For the Merced Pride Center, their mission states to provide support and visibility to Merced County’s LGBTQIA+/2S community through positive connection in an inclusive, welcoming, and safe space for all, according to their website.
One of their mainstays is regular support groups held at the center.
“It’s been incredible to see who come multiple times and seeing their own mental health improve,” Peter Gillis, Lead Facilitator, says. “And also having participants verbally say how much it’s improved.”
These support groups often have specific people in mind. There’s a group for youth, one for BIPOC, trans & gender diverse youth — and also one for their parents and/or allies.
“As a center, we’re trying to be as grounded as we can,” Director of Operations Eric Olson-Diehl says. “We’re trying to have a holistic group of how we can help the whole family.”
Olson-Diehl says the Pride Center is trying to create an environment that is normalizing who LGBTQIA+/2S folks are.
“Some people have even thanked me and other facilitators for giving them resources and giving them a safe space,” Gillis says.
Executive Director Jennifer McQueen says they collect feedback and data from these support groups, including questions on surveys such as, “Do you feel more connected?”
“Time after time, I get to see things like ‘I’ve never felt this connected to community’,” McQueen says.
McQueen says that the number of feedback forms they’ve received has been increasing every quarter, saying it’s tangible hard data of the connections they’re having. She says there’s a lot of positive feedback.
The Pride Center has a basic application for potential facilitators to fill out, and then are interviewed by McQueen and Olson-Diehl, but McQueen says they do not base hires only on experience.
“I believe that there is magic and valuable things to offer in every person regardless of what phase they are at in life,” McQueen says.
Gillis began as a facilitator before becoming Lead Facilitator at the Pride Center.
“I remember being in Merced prior to the Pride Center,” Gillis says. “I remember being like I don’t know how to be in touch with the community. There’s so much more that we can do and so much more we can touch on.”
Olson-Diehl says the support groups aren’t the only way they’re creating community at the Pride Center.
“We do have the groups but we also have other things to provide a space using the Center where people can come and be comfortable,” Olson-Diehl says. “We have special days just for movie nights or games. We’re trying to create a space that is welcoming and they can come and interact with other people and be themselves.”
The Pride Center plans to have a monkeypox vaccination clinic in the middle of October, noting that there is transportation assistance available, and plan to hold a community event around Trans Day of Remembrance in November.
Information about the support groups and other events that the Pride Center holds are often update on their Instagram page. The Pride Center is located within the Merced Multicultural Arts Center and is open Wed. to Sat., 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.