Imperial Valley LGBT Resource Center founder and Chief Executive Officer Rosa Diaz speaks about how she came to start the center during an interview on Wednesday, June 2, inside the center’s El Centro office at 1073 Ross Ave., Suite E. | JULIUS OLIVAS PHOTO
Rosa Diaz’s upbringing in the same church that would eventually shun her when she revealed her own truth, is what led to a life of service to a local community with few resources available to them.
The Brawley native was called to service at a young age, and now stands as a pioneering force for what had long been a marginalized community in Imperial County as founder and director of the Imperial Valley LGBT Resource Center.
“I came out to my church where I was actually in leadership for many, many years,” Diaz recalled during a recent interview at the center in El Centro. “I finally came out and told them the truth, and they didn’t let me be a leader anymore.”
As Diaz told her story recently, the LGBT Resource Center was bustling in the background, buzzing with the energy of national Pride Month for the busy volunteers who are tasked with doing outreach to businesses.
Although the sunbaked Imperial Valley’s unforgiving heat during the summer months has shifted the bulk of the local celebrations to the cooler month of October (Oct. 4-9 this year), June stands as a national observance and celebration to honor LGBTQ voices and experiences as a direct connection to the Stonewall Uprising in New York City on June 28, 1969, following a police invasion of a gay club in Greenwich Village, the Stonewall Inn, that set off riots and protests throughout the city that sparked a tidal shift in LGBTQ activism.
Today, corporate businesses like Wal-Mart and T-Mobile have asked for the IV LGBT Resource Center to come share information in their stores, Diaz said.
After being taken from her leadership role in her church community, “I was looking for people I could have a conversation with about being LGBT. I didn’t know the LGBT community. That wasn’t the group of people I would hang out with; everything was church-related,” Diaz said.
In June 2014, she started a support group, and to her surprise, people started coming.
“Within six months, we started discussing opening a center because I found out people wanted resources,” Diaz said, adding she had experience working as a social worker for the county of Imperial so she decided “I can do this, I can find them services and resources.”
In order to establish what resources were lacking and what services were already available, the group leader found herself discussing the lack of support available with the county.
“I would inquire exactly what were the services, because I didn’t want to send somebody to them without knowing what it is they were going to experience,” she said. Diaz was looking out for her community and using the tools she had gained from her experiences in the church and as a social worker.
The services the county lacked for the LGBTQ community were the focus for the IV LGBT Resource Center. Soon, a relationship between the community and the resources needed was created through the diligent cooperative work the center did to reach out to agencies in the Valley that had services to provide.
“We were inviting people from different agencies, and they were showing up to meetings and they were telling us about their resources, their services,” Diaz said. “And this is how we built a relationship.”
As a volunteer at the center, Brenda Lopez-Ramos, now a social worker herself, worked with Diaz while she was a student at University of Phoenix coordinated the First Annual Pride Celebration in the Imperial Valley. She said she remembered Diaz’s commitment and leadership.
“Rosa has always been consistent, firm, and fair,” Lopez-Ramos explained. “I gained valuable leadership and community experience that I have been able to use in my professional career.”
Having worked in a professional environment with Diaz before that experience, Lopez-Ramos said she was excited to be part of the evolution of the Imperial Valley.
“As we know, Imperial County is super limited with regard to resources for all populations. The Imperial Valley LGBT Resource Center is extremely important as they serve everyone; no one person is turned away,” she added.
During Pride Month and all year long, the IV LGBT Resource Center helps to provide the community much-needed resources and services, not just for the LGBTQ community but for other communities in need of a safe space.
Visit the center’s website at ivlgbtcenter.com and find links to resources, information and a robust monthly calendar showing a slate of support groups for all demographics.
The center is located at 1073 Ross Ave., Suite E, El Centro. Temporary office hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. The center can be reach ed by phone at 760-592-4066 or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit the IV LGBT Resource Center on Facebook at facebook.com/ivlgbtcenter/ and on Instagram: @imperialvalleylgbt