By Justin Vega
When Samantha Calero, a 17 year-old lesbian girl and recent high school graduate, was researching Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgendered and Questioning (LGBTQ) resources, before her parents became aware of her sexuality, she discovered that there were no support centers in Pelham Bay where she resides, and even the Bronx as a whole.
“Everything was in Manhattan,” Calero said.
Calero said she was hoping to find advice about “what to do when I was prepared to tell my family,” she said, and added that she wanted “to understand why I felt so alone as I did and the hatred I felt for myself.”
Today, Calero attributes that self-hatred to eight years in Catholic school, “You could only imagine the religious battles I had with myself,“ she said.
“In catholic school it wasn’t direct but it was apparent that being gay was not allowed. It was one of those rules no one ever said, but it was there.”
Calero was not alone in her quest. Those looking for support from the LGBT community in Pelham Bay, and throughout the Bronx, must look beyond the borough and into Manhattan for support from centers and organizations.
Luckily for Ms. Calero, her family had her back and she did not end up needing a support center.
“My family was my major support,” she said. “They were accepting of it.”
But, many other gay Bronxites may not be accepted like she was. Organizations like NYCPride.org and Allout.org are meant to provide support for LGBT people and to raise awareness, organize protests and pride events, and to help those who happen to experience adversity due to their sexuality.
The only center that is available in the Bronx is relatively new and called The Bronx LGBT Center, which is located at 448 E 149th St # 3.
Even though this center is an available resource some did not even know it exists. The population of the Bronx was 1,385,108 as of 2010, according to the census bureau. Among Bronxites, this center is one of the only centers, leaving a large amount of those who are of that population who are among the LGBT community without immediate district or neighborhood support.
According to google maps, the average trip to the nearest LGBTQ center in Manhattan, which is the Gay Men’s Health Center (GMHC), would take over an hour by train or bus, not accounting for delays or bus traffic.
Zaris Mota, 17 year-old LGBTQA – including the A for Asexual – supporter and frequent commuter, said that trip is unreasonable for someone in need of help.
“I take the train all the time,” Ms. Mota said adding that going from the Bronx to Manhattan would take “45 minutes to an hour depending on where I’m going.”
“It may be inconvenient depending on what type of support they need,” Ms. Mota said about teens making the trip just to seek out a more welcoming environment.
“Sometimes the trains are down and if you are in a moment of crisis and it would take too long to get to help. Then I understand that you may feel very helpless and make a very rash decision.”
Ms. Calero herself asserted that all the centers were in Manhattan when she did her research.
Ms. Mota thought the problem was one of visibility.
“I feel the larger issue isn’t location but advertisement because I didn’t even know where the LGBTQ center was until a few weeks ago and I still don’t know what services they offer,” she said.
Now the issue is that those in the LGBTQ community are not aware of the resources available in the Bronx and only are aware of those in Manhattan, which are less accessible. Ms. Mota believes that those involved in the organization should be spreading the word about the center and its activities.
Esther Denis, an 18-year-old girl and former intern at the Manhattan LGBT community center, gives us insight inside of an LGBT center.
“The goal of the internship was to kind of make leaders. We would learn things about sexuality, about substance abuse and how to make our school safer,” said Ms. Denis.
“The internship provided us with information such as our rights and things that classify as a hate crime,” said Ms. Denis. The 200 8th west 13th street based center in Manhattan provides an internship meant to train and educate workers to the point where they could manage or create a Gay Straight Alliance in their school. Ms. Denis describes a success story in which one of her Co-facilitators was able to initiate a GSA in their own school.
“Having a GSA in school is creating a safe school and a safe environment.”
“Creating a group you could identify with and feel safe,” she added.
In reference to the benefits of the LGBT centers she worked at, Ms. Denis stated that they “promote a safe space and a lot of resources. If you need housing [or] if your parents kicked you out. They give a lot of referrals to places if they don’t provide what you need they are really good with resources.” The place offers these benefits as well as “counseling” and scholarships for LGBT people to those between the ages of 13-21.
Even with The Bronx LGBTQ community center, one facility in the Bronx is lacking in comparison to the amount of centers available in Manhattan.
“I don’t think there are adequate resources, nor do I think people demand them as much as they should,” said Nicole Elizabeth Pedraza, a twenty-year-old college student, doula, and barista, on the matter.
“I think there is still a stigma attached to issues relating to transgender persons and that should be addressed and demystified too. In all I think the borough is lagging behind the rest of the city in those regards,” Pedraza added.
Part of the solution would include opening more support centers.
“Yeah definitely it would create a community of inclusion, a closer place.”
Ms. Denis believed that more centers should be created, especially for those who cannot make the trip to Manhattan. “It’s more accessible that way,” she said.
“I think it’s a great idea to have as many service centers as possible because they can only help people,” she concluded.