A Poem for Fresno

Written by Jordan Fitzpatrick

Last week, I went to a queer poetry slam and read this poem that I wrote:

Fresno
I came to Fresno As a lost boy.
I came to Fresno And hit rock bottom.
I tried to kill the pain and memories inside.
As thirsty as a drought, I only caught on fire.
I tried to kill the pain -
Almost became another queer statistic.
My trans family and I
We are hungry.
In the bread basket of the world
Those crops are not for us
My trans family and I
We are hungry.
Kicked out of homeless shelters,
Turned away by therapists, doctors, surgeons
And our resumes go into trash bins.
My trans family and I
We are hungry
And so we live off a diet of revolution.
Sometimes the battle is just going outside and being yourself.
My trans sister, Casey Haggard
Was stabbed
And left for dead.
Cars drove by,
People walked by,
Just walked on by,
One person even kicked her
As they walked on by.
My gay brother, Imir Alvorado
Was shot
And left for dead.
People just walked on by.
A bicyclist even circled around his body.
And people wonder why
Why we are dying.
My community is hungry
So we live off a diet of revolution.
I came to Fresno As a lost boy.
I came to Fresno
And I hit rock bottom.
But my queer family helped me find myself.
I used to hate fresno.
I used to plan my escape.
Then I realized
The doctors,
Therapists,
Surgeons
Move away
Because they can.
They drink expensive coffee
In expensive condos
In expensive cities.
They just walk on by.
My community is hungry.
My community is dying.
And people wonder why.
This is why.
I used to want to leave Fresno
But now, I love this place!
One day, I will be a therapist here.
My trans family and I are hungry.
But we live off a diet of revolution.
Like a tree sprouting through sun bitten, cracked sidewalks,
We will RISE!

Interview the Artist: Francisco

About the artist: Ever since he was a child, Francisco was fond of creative activities: finger painting, doodling on note books during class hours, and drawing in his room all through the night.  He always knew he wanted to become an artist at a young age, but reality was lurking nearer. Teachers reported him bad news and considered that he starts thinking of a realistic plan B. After high school, Francisco enrolled into an art school in San Francisco to study fashion design. There he learned new skills and techniques to advance his self-taught artistic abilities. Graduating with a degree in fashion design, Francisco uses his skills and years of experience which includes internships, mentors, and work experience in the fashion industry. He believes he has a bright future ahead of him.

How long have you been an artist? When did you first start drawing, painting, creating art?
Professionally since July 19th, 2015. I started drawing around pre-school. (Finger painting) it was my favorite part about school.

Did you have any formal art education?
I learned from "how to draw" books and cartoon books. In the summer of 2010, I enrolled at an art school in San Francisco for my BA in Fashion Design. From there, I learned figure drawing, fine art, color theory how to construct a gown, and even fashion illustration.

Are you self-taught?
I was self taught up till my senior year of high school. I learned more creative skills in college and from books. LOTS of books.

What inspires your artistic style? Who inspires your artistic style?
History books, music videos, anime, comic books, my imagination. A lot of my friends would tell me I have a very interesting imagination. I'm not sure if that's a good or bad complement....never the less, I create a story that will turn heads.

I admire many designers from the fashion industry. I personally love haute couture fashion week. I took a class for fashion history part 1&2. During the class hours, I learned many styles and techniques from the old times. 18th century, late 40s, 50s, 60s and even 70s punk. But there is no limit. I love all fashion.

For some, creating art and being an artist is a job, for others it could be an emotional outlet. What purpose does art serve for you?
My art has to make me feel happy. If I don't like something I drew or created, I doodle over it until I'm satisfied. When I take a break from drawing and come back, I quickly change my perspective of my own work and decide that this art piece is, "cool."


What are some of your dreams or aspirations that you’d like to accomplish with your art?
Quit my part- time job and make my art and fashion a successful, stable, life time career.

Where can others get in contact with you?
Right now, I'm working on my shop and website, but I do have an Instagram: (@francisco_illustrations) there you can see all my artwork and doodles I post daily. Or by email: (francisco.illustrations@gmail.com). I’ve had my art displayed at the (Fresno Art Hub) 2024 N. Van Ness Blvd, Fresno, CA. I’ve been hustling all month long...a lot is happening this year.

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If your art could talk, what would it say? If your art were a person, what would they be like?What would their personality consist of?
I'm not sure what it would exactly say, but I know it'll probably be something inappropriate.....in my experience with making new friends and professional services, if you don't have nothing nice to say, keep your mouth shut...

If my made up fashion characters were real life Barbie dolls, their resting face would be sassy, always dressed fashionable, and abnormal to society. To be honest, they probably wouldn't be accepted in society or the fashion industry because they're different....sad face.

Last question, your art style is very unique and a common theme appears to be feminine figures with large eyes. How do you personally describe your artistic style?
Good eye there, mate! I'm not sure how the big eyes and big lips came from? I do know that they will not be going anywhere anytime soon...i guess you could say, it's one of my signature looks. My style is always changing. It can be feminine, punk, glamorous, animated, and even retro, but overall, it's still mine. I control the pen, and the paper is my world to create.

Meet Marcus Navarro

On Saturday, April 22nd, 2017 Genders & Sexualities Alliance Network will be hosting its annual central valley conference for LGBTQ+ youth, Expression Not Suppression (ENS). This is an event that I look forward to every year. People from all across the central valley come to Fresno on this day to participate and connect. Youth and supporting adults can attend a full range of workshops containing a variety of things like the gender spectrum, different identities in the community, comprehensive sex ed, grassroots organizing, and the legal rights LGBTQ+ youth have in schools. Participants have the opportunity to interact with local organizations that support them and with other LGBTQ+ folks looking for community and solidarity. There is no event that has impacted my life as much as Expression Not Suppression.

My first time attending ENS was in 2012. I was a sophomore at the time and I had been involved with the Genders and Sexualities Alliance (GSA) club at my high school for a little over a year. Eventually I was connected with the then current GSA Network Program coordinator, a fierce Chicana woman that laid the foundation for my activism. At the age of 14, this event allowed me to put a name to my identity, instilled me with a sense of power, and connected me to a supportive community in ways I never imagined. Out of all the events GSA Network put together, the most life changing for me has always been ENS.

ENS 2012! It felt so big and important to me that I had to wear a tie and my best button up shirt (pictured bottom row, third from the right)

ENS 2012! It felt so big and important to me that I had to wear a tie and my best button up shirt (pictured bottom row, third from the right)

For me, ENS has always been a place of inspiration. Every year I meet people with unique experiences and I am constantly moved by the resilience and power of central valley youth. Whether it’s the life saving information gained from the workshops, the plethora of connections folks make, or the creative expressions found during the end day drag and talent show, there’s something here for everyone.

Expression Not Suppression 2017 will be held on Saturday, April 22nd, from 9 am to 8 pm at Wesley United Methodist Church (1343 E Barstow Ave, Fresno, CA 93710). This is a free event open to all LGBTQ+ and ally youth. Advisors, parents, and educators are also encouraged to attend or volunteer for the event.

To register, volunteer, or participate in the resource fair, please go to http://gsanetwork.org/ens


Get In Touch with GSA:
Marcus Navarro, Fresno GSA Organizer
Email: Mnavarro@gsanetwork.org or Centralvalley@gsanetwork.org
Phone: 559.268.2780
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CentralValleyGSA/

 

Meet Sophie Brodish

On March 23rd, 2000, I came out kicking and screaming, and you know what? Nothing’s changed! Except now, I scream, shout, and advocate for LGBT+ awareness and women’s rights. My journey continues today, as I have only officially came out to a few family members and friends. Through the years of high school, I have learned from my experiences and I hope to spread my knowledge. My story of officially accepting and being myself began here.

Ever since I was young, I had no idea the way I thought and the way I loved was considered different in other people's perspective. I remember being the girl who always held her girl friends’ hands, the girl who hugged everyone and anyone, the girl who thought other girls were pretty cool, the girl who wasn’t anyone but herself. When I was in elementary school, I was playing Cowgirls and Bandits, and I kissed one of the bandits to make one of the cowgirls jealous. It didn’t really work, because the cowgirl went and told the teacher and then I had to apologize to the bandit and his parents. (Good ol’ Sophie!) However, I gave up on that cowgirl and ended up liking another.

When I entered 7th grade, a cowgirl and friend very dear to me moved away. Little did I know the emotions that I felt for her were so strong that I became very sad when she left. Since a young age I was very “sheltered” and I honestly did not know “gay” was a thing until the end of junior high. When this friend left my life, I felt very emotional, because I did not know of people who felt the way I did. I was very alone. So instead of focusing on emotions, I focused on school, science fair, science olympiad, sports, and clubs. My days were consumed with work and more work. I denied every emotion my mind thought and this continued until the summer before freshman year.

The journey that I walk became more rocky as I neared high school. Up until this point, my road had been pretty well paved with the occasional bump or crack, but now it was nothing like before. The emotions that I denied for years spiraled out of control and soon I had breakdowns everyday. My mom knew I was upset, but she didn’t know why. Later on, I joined the robotics team. Ironically, now, when I ask people of their first impression of me, they say, “I knew she was gay the moment she walked through the door.” My now closest friends knew before I did! However, I’m jumping ahead; let me continue. After a few months on the team, I went to a competition, where I ended up feeling very emotional toward one of my friends who is of the female gender. After this experience, I first went home and cried a little, but then decided it was time to figure out these emotions and what they meant. For about three days I stayed home and took all the online quizzes on the internet that were about being gay. After every quiz, I became more and more terrified of what came next.

About two weeks later, I came out to my best friend Kaelyn Dauer, who has loved me for me since day one. I don’t know where I’d be without her. The journey still continues and I am a junior now. Sometimes the unspoken is much more pleasant than the spoken. By not telling everyone in my life, I am protecting myself and my self love. And that’s okay! I am happy where I am and who I surround myself with. I am an avid leader in my school GSA and in the GSA Network of Fresno. I am the historian for my Women’s Empowerment club and the treasurer of the Women in STEM club at my school. I know everyone in my life knows who I am, what I believe in, and what I’m not afraid to talk about. Everyone’s journey is different, but overall, we can help each other and give each other support to be our best selves.

With love,

Sophie Brodish   P.S. Live Long and Prosper!

Meet Cecilia Ruesta

My name is Cecilia Ruesta originally from Lima, Peru, whom recently became a proud U.S. citizen last year. I consider myself a queer female with a fluid sexual orientation, and a welcoming heart. I have been in a relationship with my partner Danielle for almost four years, and she has been co-parenting my biological child since she was two years old. Our relationship is based on respect, love, and constant communication. My six-year-old daughter Gabriela is the reason why I thrive every day to be a better human being and successful professional. Last year I could accomplish one of my biggest goals and I earned a B.A. in Women’s Studies and a B.S. in Criminology. Currently I am a graduate student in the Marriage, Family, & Children counseling program, where my goal is to become a professional therapist to help my community here in the Central Valley. My involvement as a student organizer and providing leadership in different clubs and organizations, has led me to understand the importance of using my voice to create change.

At Fresno State, I have been involved in POWER, Women’s alliance, Mecha, CLASSA, MOLE, and the most recent organization Students for Quality Education (SQE). What we do with SQE, is we advocate for student’s rights, lobby to pressure the governor and legislators to fund higher education as they used to, and overall maintain the CSU affordable, accessible and quality for all. We stopped the tuition increase back in 2013, and we were able to put a freeze on it for four years, we also defeated the proposed “Student success fees” back in 2014. Currently we are fighting against the proposed tuition increase since the freeze is up, support the bill AB 21 that protects DACA students, and work towards making an active inclusive campus. ASI has major resources and complete access to every student in campus, for that reason we are sure we can make a major impact by getting into ASI. As a student, I’m concerned about the lack of funding the CSU is experiencing, the unease students are feeling due to the current political climate, and the need to bring inclusiveness and diversity into “action” on our campus. For these reasons and more, I want to become the president of ASI, to work together. Students at Fresno State, elections are on March 28-30.

My goals as a future therapist is to stay in the Central Valley and give back to my community into helping them strive for a better-quality life. Since I belong to different minority groups, and I’m bilingual, my hopes are to serve the most vulnerable population. I hope to positively impact my community starting with the youth.

Get in touch with Cecilia:
Email: cecilia_ruesta@mail.fresnostate.edu
Facebook: Cecilia Ruesta for ASI President
Instagram: @people_of_action_

World AIDS Day in Fresno and all year round

Dozens gather with candles in front of Tower theater on December 1, 2016 to read the names of those in the Fresno community who have been lost to AIDS. Megan Bronson / MY LGBT PLUS

Dozens gather with candles in front of Tower theater on December 1, 2016 to read the names of those in the Fresno community who have been lost to AIDS. Megan Bronson / MY LGBT PLUS

This December Fresno celebrated World AIDS Day with a march and a vigil for those that the Fresno community has lost. Names were read at Tower theater while The Painted table opened their doors to showcase patches of the world AIDS quilt.

A crowd of about 50 people gathered for the vigil and then headed to The Painted Table to view selected panels from the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. The quilt is a visual reminder of the AIDS pandemic that is still going on today. There are more than 94,000 names stitched into the quilt, with having over 18,000,000 visitors world wide.

Every year on December 1st people around the globe come together to unite in the fight against HIV and AIDS. This day is also set aside to commemorate those who have died and to support those that are living with HIV and AIDS.

Support can be as easy as wearing a red ribbon and explaining to those around what that ribbon represents. It represents the 35 million people who have died since 1984 in the worldwide AIDS epidemic. It represents the continued support of 34 million people living with the virus today.

While people publicly gather to show solidarity, there is more that the Fresno community can do to stand in solidarity and show support.

Maria Baldovinos, a communicable disease specialist with Fresno County Department of Public Health, said one of the most important ways for anyone to show support is to be open.

“A lot of times individuals that are HIV positive are so scared to let others know their status just because of the stigma behind it -- especially in the Latino community as well as the African American community,” Baldovinos said.

She advocated for removing the stigma against those with HIV and AIDS.

“It’s not a disease you can get by hugging, or showing compassion," Baldovinos said, "we need to show that we are all humans and that we care for each other."

Some of the ways that individuals can work together to erase that stigma is by getting involved. Here in Fresno there are multiple local organizations that support the HIV positive and AIDS community.

Fresno has a World Aids Day Committee that is open to anyone who wants to join. This committee helps plan awareness events like the one this month, but also events like Women’s HIV Awareness day and National HIV Awareness day.

Positive Life is another organization that you can donate time or money to. It is a nonprofit organization that helps those infected and affected by HIV or AIDS with education, healthcare, support groups, and finding community. To find out more about Positive Life, visit their website at www.poslife.org.

The Living Room is a nonprofit organization through WestCare California that provides care for those infected or at risk of HIV or AIDS. It does this through case management, hot meals on Tuesdays and Thursdays, a drop-in center, transitional housing, referrals for rapid HIV testing, and support groups. For those that qualify, The Living Room offers assisted living through Housing Opportunities for Persons With Aids (HOPWA). To find out more or to donate your time or money, visit The Living Room’s Facebook page or call (559) 486-1469.

There are also programs available through the county that are available resources that all individuals should know about.

Fresno County offers AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) to help those who qualify with paying for their medication. ADAP covers over 190 different Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved drugs.

Fresno County also offers Linkage To Care, a program for HIV positive individuals to help individuals link to physicians and health services.

The Department of Public Health also offers HIV Rapid Testing. This service is for same-day results, in fact, results will be given in 20-30 minutes through a mouth swab. A schedule of times and locations for December can be found here: http://bit.ly/2heGBwr  

One of the most important things for you to know when discussing AIDS or HIV, it your own status, Baldovinos said.

“A lot of times you may not have any symptoms -- it takes about 7-10 years to get really sick,” Baldovinos said, “get tested at least once a year.”

As of December 31, 2013 there were 701 cases of HIV and 2081 cases of AIDS in Fresno County. That number has been steadily increasing over the last decade  as those who did not live in the 80s and 90s are not as aware of this pandemic. World AIDS Day began in 1988, but is still needed to raise awareness and education to this day. Do your research and know your status.

Convoluted Queer Valley Native

My name is Megan Bronson and I am a convoluted queer valley native. I grew up in the farm towns of the San Joaquin Valley, having lived, worked, or gone to school in Los Banos, Dos Palos, Santa Nella, Oro Loma, Merced, and Fresno. If there is any one thing I am connected to, it is this place and these people.

I received my AA in English from Merced College and transferred to Fresno State, majoring in the same. People often think that having a degree in English is about learning how to use a comma, or being constantly consumed by books, the truth is that getting an English degree is exposure to stories. I have traipsed the Caucuses with Tolstoy and lived in a Borges puzzle. But mostly, I have fallen in love with people.

Falling in love with people and stories has pushed me into some odd jobs. I was a writing tutor at Fresno State for two years because I wanted other people to enjoy reading and writing as much as I did. I was a wine specialist for a wine shop for three years because I enjoyed the culture of happy people. I was an editor at The Collegian for one year because I figured out that not only do I love other people’s voices, I love my own as well. Currently I work in disability law, helping people to get their voices heard in court. I also work at an adult school, helping students earn their diploma. I volunteer as an ambassador for My LBGT Plus, have a seat on Fresno State’s LBGTQ+ Advisory Board, serve as a trustee for UAW 4123 and have a seat on its executive board. I have a lot of interests, but the predominant interest is in helping other valley people through any means necessary.

I want to help people because at one point I needed help and when I reached out, there were hands to catch me. When I came out of the closet, I was not well received. My mother is devoutly Baptist and my family is predominantly conservative. For a long time my sexuality lived in shadows until I was forced to come out, or face being outed. Had I not been forced, I do not know if I would have ever come out. I might have just stayed an “ally” of the movement and watched love from afar. I know that I am not the only one. Here in 2016, in California, people are afraid to come out. They are afraid of the upheaval. They are afraid of distance that grows between those that do not understand that love transcends a political movement and that if I could be straight, I would be. I would love to imagine that my family would attend my future wedding. I would love to imagine that any child I might produce wouldn’t be politicized. I would love to imagine that I don’t have to worry about dying in a club. But I do not want to be straight if it means I do not get to love the woman that I do. I’d risk it all to hold her hand.

When people ask me if coming out was hard, I do not really know what to say. Yes, coming out was hard. But it is never over. Every day we come out. It is deciding whether we tell our co workers about our partners. It is smiling through unsolicited inquiry from the opposite sex. It is knowing that the moment you tag your partner in something, a new Facebook friend is going to find out. Every day of being out presents new challenges and new surprises; every day presents new opportunity. My niece will grow up with two aunts instead of just one. Her eyes will be opened to the world much sooner than mine had ever been. I am envious of her and proud of her at the same time. Our next generation of queer kids will have more allies than they know what to do with, and maybe then we can stop calling them allies and just start calling them people.

 

Who is M the Myth?

WHO IS M THE MYTH?

M the Myth is my name! I am a queer singer-songwriter who makes pop dance music. I love performance and creating art. I am performance artist and entertainer who aspires to uplift his audiences with stories, music, and theater. 

DO YOU HAVE ANY NEW PROJECTS? 

I am currently #4 in Guitar Center’s Nationwide Singer-Songwriter Contest—I need as much help as I can to stay in the top 10 and reach #1! Any Shares/Views/Follows help immensely, here is the link: https://songwriter.amplifiertv.com/channel/mthemyth. The contest ends on Nov. 2nd 2016.

I also have a New Single “Holding On” out available on Spotify/Apple Music/SoundCloud. You can watch my new performance video for the single on the contest website. I am also currently working on my first album! 

HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INTO THE MUSIC SCENE/WORLD? 

I started making music after a life-changing trip to South America. My best friend and I hitch-hiked across Patagonia and worked on small farms for about three months. One of the farmer’s neighbors lent me his guitar, and a man from Germany, who was also working on the farm, taught me three chords. Those three chords were all I needed to create my first song, “Tranquilo” which my best friend and I wrote together. I remember being obsessed with that creation, and how natural and fun it felt. I couldn’t stop singing the song we wrote. I returned from the trip with a new vigor for life, and a strong desire to create music. I started writing more and doing acoustic shows. After I graduated college I continued writing, released an EP “This is M” (Spotify/Apple Music/SoundCloud) and created a Music Video for my single “Let’s Get Drunk Anyway” (LGDA) with director William Green (cinematographer for Sage the Gemini’s Red Nose and Gas Pedal). I am currently managed by my longtime friend from Nashville, TN, Rebecca Autumn Sansom through a company I co-founded with her, Blonde Artist Management LLC.

WHO WERE SOME OF YOUR BIGGEST INFLUENCES GROWING UP?

The first three CDs I remember having were Britney Spears – Baby One More Time, Spice Girls - Spice & Destiny’s Child –The Writing’s on the Wall. But before then when I was around five or six years old I remember putting Selena’s Dreaming of You album on repeat on my Dad’s cassette player. These powerful women had a huge influence on me growing up. I identified with them, wanted to be like them, and wanted to perform just as they did. I remember thinking I couldn’t because I was a born a boy, I was an overweight kid, and I was multiracial. There were no pop superstars at that time who fit that description. But it has always been my dream to be a performer like these ladies. My mom was a huge fan of Bob Dylan and the Beatles so I grew up listening to them too.  I also loved listening to Samantha Mumba, TLC, Fefe Dobson, Backstreet Boys, N’Sync, Aaliyah, JLo, and Ricky Martin. 

WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR BIGGEST INFLUENCES NOW? 

When I first heard about Lady Gaga, I slowly began to believe that I really could be a performer/superstar. She was so different, and her difference and success meant possibility to me. I’ll never forget seeing her live for the first time at the Monster Ball tour—that concert changed my life. She awakened a part of myself that I had forgotten: the belief that anything is possible. I listen to her music all of the time. Coldplay is another one of my big influences—their music resonates deeply with who I am and I love their sound. One Republic’s Ryan Tedder is one of my current favorite artists too. I love his melodies and general writing style. My friend showed me Banks last year and I have been hooked on her ever since, I love how dark and melodic she is—plus her production is so unique, dance-oriented, and different. Brandi Carlisle is a queer artist who I absolutely love. She’s an amazing songwriter and her music speaks to me. Queen and Freddie Mercury, have had a huge impact on me. I remember it was when I was a bit older that I learned about Queen and Freddie—his existence shocked and thrilled me. I feel Freddie with me wherever I go, I believe his spirit lives inside of me. I also feel that way with Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson. I have conversations with these artists, and I feel their presence much like a medium does with spirits. I feel that they too, are with me whenever I perform. 

HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH YOUR NAME M THE MYTH? 

M comes from my name Michael and it represents a sound vibration “Mmm”” as well as a genderless pronoun. I am gender queer and it was important for me to pick a name that represented that part of who I am. For me, the meaning of “Myth” in my name comes from the idea that popstars and celebrities are modern myths. Celebrities are, in my eyes, characters in stories circulated by the media. Many people including myself, don’t actually know these people personally. And it is this idea, the existence of “others” whom many may never see, that suggests a sense of myth. We may know about them, we may catch a glimpse of them, but for many people, celebrities exist outside of their everyday physical life.  

My name also comes from the idea that humanity/individuality is a story we tell. It is my belief that I exist as the specific individual I am because of who I believe myself to be. I understand M the Myth as a construction--a story I have told about a performer who I’ve always wanted to be and who is now, the person I have become.

WHY DOES YOUR MUSIC MATTER SO MUCH TO YOU? 

For me, music is the apex of my spirituality. It is a physical vibration that transcends barriers between humanity. It is the one thing in my world that helps me understand the rest of the world. I see us as vibrational beings, as infinite individual songs, and I believe it is the musician’s job to channel the human experience into sonic understanding. When I am truly connected with the music, I feel the power of its vibration transform my being. I feel my mind, body and spirit dancing freely and infinitely. I think any subject in life that makes you feel that way means you are meant to be a part of it

WHAT DOES YOUR MUSIC MATTER SO MUCH TO YOU?

My manager, Rebecca Autumn Sansom (CEO) and I founded Blonde Artist Management LLC (BlondeAM). I am the Chief Operating Officer (COO). Together we run the company and have four clients including me. BlondeAM is an homage to Marilyn Monroe/Norma Jean. It was the injustices she experienced in the entertainment industry that birthed this management company. BlondeAM is so important to me because it helps me see the other side of being an artist. Owning a company pushes the limits of my artistry, making me see the bigger picture of who I am. It makes me think of my career as both an artist and as an entrepreneur. BlondeAM translates to pro-artist agreements, artist protection and advocacy, artistic development, opportunity, as well as the establishment of meaningful relationships. It is safe place for me to express the whole of who I am with the support of an amazing team of passionate people. 

WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN THE NEXT 5 YEARS? 

In the next five years I see myself signing a record deal with one of the top US record labels. I see myself performing around the clock, going on tours, recording and singing new music, writing more music, writing for other artists, meeting new artists, giving back to charities, starting my own non-profit, continuing my work with BlondeAM, and being extremely happy. I see myself having released three studio albums. I also see myself acting in films and television as well as writing films, novels and research articles.

WHEN YOU WERE IN COLLECT, WHAT DID YOU THINK YOU WANTED TO DO AFTER GRADUATION? 

I studied Theater and Performance Studies at Stanford University and graduated in 2014. I thought I was going to pursue a career in acting but after I traveled to South America everything changed and I knew music was what I was going to do.

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO OTHERS OUT THERE THAT ARE STRUGGLING TO EMBRACE THEMSELVES OR THEIR IDENTITY? 

I would say that it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about you, you are perfect. You are loved and can doing anything you desire in this world. And it might seem bad right now, but it will get better in time. You will find yourself surrounded by people who accept and love you for who you are. You are a magnificent and unique being and deserve infinite joy and happiness. I struggled with my identity for some years and I have discovered that no matter how you chose to represent yourself that the most important thing is you feel good, and if you don’t feel good now, know that you will in time. I promise.

The best parts of life are unplanned

I’m Nick Vargas. I’m currently the treasurer of the newest LGBT+ center in California, theSOURCE LGBT+ center. TheSOURCE is located in Visalia, CA, my hometown and the place I was born. It’s an unlikely place for an LGBT+ center. The area is very conservative, religious, undereducated, and one of the poorest counties in California. Yet, theSOURCE has received only support from the local community. It’s been open since May 2016, and in that time, we’ve held dozens of events, become an official non-profit, created a functioning board of directors, created partnerships with other organizations, and had over 1500 visitors. Personally, I’ve enjoyed the challenge of helping to create something from the ground up and expanding skill set. I’ve met great people, including elected officials, and am helping to create a conversation about what it is to be gay in a rural area. TheSOURCE has given me opportunities beyond the work with the center, such as participating in Leadership Visalia, a leadership program sponsored by the Visalia Chamber of Commerce. In short, life is good. But a year and a half ago, I wouldn’t have imagined my life would be what it is now. I want the following story to show an example of how life can take you through ups and downs, but to a place you need and want to be:

I was born in Visalia, CA. My family moved to Altadena when I was 4 and I attended a catholic school from K through 8th grade. We returned to Visalia, where I went to high school at Golden West. I did well there, and was accepted to Stanford University. It was at this point that I thought I had made it. I was going to get out of Visalia and go on to big things and a place where I could be my gay self. It took a couple of years for me to come out, I even had a girlfriend my freshmen year. But eventually, I met my first boyfriend, Ty. It was a short relationship, but a good first one.

At Stanford I studied psychology, economics and history. I thought I wanted to go on to be a clinician or a lawyer, but a year of doing research right after college and my LSAT scores, persuaded me otherwise. Fortunately, I was recruited to a management training program through Charles Schwab. I never thought of being involved in finance or the stock market, but I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. I was also very good with financial sales and advising clients. I started out in a front desk role and in a few years my title was VP-Financial Consultant. I worked with the firm’s high-net worth clients in San Francisco.

However, the housing markets and life intervened and I ended up leaving that role after 12 years. It was a low point in life for me, after having done very well, having homes, cars, vacations, and other things. I ended up having to give up a lot of my things and ended a relationship. I went on to work for one of my clients in his businesses in San Francisco. I helped manage the social media and events for two gay bars in San Francisco. Many of you are probably familiar with Badlands and Toad Hall. I was also a bartender there. In my role I was asked to hire the gogo dancers for the bars. This was fun. I also created a weekly show called “So You Think You Can Gogo?”. It was a competition for amateur gogo dancers to win money and a chance to dance for the bars professionally. This life was something I never anticipated or would have sought, but when I had it, I enjoyed it. I also learned new skills and met a whole new group of friends. It taught me to be flexible in my thinking. And I can still pour drinks very quickly and accurately.

This phase of my life came to an end. At first I was disappointed and didn’t know what else would happen. The bar lifestyle had become unhealthy for me for a variety of reasons, and my relationship (with one of my former gogo dancers) had come to an end. At this point, I didn’t know what else to do. I decided to return to my hometown of Visalia. It felt a little bit like a defeat. I had left when I was 18, gone to a top university, had a successful career, built a life in San Francisco, only to have to return from where I started.

I came back to Visalia, and my instinct told me to stay. I met Brian Poth, another returnee to the Visalia. We became friends and in that friendship, began this newest phase with theSOURCE. Brian had the idea for the center and been it’s biggest asset. Not only that, but he’s one of the best friends I’ve ever had. Working with him on theSOURCE has been a culmination of many of the things I’ve learned along the way. I’ve met new people and found a new purpose: to help make LGBT lives better in this area. In turn, I’ve been rewarded with fulfillment, a chance to make a last difference, a new relationship, and the chance to start a new career.

Please like theSOURCE LGBT+ Center’s facebook page and see what we are up to. Or send me a message through Facebook or email me at nick@thesourcelgbt.org.

The struggle of covering a story that hits close to home

By Troy Pope

I woke up the morning of June 12 in the middle of the night. I looked at my phone around 4 a.m. and saw from a notification from Associated Press that there was mass shooting somewhere in the world. 50 people were dead. I put my phone down without looking where and why it happened ­­ assuming it was an ISIS­ related attack in the Middle East.

I woke up at 8 a.m. to get ready for work. It was then that I read that the 50 people who died weren’t killed in the Middle East ­­ they were killed in Orlando. 

As I got ready for work, I read more about it. It turns out it happened at some nightclub in Florida called Pulse. I got to work shaken up by the magnitude of the newest American mass shooting ­­ which, incidentally, was now the worst mass shooting in the history of the world. But it wasn’t until I got to my desk and turned on CNN that I realized Pulse was a gay nightclub. 

There I was. The only guy in the office that morning. Who knew that the only reporter in The Fresno Bee office that morning would be gay? 

I didn’t know what to do at first. I was frozen. Transfixed on the TV watching Anderson Cooper from his news desk in New York report on the shooting that had brought me to tears. 

It wasn’t until a few minutes later when a Bee photographer came to my desk from behind that I was jostled out of my shock. 

Did it make a difference who had been killed? No. But the fact that it happened at a gay club made it not just an act of terror, but also a hate crime against people in my community. 

We stood and watched the coverage for several minutes. Not really talking, just coming to terms with what had happened. It was then that I realized it was my job to do something. 

Normally in reporting breaking news, which is most of my job, there is no time to be emotionally attached to situations. People get shot or are in fatal accidents everyday. We usually go in, ask our questions, do our stories, and go about our business after. We are detached. 

It was just after 9 a.m. and I had calls to make. 

My first call was to try to get a hold of Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer. My second calls ­­ calls that a straight reporter might not have immediately thought to make ­­ was to two of the gay clubs in town. I tried contacting Club Legends and FAB Fresno. 

I went with the photographer to interview Dyer in person at police headquarters ­­ my first time meeting the man. It was quiet because it was a Sunday. Dyer had come in just to do these interviews. 

Reporters came to interview Dyer in spurts. I ended up in Dyer’s office doing the interview with KSEE24’s Megan Rupe. We asked our questions, and took our photos and video ­­ trying to localize the story for our readers and viewers. 

By the time I got back, my editor was in the office. That meant I had to pull myself together and stop taking private moments to shed tears over the situation. The pressure was on to do a good job ­­ to do my job in general. 

After all, at The Bee it would be difficult to throw a rock and not hit someone who has been in the business longer than I've been alive. 

I had my quotes from Dyer. I had my quotes from the owner of Club Legends. But it wasn’t enough. I’d written my story with what I had, but I needed more. 

I heard about a vigil at the Unitarian­ Universalist Church in northeast Fresno. Several reporters were there. Lindsay Henry from KSEE24 was there. Cory James from ABC30 was there. We waited and listened to the speakers and the prayers. 

After the vigil and a talk with the pastor, I raced to the Tower District to cover a march at the LGBT Community Center. Despite being gay, it was the first time I’d heard of the organization. 

Most of the media was there at this point. Just before the march began, Lindsay Henry came up and gave me a hug. I was so consumed in my work that I didn’t realize why. A few minutes later, it hit me that I know Lindsay, and she hugged me because she knew I was gay and knew that I must be struggling inside. 

When I realized that, I started to fall apart again. My eyes were wet, but I didn’t dare let tears form. I had to do my job. I had to film the march for The Fresno Bee’s website. At the march I saw people who I knew. When the march got to the Tower Theater, I saw one of my best friends and his roommate. They weren’t gay. They were reporters who were there on their day off to record the march and to show support to the LGBT community. 

I couldn’t talk to them. If I uttered a word I’d fall apart on the street. I stood just feet from people who I was close with, but I didn’t make eye contact because I didn't want them to see me cry while on the job. 

The sun was setting. I’d been on the job for 11 hours. Because of a scheduling issue, I was the only reporter on that Sunday. My editor told me to come back so I could be sent home for the day, but I wanted to stay to finish recording speeches. 

The second time my editor told me to come back to the office I finally budged and walked back to my car. I was exhausted. Tears ran down my face the whole drive back to the office. I had to sit in my car for a few minutes in the parking lot to pull myself together and try to hide the fact that I’d been crying. 

I went inside, and my editor told me I did a great job. I don’t talk about my personal life in the office ­­ beyond stories of my cat that is ­­ so there is no way my boss knew that I was gay. He had no idea how hard the day had been. He gave me a figurative pat on the back and sent me home. 

I went home ignoring my friends texts to hang out. I wanted to be alone. I’d finished an unexpected 12­hour shift covering the hardest story I’d ever had to report. 

The next morning I woke up photos some friends sent me of my story on the front page of The Bee. Normally it would have been cause for celebration. Instead, I just sighed, rolled over and went back to sleep.