have a long way to go toward having true equality for all. There has been a tremendous amount of vocal support for the PRIDE Center and for the programming and services we are offering. The challenge remains in finding the financial support to continue existing programming and grow to meet additional needs in the community.
The Coastal Bend PRIDE Center operates Mon.-Sat. with a combination of daytime and evening hours. Several days of the week, we target programming for different populations within the LGBTQIA+ community with the intention of building safe community spaces, sharing resources and information, connecting people to needed services, and advocating for the LGBTQIA+ community. PRIDE Center staff assist those interested and in need with connection to medical, mental health, substance use/abuse; legal, housing, HIV/STI prevention (including PrEP), testing and treatment, and other services.
We also provide free “Safe Zone” trainings to offer LGBTQIA+ cultural competency information to those interested in learning more about the community and ways they can support it, and to dispel myths or false preconceptions people may have about the community.
We are the home to our local LGBTQIA+ community and strive to provide social opportunities for community building, advocacy, education and support. We have a small clothing closet and can offer food from the CBWF food pantry for those who qualify. The PRIDE Center has a lending library containing LGBTQIA+ books, movies, magazines and board games available for use in the Center or to borrow, and has computer access to those needing job, school, housing search and application assistance. Our staff offers light case management services, can assist people in registering to vote and will be a physical location for our local LGBTQIA+ community to complete the 2020 Census online. We also publish our area’s bi-annual LGBTQIA+ magazine, Hard Candy.
I think providing frank and factual information in a straightforward manner is best, using language and cultural references that are relevant to today’s youth and the various intersectionalities that create their environment. Young people, just like adults, sense discomfort. Providing regular intervals of prevention education in an open, welcoming and inclusive manner in which youth feel comfortable asking questions and getting connected to services they may need such as PrEP or testing, is absolutely critical. Truly listening to young people’s concerns matters so very much. Their concerns will drive their behavioral choices in one direction or another, and I’m often surprised or caught off guard with what youth are thinking about. Constantly striving to connect with these young individuals who are engaging in potential HIV-exposure behavior is critical.
As is true in other communities, reaching our rural, migrant and high-risk populations is a constant work in progress. Dispelling myths and misinformation, removing barriers to accessing services, and understanding and respecting why people may choose not to engage in services right now is part of the daily work being done. With respect to LGBTQIA+ youth, we are reaching a great number of young people connecting through YNOT, but there are still others who may be engaging in HIV-exposure behaviors who don’t care for group activities and may not be connecting for services. To reach these individuals, we need to continually strategize how best to change our marketing and outreach efforts.
Next time you’re in the area, we hope you’ll visit! If anyone is interested in showing your support or would like additional information, please visit www.cbpridecenter.org.
- PRIDE Center Chat (download flyer): Mondays and Thursdays 8am-5pm for all in our LGBTQIA+ community https://www.facebook.com/groups/CoastalBendPRIDECenterChat/
- Transgender Therapeutic Support Group Chat (download flyer): Tuesdays 1pm-5pm for all in our trans and non-binary community https://www.facebook.com/groups/TransgenderTherapeuticSupportGroupChat/
- Golden Greats Chat (download flyer): Wednesdays 1pm-5pm for all in our LGBTQIA+ community ages 55+ https://www.facebook.com/groups/CoastalBendPRIDECenterChat/
- YNOT Chat (download flyer): Fridays 1pm-5pm for all our LGBTQIA+ youth ages 13-24 https://www.facebook.com/groups/YNOTchat/