OCEANSIDE — Born and raised in the shadow of the Vatican, Max Disposti was expected to be both Catholic and macho.
He was neither.
“When I ‘came out’ at the age of 15, all my parents were concerned about was discrimination,” he remembers. “We had good communication. They were culturally Catholic, not practicing. Instead, they were community activists always giving back and thinking of others.”
Condemnation by the church of disadvantaged groups prompted Disposti to become a champion of human rights, especially women’s and labor issues.
“I was also frustrated that I couldn’t hug my boyfriend in public, and that there was no legislation that protects gay people,” he said. “I wanted to go to a place where I was accepted.”
Disposti worked in the hotel industry, saving money until 1998 when he moved to San Francisco. He volunteered with the immigration task force in San Francisco and Oakland, supporting campaigns for equality and social justice.
The winter of 2001-02 he moved to Oceanside, and in 2007 received his American citizenship.
“I was always fascinated with Americans and their passion for promoting civil rights and women’s rights to bring about a fair and civilized society,” he said. “It was inspiring. I’m very proud to call myself an American.”
Through hard work and long hours, Disposti achieved the American dream, realizing success in the real estate market. Like most entrepreneurs, there were sacrifices.
“My mother would call me and say, ‘What book have you read?’” he remembered. “I’d explain that I was too busy to read. She’d say, ‘Is that why you moved to the United States? To buy houses and get into real estate?’”
It wasn’t the answer Disposti expected, and prompted him to reassess his life.
“My mother knew I was a giver, and I began to realize that I had bought into the system and lost the freedom to express myself,” he said. “The American dream is about how much you can use your knowledge to help others to experience happiness, not being self-centered.
“At the age of 35 I matured from a young adult to an adult. My family told me that I needed to speak up. It’s my ability to communicate that makes me happy and feel alive.”
Disposti had already been involved with the San Diego LBGT Center and became increasingly concerned about bullying and the high suicide rate among gay teens, and the seeming lack of interest among schools to address the issue.
In January 2008, he founded the North County LGBT Coalition, a nonprofit that began to create LGBT visibility in North County. In 2010, he left real estate and put his own money into opening a storefront for North County LGBTQ Resource Center where he volunteers today as executive director.
Linda Johnson met Disposti in 2010 through the coalition.
“I heard he was going to start a center and wanted to be part of it,” she said. Today, Johnson serves as Disposti’s right arm as Front Desk Program Coordinator, fielding inquiries and scheduling appointments for free services that include counseling, HIV/AIDS testing and prevention, civil rights advocacy and workshops.
“We are ‘the little center that could,’ but we need the community to support us,” she explained. “People can sign up online for membership and have their dues deducted monthly. Funds go directly to outreach on issues including suicide prevention and homelessness. We honor anyone who calls or comes in, and where they are on their journey.”
In 2010 Disposti was honored with the Harvey Milk Award by the San Diego LBGT Center, and in 2011 he became the recipient of the Heroes, Pioneers & Trailblazers award presented by the Lambda Archives, a nonprofit that preserves and teaches the history of the LGBT community. Last year, he was nominated Oceanside Citizen of the Year by the Oceanside Rotary Club and served as a member of the Oceanside Library Advisory Committee.
He is nominee for the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Award at the Junior Seau Community Center Jan. 21.
In addition to serving as executive director of the North County LGBTQ Center, Disposti is on the board of the nonprofit Advancing Compassion Project and Main Street Oceanside.
For more information, visit ncresourcecenter.org or call (760) 994-1690. The LGBTQ Resource Center is located at 510 North Coast Highway, Oceanside. Hours are noon to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and they are closed Sunday.