Each year on October 19, National LGBT Center Awareness Day is observed to highlight the work of LGBT centers across the country and raise awareness about their work providing resources to the local and national LGBTQ community.
We talked with Melantha Hodge, Strategic Partnership Manager, and Chase Torrence, Content Manager, from the Los Angeles LGBT Center about the Center’s 50 years of serving the community, its global programmatic work, and the launch of OUTfluence, an initiative bringing together LGBTQ creators and influencers to change how communities can be made.
How have you seen the Los Angeles LGBT Center change to reflect the increasingly diverse and expansive LGBTQ community over the past 50 years?
Chase Torrence: The Los Angeles LGBT Center is the world’s largest provider of LGBT services. I believe the Center is a judgment-free organization that accepts you as you are and provides the services you need to thrive. From opening the nation’s unprecedented Trans Wellness Center to developing bold PrEP campaigns to the construction of the Anita May Rosenstein Campus, the Center is finding intuitive and groundbreaking ways to meet everyone’s needs in our community.
Melantha Hodge: The Los Angeles LGBT Center has grown by leaps and bounds throughout the years. Today, we are meeting the demand of more than 42,000 client visits per month among eight of our facilities across Los Angeles — thanks to our flourishing workforce of nearly 700 employees. For the past 50 years, the Center has continued to expand in size and scope to provide LGBT people with the vital services and programs needed to help them excel. Embracing diversity and adapting to the ever-changing landscape has been essential to the Center’s existence and mission to build a better world in which LGBT people can be healthy, equal, and complete members of society.
While the Center’s location is in Los Angeles, the organization does a lot of work for the national and international community. Can you talk a bit more about some of those specific programs and initiatives?
CT: One of the largest and most influential programs that comes to mind is our Emerging Leaders Program. We host LGBT leaders from China several times a year to visit the Center, learn about the amazing work we do, and discover how to replicate our successes in their country and culture. Additionally, the Center’s Marketing & Communications team — which I’m part of — collaborates with international social media influencers to help promote our organization.
MH: The OUT for Safe Schools campaign is definitely an initiative that is making a strong impact nationwide. LGBTQ youth are our future, and it is so important for them to be in a safe and supportive space while attending school. By wearing a badge with the word “ally” printed on it, school staff are able to publicly identify as LGBTQ allies within their school districts, which in turn creates a welcoming environment for youth to be themselves. The Center started OUT for Safe Schools in partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District, and the campaign was such a big success, it expanded in 2015 to nine other major school districts across the country. Visibility and inclusion matters.
This year at VidCon, the Center hosted its first OUTfluence celebration. What was the inspiration for creating that event, what was the significance of holding it at the largest celebration of online and video creators, why is it so important, and what is the hope for future events and community gatherings like it?
CT: OUTfluence was our idea to gather LGBT content creators attending VidCon to a central place in order to have them discover the Center and to celebrate their brave and courageous efforts in making the world a more inclusive and positive place. From that inaugural event, we have been able to foster meaningful relationships with some of the LGBT content creators. These types of partnerships benefit everyone. We give influencers a platform to spread their work; they promote us through their social media channels.
MH: Content creators are the future of media, and it was important for us to provide a welcoming and supportive space for specifically LGBT creators to celebrate and build community with each other. OUTfluence was very successful in accomplishing this mission by introducing key creators, influencers, tastemakers, and executives to the Center. Many people who attended our event told me it was their first time attending an LGBT-focused event during VidCon, and they really enjoyed themselves. I’m proud that we’ve been able to develop beneficial relationships with creators who are becoming involved with the Center in various ways. My hope is to continue creating innovative events and projects to engage influencers in a positive way to create change. By working closely with influencers and using their voices and platforms, the possibilities of what we can accomplish together are endless.
For so many LGBTQ people, online storytelling and connection is a lifeline when Centers or communities aren’t available in their local areas. Can you talk a bit about what the incentive was to bring many of these storytellers into one place and what the value of these conversations are?
CT: Partnering with these OUTfluencers helps make our movement and voice become louder. Right now, we are living in a dark and scary time. Together, the Center and the OUTfluencers are spreading positivity. The Center’s mission is to build a better world in which LGBT people can be healthy, equal, and complete members of society, and we hope we’re making that happen by partnering with these OUTfluencers.
MH: Content creators and influencers have the ability to inspire LGBT people globally. This is very powerful. By bringing together a diverse group of storytellers into one place, we provide an outlet for them to engage and learn from each other as well as provide guidance for fans and supporters on reaching their full potential. These vital conversations benefit the growth of our community as a whole.
The panelists selected for From Influence to OUTfluence are quite diverse in their backgrounds and in their work. Explain the thought process behind selecting them and their respective careers.
CT: As the media continues to evolve and grow, so does the representation we are seeing onscreen. Blockbuster movies like Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther are opening the conversation about diversity and its importance in entertainment and media. This is not a moment in entertainment, but a movement. We see the importance of adding our voices to the movement and showcasing diversity as it relates to ethnicity, gender identity, and sexual orientation. LGBT people exist across all communities, and we want to make sure we provide a space.
MH: Diversity and representation are key aspects that impact LGBT people in their personal lives, professional careers, and across all forms of media. It was important for us to bring together a very diverse group of panelists who have a variety of lived experiences. Although all the panelists traveled different paths, they share an over-arching commonality: all of them have been able to successfully navigate the entertainment and media world as out and proud LGBT people. By giving these panelists the platform to share their stories and advice with each other and the attendees, they, in turn, were able to engage in a much-needed dialogue. Everyone who was inside the Renberg Theatre that night left with a sense of unity, inspiration, and hope for a brighter future for our community.
What were the most memorable takeaways/advice from the panelists that people need to know if they want to become an OUTfluencer?
CT: There was a universal theme of authenticity and the idea to make your dreams a reality. Most, if not all, of the panelists shared stories about how they were afraid to be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity —and from the moment they became authentic, they saw a shift happen in their lives and careers. They also shared the importance of never giving up and doing what you need to do in order to make your dreams a reality. We live in a world where the consumer is in control. Tell your stories, share your art, and present your truth to the world. That is exactly what these panelists did and, in my opinion, helped catapult them in their careers.
MH: The panelists shared a lot of great advice: Realize your potential and push yourself to reach new heights. You have to be patient and hungry at the same time. There is no “I made it.” It’s important to give yourself personal time to take care of your well-being. Surround yourself with people who genuinely support you. You have to want it more than anyone else. Pave your own way. Most importantly, live your truth.