When Half Moon Bay resident Jeanne Vargas saw the wellness assessment of San Mateo County’s LGBTQ residents released earlier this year, for a moment, she paused. Despite an overall lack of resources and support, for her, the responses pointed to a hidden community of LGBTQ adolescents on the Coastside.
“I was surprised,” she said. “It was like, ‘Where were they?’”
Recent research has painted a stark portrait of the difficulties faced by LGBTQ teens. According to a youth survey released by the Human Rights Campaign last year, LGBTQ youth report higher rates of depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug use as well as lower self-esteem than their peers. Seven in 10 respondents said that they had been bullied at school because of their sexual orientation.
Those struggles can become magnified in rural areas that may not have adequate support systems in place. While several student groups already exist, like the Half Moon Bay High School Gay-Straight Alliance and the Pescadero High School Gay-Straight Alliance, Vargas lamented the lack of any other programs fostering inclusivity among the coast’s LGBTQ youth.
In an effort to boost that visibility, Vargas is launching CoastPride, an advocacy group to improve support and awareness of LGBTQ youth on the coast. She hopes that the organization will become an integral support system, eventually working with local schools, businesses and government officials to provide a safe, inclusive atmosphere for teenagers and young adults.
“And we’re doing really cool things to gather support,” she continued. “If you come out in an environment like that, it makes a big difference.”
With assistance from the San Mateo County Pride Center and Adolescent Counseling Services’ Outlet program, as well as the San Mateo County LGBTQ Commission, Vargas said she’s working to organize fundraisers and lively community-building events.
CoastPride has already announced its first speaker. Janna Barkin, the author of “He’s Always Been My Son,” which chronicles her experiences raising a transgender son, will be sharing her story at 6 p.m. on June 6 at the Half Moon Bay Library.
In addition, Jordan Decker, a speaker and educator on transgender youth suicide, will share his experiences of battling bullying and suicidal ideation. The June 6event is sponsored by Unleashed Art Gallery in Half Moon Bay.
Vargas also acknowledged the challenges of funding a nonprofit. She said she hopes to eventually establish a CoastPride Center.
“Right now, we’re looking for fiscal sponsorship so that we can get the ball rolling and get some money to start all of these wonderful ideas,” she said. Vargas remains encouraged by the abundance of support and acceptance she’s received so far. “There’s definitely a movement happening right now,” said Vargas. “People want to support this. As I’m talking to people about (CoastPride), they’ll say, ‘Yes. We need this. What can we do?’ That’s really cool to see.
“Everything’s just kind of falling into my path,” she added.
For more information on how to get involved, visit www.coastpride.org.