New LGBTQ+ resource center opens in Inland Empire – Press Enterprise

New LGBTQ+ resource center opens in Inland Empire – Press Enterprise

Gabriel Maldonado, CEO and founder of the nonprofit TruEvolution, walks through the lobby of the Riverside facility on Wednesday, July 10, 2024. The center provides support and services primarily to the LGBTQ community, but also to the heterosexual community, and provides a variety of resources, including shelter in a safe space. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

Everyone is welcome at this rainbow-colored campus in downtown Riverside.

A new space dedicated to LGBTQ+ members has opened in downtown Riverside. The Inland Empire LGBTQ+ Center will provide accessible healthcare, resources and a safe, inclusive space to the region’s diverse residents in the LGBTQ+, immigrant and HIV+ communities, officials say.

Operated by the nonprofit TruEvolution, the center officially opened its doors to the community in June, during Pride Month, and acts as a gateway to resources such as free HIV and COVID-19 testing, housing and health resources, counseling and meeting spaces for LGBTQ+ individuals nationwide and throughout Southern California.

The center is located in TruEvolution’s Project Legacy – a transitional housing facility that provides shelter for LGBTQ+, disabled, youth and older community members – on Brockton Avenue in Riverside. About 75 to 80 percent of the beds are reserved for members of the LGBTQ+ community, officials said.

The new LGBTQ+ center is located at the entrance, in a blue building as part of Project Legacy’s colorful 4,000-square-foot campus, which is full of small houses painted in different colors of the rainbow.

The walls, decorated with inspirational quotes and photos of influential leaders of the LGBTQ+ and civil rights movements, serve as a visual reminder of the community’s past and inspiration for its future, according to organizers. Below are books on LGBTQ+ health care and history, as well as countless informational brochures for all visitors.

Tawny Kompelien, a resident of TruEvolution’s Project Legacy housing, has been living at the new campus for two months. She said she lost her job and her previous home after becoming paralyzed.

“Luckily, this place was there to help me,” said Kompelien, 29, adding that the program has helped her with her health problems and assists her with everyday tasks like doing laundry.

The space is still in its opening phase and is currently being used for community and group programs, but TruEvolution CEO and founder Gabriel Maldonado said they plan to open it to public foot traffic soon after safety logistics are sorted out.

Maldonado said he also plans to add more comprehensive medical services as well as a computer lab at the LGBTQ+ center.

The center’s opening comes following ongoing debates about the culture war in schools across the Inland Empire and actions that some have criticized as harmful to the LGBTQ+ community.

In the Murrieta Valley School District, for example, the school board last fall adopted a policy requiring parents to be notified when a child identifies as transgender. In April, the district was ordered by the state Department of Education to stop enforcing the policy after officials found it discriminated against transgender youth. Similar proposals were discussed — and condemned — in the Chino Valley and Temecula Valley school districts last year.

In Temecula, the school board also rejected a social studies curriculum last year after some of its members criticized the mention of slain gay rights activist Harvey Milk in supplemental materials. But after opposition from California Gov. Gavin Newsom and others, the curriculum was approved, except for the unit that mentions Milk.

Other examples of “anti-LGBTQ+” measures, critics say, are still in place, such as a rule restricting the flying of the U.S. and California state flags at schools in Temecula and Chino Valley.

TruEvolution officials hope the new center will “support, educate, and advocate for LGBTQ+ people in the Inland Empire while promoting health and wellness by providing a safe and inclusive community space.”

Inland Assembly member Sabrina Cervantes, whose district includes Riverside, secured $3 million in the 2023-2024 state budget for the center’s establishment and TruEvolution’s LGBTQ+ Legacy Fund to be used for future grants, partnerships and basic community needs, officials said. Additional donations came from various foundations, private donors and foundations across the state.

Cervantes, the first openly LGBTQ+ Latina to lead the California Latino Legislative Caucus, said in a press release that she was proud to promote a “critical community space and looks forward to seeing its impact in the region.”

“Every person deserves to be seen and to live as their true, authentic self,” Cervantes said in the press release. “I am pleased to have achieved results for communities that have been marginalized and long left behind.”

Co-founder Jesse Melgar, a member of Equality California’s advisory board, said the new center “represents a commitment to our future, ensuring that the progress we make today will continue to empower and uplift our region’s LGBTQ+ residents for generations to come.”

“It is an investment in our collective strength and resilience and will serve as an important gathering place for community members,” Melgar said.

A second TruEvolution-operated LGBTQ+ space is planned for the near future in southwest Riverside County.

Maldonado, who founded the nonprofit during his freshman year at UC Riverside, said he knows “firsthand” where the LGBTQ+ community’s fears and concerns about feeling unwelcome in the Inland Empire come from. He hopes to combat those feelings with the new center.

“We could not only be a bridge for the LGBTQ+ community, we could be a bridge for the entire community … to not live our lives in fear,” Maldonado said. “We are here to strengthen the social fabric, promote love, spread tolerance and create a home and a space for all these people.”