While we are seeing progress for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender rights coming more day-to-day, and while we think of marriage equality and the overturn of California’s Proposition 8 as giant leaps in that progress, The Desert Sun shows us that though it is getting better, it’s not getting better everywhere; even in our own backyards.
According to numbers provided by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, the number of anti-LGBT homicides decreased in 2013, to 19 nationwide. But 90 percent of the victims were “people of color.”
The predominantly Latino eastern valley includes the cities of Indio and Coachella and rural, unincorporated communities of Thermal and Mecca. Attempts to make the area more welcoming to LGBT residents have improved over the years, but there’s still a disparity with the west end of the valley.
In many cases, the only options are to remain closeted or travel far from home to get support and acceptance.
“It’s a different world out there,” said Jill Gover, director of mental health services and clinical psychologist at the LGBT Center in Palm Springs. “We have several clients from the east valley. They come quite a distance in order to be in an LGBT affirmative environment.”
Jose Diaz grew up in Coachella and was about 12 years old when he knew he was gay. But he said he didn’t come out until he was 24 years old and married to a woman. Now 36 and living in Indio Hills, Diaz said returning to Coachella is tough.
“My family respects me, but even now it’s still hard, me going there,” he said. “Neighbors know, and you get those looks.”
Experts point to a combination of cultural and social factors that make it less likely for gays or lesbians to be as open in the east valley.
“Most of it is parents,” said Indio resident Sandra Andrade, 33, a Coachella native who came out when she was 18 years old and ultimately had a similar experience to Diaz.
Her parents accepted her as a lesbian, but “75 percent” of their friends distanced themselves.
“It made me sad, because my parents lost friendships because of me,” Andrade said.