OCEANSIDE — Maria Al-Shamma settles into a pale-green upholstered chair in the common room of the North County LGBTQ Resource Center. A pink unicorn pillow rests behind her back as her eyes light up behind thick-rimmed glasses. She’s sharing the journey of her 21-year- old kid, Eisa, who came out at age 13.
“In middle school, they didn’t know who might be an ally, who else was gay and not out yet,” Al-Shamma said. “So we felt we really needed to find a community, and this was just about to get started.”
They found that community in the North County LGBTQ Resource Center, a non-profit organization providing resources and support for those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning. This year marks its 10th year of service and Al-Shamma has been involved for six and now serves as the Board of Directors Chair. When her kid Eisa came out as trans in college, Al-Shamma leaned into the center.
“As a parent and somebody needing the services of the community it felt absolutely vital,” Al-Shamma said.
Situated among apartment buildings on Mission Avenue in Oceanside, the Resource Center offers support groups, youth outreach both on and off-site, gender programs, HIV testing and several other services benefiting the local LGBTQ community and their loved ones.
Max Disposti, the Executive Director and Founder of the Resource Center, explained that its founding in 2008 addressed the alarmingly low visibility of LGBTQ people in the area.
“Our elected officials didn’t talk about us. There were no spaces where people go to hang out. Schools had horrible outcomes for LGBT youth,” Disposti said. “Overall it was a total disaster.”
In 2014, the Human Rights Campaign gave Oceanside a 57 out of 100 on the Municipal Equality index. In 2017, the city scored 100. Still, there is work to be done in North County — Escondido scored a 60 in 2017. Disposti sees the Resource Center as a critical part of the change.
“We envisioned this idea of creating a real presence that has made a difference already, because now the city of Oceanside works with us, the community works with us, they like to overcome challenges with us,” Disposti said. “We’re not alone anymore.”
This year, the Resource Center is nodding to its progress through its annual Gala, with the theme, “Growing our community roots: 10 years of planting seeds of hope.” This fundraiser provides nearly one-third of the Resource Center’s revenue — the other two-thirds stem from grants, individual donations and of course, the North County Pride parade.
Event organizer and part-time staff member Lisa Nava said the gala exposes the community to the work of the Resource Center.
“We’re doing great things, and we want people to do those great things with us,” Nava said.
The organization uses the funds from the gala to help plan for future programming. In the next ten years, Disposti and the staff want to focus more heavily on homeless LGBTQ youth and trafficking. For now, the team wants to remain a hub of activism for the community it serves. Nava said she is proud of that visibility.
“We’re not underground. We are well established here in the North County region,” Nava said. “We’re here, we are involved, we’re engaged, from all walks of life, from all intersections, and we’re going to be visible and active all throughout North County.”
The Annual Gala, “Growing our community roots: 10 years of planting seeds of hope,” takes place Sunday, June 3, at the Leichtag Foundation in Encinitas.
Tickets are available online. Contact the North County LGBTQ Resource Center to volunteer.