Like many places across the country, LGBTQ+ people have lived and thrived in Coachella, Mecca, Thermal, and elsewhere in the Coachella Valley… they just tend to get a bit overshadowed by the internationally-recognized queer destination like Palm Springs on the other end of the Valley. Still, despite the presence of a cultural hub like the Latinx LGBTQ+ nightclub El Destino in Indio in the 2010s, public spaces for our queer community east of Cathedral City have been historically lacking.
In 2014, the murder of openly bisexual 20-year-old Juan Ceballos in Mecca was the catalyst to change that. Students in local high schools organized, researched, and delivered a report (known as the Youth Participatory Action Research Report) on LGBTQ+ community needs in the Eastern Coachella Valley. Since then, The LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert has set out to endeavor working with partners to be a part of a new future in the East Valley, committing to that endeavor with a new satellite office space right in the heart of Coachella with full-time and part-time staff dedicated to the unique needs of the eastern end of the Coachella Valley. The context and history of how we got here is important, and it’s one that guides every step of this incredible work.
Positioned with this strong and ever-growing presence of The Center in the East Coachella Valley, we have been making a positive and uplifting impact within the community and within the lives of LGBTQ+ youth in particular. With 22 K-12 school sites in the geographically large district stretching from Coachella all the way to West Shores in Salton City, we are on a mission to ensure our local school systems are responsive to LGBTQ+ student needs.
Now, in 2022, in addition to visiting GSAs, we’re spending time with other schools that we’ve never been able to visit before and talking with them about inclusive curriculum, training, best practices, and connection to community. We are reaching out to every single school in CVUSD. We have also already begun making plans for what we can do during the next school year, including offering professional development trainings, organizing Pride Kick-offs, and continuing to make sure LGBTQ+ and questioning students and their families know they are supported in schools and in their communities.