Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Oceanside, Hillcrest to Host Fundraisers May 20

Goal Is to Raise Money for a North County Queer Center


Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTO: Max Disposti (right) with his husband, Robert Waters. (© 2011 by Xena Warrior.)

Max Disposti has a dream. He’s been dreaming since he moved from his native Italy to the U.S. in 1998 and came from the relative Queer haven of San Francisco to San Diego’s North County in 2002. It was love that brought him here; he met his husband, Robert Waters, in 2001, and since Waters had family in southern California the two decided to relocate. He’s also been active in various community causes — “not only in the LGBT [Queer] community but also other social-justice issues” — since he still lived in Italy, and his issue agenda, “social justice, immigration reform, opposing the death penalty, helping the homeless and people less fortunate,” is not one usually associated with the conservative stereotype of North County.

Though he realized early on that “North County is very different from San Francisco, and the complexion of the community has to be different,” Disposti sought to bridge the gap between North County’s perceptions and Queer reality. “I wanted our community to become more visible,” he said. “I grew up in cities myself, and sometimes people in cities stereotype suburbs as more conservative. North County is more conservative, but it’s not because of the people.”

Disposti joined a city commission in Oceanside, where he and Waters live, and then started going to supermarkets and talking to people about Queer life and Queer issues. “We’ve never had any problems,” he said. “The fact that we haven’t had much visibility has given an impression of a lack of presence in the community. People in San Diego perceive that nothing is happening in North County. People who live here know the Gay and progressive leaders who are doing things.”

It was to bring the community groups together and to increase the visibility of Queers and Queer activism in North County that Disposti and others formed the North County LGBT Coalition in 2007. The campaign was kicked into high gear by the Proposition 8 campaign —and in particular the high public presence of the Yes on 8 forces in North County. “People realized there was a need for leadership” to take on the radical Right and to create a safe climate for North County Queers — especially young people still struggling with their sexuality — Disposti noted.

“I truly believe that we need to be represented everywhere, and to educate people that our families are just like everyone else’s,” he said. “We have been very successful in bringing the different [community] groups together. Last week we had a public event and put together a panel of representatives of eight supportive churches, and drew 50 to 60 people” — itself a challenge to a stereotype that showed the religious community is not monolithically opposed to Queers and Queer rights.

And now Disposti is working on making his biggest dream of all come true: the establishment of an LGBT Community Center in Oceanside to represent North County. He points out that the Center in San Diego is now one of the largest and best-respected organizations not only in the Queer community but the overall social-service community as well — but it wasn’t always that way. They had to build slowly, and so will the North County group. Nonetheless, he expects to find a location for his Center by the end of this year.

To make that happen, the North County LGBT Coalition is hosting a major fundraiser Friday, May 20, 6 to 9 p.m. at the Oceanside Museum of Art, 704 Pier View Way in Oceanside. Tickets are $30 with additional donation levels available at $100 (“friend of the coalition”), $500 (co-host) and $1,000 (sponsor). The event is themed around Harvey Milk Day and will feature Stuart Milk, Harvey Milk’s nephew and a rising Queer activist in his own right, as the keynote speaker. There will be a hors d’oeuvre table, a silent auction, a screening of documentary footage about Queer youth and programs to reach out to them, entertainment and a no-host bar. Tickets are available by phone at (760) 672-1848 or at the Coalition’s Web site, www.northcountycoalition.org

And for those who can’t make it up to Oceanside, the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (S.A.M.E.) is making their own Harvey Milk Day celebration a fundraiser for the North County LGBT Center. Their event takes place the same day — Friday, May 20 — from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Bamboo Lounge, 1475 University Ave (between Herbert and Normal Streets) in Hillcrest. The event will feature a video on the Equality 9, the S.A.M.E. members who were arrested last August in an act of civil disobedience at the San Diego County Administrative Center, as well as a presentation (either live or on film) about the North County Center project. There will be no cover charge, but a portion of all food and drink sales at the Bamboo Lounge that night will go to the North County LGBT Coalition to help fund the Center.

Disposti said that the North County LGBT Center “is not a new idea. We just needed to get ready. We needed to create an organization that was legally ready and had its own culture. We are a 501 ( c) (3) [nonprofit charitable corporation] and now we think it’s important for us, after doing community events, to start a Center. We’ve already raised $8,000. Once you establish a place with an office, all we need is a safe space where young people can go — and where their parents can come to have their questions answered.”

Long-term, Disposti added, “the challenge is not so much financial as to convince our elected officials that this is needed and that we’re creating a space where everyone feels safe to go. The money is one aspect. If you have the will, you can raise the money.” He also stressed that the Center will be an all-volunteer organization, and the only costs will be for rent and operating expenses.

Disposti said that once the Center has a track record, it will have a relatively easy time getting its programs funded because “this is an underserved community. So grants will actually be easier to apply for than we think. We were already able to access $3,000 for HIV prevention in the communities of color. That was easy to get because no one else is doing that except the Vista Community Clinic, and we’re working together with them.”

The biggest challenge operating the Center, he said, “will be running the operation and making sure our allies understand the need for a space. It’s beneficial for a lot of youth struggling with their sexuality and their spirituality. It’s also beneficial for people who grow up thinking their sexuality is against ‘natural law.’ As long as the Boy Scouts discriminate and the local churches demean our people, we will need a Center. It’s not a place to hide; it’s a place to organize and create a community.”