Written by Jim Reeves
Vision. Nothing important gets accomplished without it. In 2011, Justin Kamimoto saw a need for a youth-oriented LGBT resource. He didn't think to himself "somebody should do something about that", he stepped up and created it. Pulling together a team of like-minded people to help, he simply did what needed to be done, and MY LGBT PLUS was born. Now a major presence in the region's LGBT community, Facebook Stories recently highlighted Justin's vision in a video viewed over 1.2 million times. A vision, and the drive to bring it to reality, even in the face of "it will never work here", is where change begins. Today, in Visalia, vision and drive have come together to create a new reality for the LGBT+ community in Tulare and Kings Counties.
The Central Valley has long been California's most conservative region. Life for LGBT residents here has, at times, been a difficult struggle. Lack of community, resources, role models, and political power has kept LGBT residents fragmented and nearly invisible. While slowly evolving over the past couple of decades, change is about to take a big leap in Tulare and Kings Counties, and it will be headquartered in Visalia. That change is called 'theSOURCE LGBT+ Center'. I want you to meet a couple of the driving forces, theSOURCE, behind that vision.
Brian Poth, 40, graduated from Tulare Union High School, and then Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Brian has been an actor since childhood, with appearances in Kids Incorporated, Mr. Belvedere, Knots Landing, and later such shows as Six Feet Under, CSI: Miami, Criminal Minds, Bones, and most recently an appearance on the TV show Castle, set to air in May. Living in West Hollywood until a family emergency brought him back to Tulare, the lack of LGBT services and places to gather was in stark contrast to the resources he was used to having available in Los Angeles.
Nick Vargas, 38, graduated from Golden West High School, and then attended Stanford University. Living in San Francisco's Castro District, Nick was an investment adviser. A family emergency also brought him back home, to Visalia. He, too, went from access to a world-class LGBT center and community, to the reality of Tulare County. It was a difficult adjustment. Nick loves being near family, but it was not easy being back in Visalia with no readily identifiable community.
Brian and Nick met at a dinner hosted by a mutual acquaintance, and the two became friends, bonding over their shared experiences. An idea began to gel, and they decided to do what no one had yet done. Tulare County needed an LGBT center, and with their experience, vision, and drive, not to mention the examples of top-notch operations in Los Angeles and San Francisco as a guide, they decided they would create one.
Momentum quickly gathered. Brian, Nick, Bev Anderson, Amy Benton, Reyes Anaya, and Bill Frolli began working on a plan, and, perhaps to their own surprise, the idea took off like a rocket. Organizational meetings were held, hosted by the non-denominational Center for Spiritual Living in Visalia, each one with more attendees than the last. A Crowdrise site was created to accept donations, with the initial goal of $5,000 set to cover the first year's expenses. Donations began pouring in, and the goal was reached within a few weeks. (not a group to rest on their laurels, they've upped the goal to $6,000)
A site in downtown Visalia has been secured, and will serve as the physical location of theSOURCE. 208 W. Main Street, Suite B, is located in the Montgomery Square, with a scheduled opening May 6, 2016.
theSource will be a clearinghouse and meeting place, drawing together the currently dispersed people, agencies, groups, and information relevant to the LGBT community and their allies. It will enlarge the community, and bring together people who were working for the same goals in the same area, but who may not have been aware of each other and the resources available.
Vision, and the drive to make it a reality, have come together to create the next chapter in Visalia's, and Tulare and Kings Counties, LGBT future.