From the creation of its first LGBTQIA+ organization in 1974 to the recent celebration of its 48th Pride, Santa Cruz has a rich history of LGBTQIA+ activism.
Local LGBTQIA+ organizations build community and provide a place of solace. Their presence is crucial, especially now, as legislative attacks against LGBTQIA+ people increase nationwide.
Lawmakers throughout the nation introduced nearly 500 anti-LGBTQIA+ bills this year. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) responded by declaring a state of emergency for LGBTQIA+ Americans in June.
“Our community is in danger, but we won’t stop fighting back — not now, not ever,” the HRC wrote on their website.
In this uncertain political climate, organizations in Santa Cruz County remain steadfast in their mission to provide support, safety, and celebration.
If you’re looking for an inclusive space, the following groups host events and workshops to bring together LGBTQIA+ members on campus, in the city, or elsewhere in the county.
Lionel Cantú Queer Center
Currently located on the third floor of the Bay Street Bookstore, the Cantú is the LGTBQIA+ resource center for undergraduates, graduates, staff, and faculty members at UC Santa Cruz (UCSC).
“We are seeing a shift in that we are not only lifting up the hardships people are experiencing, we are also lifting up how individuals and communities are overcoming challenges by [emphasizing] joy and celebration,” Cantú Center Director delfin bautista said. “We are focusing on how people are being badasses in countering hate, bias, and discrimination.”
The Cantú Queer Center’s resources, including their pantries, are offered Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
According to their website, their Clothing Closet provides students with gender-affirming clothes, such as skirts and chest binders, “without the discomfort of shopping in a traditional clothing store.”
Hungry? Free shelf-stable, refrigerated and frozen items can be found at the Cantú Food Pantry.
Tampons, pads, condoms, deodorant, sterile gloves, and more are available at the Sexual and Menstrual Health Pantry (SMHP) along with information on hygiene and safe sex.
At the Queer and Trans Library, folks can browse over 300 books focused on LGBTQIA+ narratives. Anyone looking to explore or understand more about queer and trans culture and their histories are encouraged to stop by.
Diversity Center Santa Cruz
The Diversity Center has served the LGBTQIA+ community in Santa Cruz since 1989. Located in Midtown on Soquel Ave, their services include a Senior Program designed for LGBTQIA+ folk sixty and over, trans support groups, and a youth program designed to create safer schools and nurture future queer leaders.
“I think the focus right now is just really supporting our trans community members because of the legislative bullying that’s happening,” said Meggie Pina, the Director of Programs and Impact at the Diversity Center. “How do we create financial equity and success for trans community members? How do we prioritize their joy and their safety?”
One offering within the Youth Program is Gender Venture, which guides youth in finding gender euphoria, explained Pina. The Diversity Center also offers free counseling for the LGBTQIA+ community. Other recurring programs include instructed yoga, a weekly book club, and a Rainbow Gardening Club. These programs are free, volunteer-based, and always welcome newcomers.
Pina underscores the relationship between wellbeing and community.
“In order to survive in this world that we live in, we need community,” Pina said. “Community for me has always been a verb, and I’ve always gotten out of community what I put into it.”
TransFamilies of Santa Cruz
TransFamilies is a space for parents and family members of trans, non-binary, and gender expansive children to come together to learn more about gender, share resources, and offer support for one another.
Andrea Damon, the group facilitator for TransFamilies, noted the spirit of collaboration within Santa Cruz.
“We have a wonderful coalition of educators and medical and mental health providers that create a strong container for our youth,” Damon said.
TransFamilies holds weekly meetings and welcomes drop-ins. More information can be found at transfamiliesca.org.
Queer Youth Task Force
The Queer Youth Task Force (QYTF) is an organization operating in Santa Cruz County and surrounding areas to educate, uplift, and celebrate LGBTQIA+ youth.
According to Stuart Rosenstein, director of the QYTF, the organization was founded by social workers in 1997. QYTF works directly within schools and organizes a slate of programs: the Safe Schools Project, Queer Youth Leadership Awards, and Trans Team.
For students looking to continue or begin their involvement with an LGBTQIA+ organization, the QYTF welcomes both new and experienced volunteers.
UCSC students can get involved through volunteering or internships for academic credit. Internships are available through independent study with approval of a faculty advisor.
More information can be found at QYTF.com.
Pajaro Valley Pride
Pajaro Valley Pride seeks to create “a safe place for LGBTQ+ community” in “an otherwise conservative area,” according to their mission statement.
Founded in 2016, Pajaro Valley Pride has hosted eight Pride celebrations and continues to offer a plethora of workshops and meetings, some fostering proactive dialogues and others embracing fun and creativity. This summer, they’ve thrown a candle workshop, a drag trivia night, and a pride party.
In addition to hosting recurring meetings and events, Pajaro Valley Pride offers scholarships to students who are actively involved in social justice.
The organization hopes to one day open a resource center in South County where community members can gather and thrive.
Students looking to get involved can contact the organization directly at email@example.com or visit their website to find volunteer opportunities, meeting schedules, and upcoming events.
The discussion of queer and trans hardships is valuable and necessary. But equally important is the celebration and preservation of LGBTQIA+ history, identity, and communities.
During times of legislative pressure and threat, local organizations in Santa Cruz continue to create spaces for LGBTQIA+ folks to safely practice communal joy.