Since 2016, The LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert (The Center), in partnership with Alianza Coachella Valley, other partners organizations, students, and residents have helped create LGBTQ-affirming community spaces in the Eastern Coachella Valley. To be clear, queer and trans people have always existed throughout all corners of the Coachella Valley, including the Eastern Coachella Valley. The work of The LGBTQ Center has built upon the existence of queer elders, LGBQ and trans students, and supportive families and allies through the final 2016 Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) report. The YPAR report, conducted by a project of The California Endowment, then Building Healthy Communities, Coachella (now known as Alianza Coachella Valley), was a student-led, student-crafted and researched report about LGBTQ people and spaces in the Eastern Coachella Valley.
LGBTQ+ Youth Experiences and Voices at the Front
This report, based on 600+ responses of local Eastern Coachella Valley (ECV) high school students, aged 14 to 24, identified six top priorities. These top priorities, listed below, have become guideposts for LGBTQ+ spaces and affirming community through The Center Coachella. They are:
- Access to LGBTQ+ Teen Center
- Parent Support Groups with LGBTQ+ Children/Youth
- Mental Health Support
- Access to health care specific to LGBTQ+ matters
- Access to safe spaces
- Distribution of general information about LGBTQ+ Community Needs
Because of the work of these students, and community mentors and elders, The Center understands that creating a meaningful presence in a community comes first by listening then by responding, in partnership, to the needs of the community. From the beginning, we have centered the work, first through Community Engagement, and now with the first-ever LGBTQ community center in Coachella on ECV residents – from Coachella to North Shore. By employing this strategy, we have been able to establish a strong community presence, to build exceptional community partnerships, and to cultivate the credibility necessary to step into a greater role in the community to begin addressing the priorities of the YPAR report.
Making The Center Coachella a reality
One of the first tangible outcomes of the YPAR report was the first-ever East Coachella Valley Pride Festival in Coachella, through our partnership with Alianza Coachella Valley. Since that first event in 2016, the now annual Eastern Coachella Valley Pride Festival at Veterans Park in Coachella welcomes nearly hundreds of people who come out to support and be part of the event. Other LGBTQ+ affirming spaces include a LGBTQ Youth Support Group in Desert Mirage High School in Thermal and LGBTQ+ social game nights and film screenings that depict the realities of being LGBTQ+ in Latino/x/e culture and families in Mecca.
In 2021, The LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert opened The Center Coachella in the downtown area of Coachella for a more permanent vision of LGBTQ+ centered and affirming spaces. Since then we’ve hosted Trans Day of Visibility, other LGBTQ+ awareness day celebrations, film screenings, regular programming, and more.
In addition to community events and The Center Coachella, we support many GSA clubs and their advisors in Coachella Valley Unified School District, including at Desert Mirage High School, Coachella Valley High School, and Nova Academy charter schools.
At The Center Coachella, we believe this work changing culture and uplifting queer and trans youth goes beyond just one organization, or one space. We believe it requires all of us, allies, friends, and family, to build a world where LGBTQ and questioning young people feel valued, seen, and understood, no matter where they live.