Breaking News
More () »

The San Diego LGBT Community Center partially reopens to in person services

"The Center is the heartbeat of Hillcrest and people are really missing that kinship that we provide," said Naya Marie Velazco.

SAN DIEGO — After shutting its doors during the pandemic, the San Diego LGBT Community Center in Hillcrest is reopening, and it's showing off a new look.

There’s a warm welcome when you walk into The Center.

“We've been working on a series of renovation making our Center more beautiful and welcoming for our entire lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, non-binary, HIV and immigrant communities,” said Cara Dessert, San Diego LGBT Community Center, CEO.

The transformation was done through community input and effort. There's new flooring, paint, furniture, lighting, and restrooms.

“To be able to reopen our doors to this beautiful, improved space feels so special and it's a way to welcome our LGBTQ community home,” said Dessert.

The Center has felt like home to Naya Marie Velazco's since she was a teen.

“I came in for legal name and gender marker change,” said Velazco.

Now, she's The Center's Transgender & Non-binary services coordinator.

“I'm a trans woman and Chicana, very proud and visible,” said Velazco.

For the past two years, The Center suspended its expanded services to in person.

During the pandemic you could still go to The Center for sexual health and homeless services but many services remained virtual. Now, The Center is in Phase I of reopening to in person.

“This is a critical resource for our community and while we love virtual services we like that we are able to connect in person,” said Dessert.

Before the pandemic they were feeding 500 people a month now it's 2,000 which has exposed the demand for housing, youth and mental health.

“We are working to maintain the expansion of services to make sure the work we've done and serve those who truly need help during the pandemic continues to serve our LGBTQ community,” said Dessert.

The Center provides 80,000 services a year, it’s one of the largest and oldest LGBTQ centers in the country and has come a long way since it started as a phone line in a closet in 1972.

But Dessert says more work needs to be done to help.

“Particularly making sure our transgender and nonbinary community and youth are treated with respect and dignity at home, in our school and community,” said Dessert.

It can all start when you walk into The Center, feeling safe, valued and empowered.

“The Center is the heartbeat of Hillcrest and people really are missing that kinship that we provide,” said Velazco.

There’s one more touch that will be added to the welcome lobby at The Center. 

There's a call for local LGBTQ+ artists. The Center is interested in purchasing, leasing, and displaying permanent pieces from local artists that capture the vibrancy and breadth of our LGBTQIA+ community, as well as displaying artwork on a revolving basis, as it plans to open its doors.

If you have a piece you’d like to submit for consideration, fill out the form here. The deadline is February 18.  

WATCH RELATED: A sobering statistic, perhaps, only 21 lesbian bars remain open in America (Nov. 2021).

Before You Leave, Check This Out