Pictured: Tess Allen Photo submitted

Are you from Ventura County originally?

I am not a Ventura native, though after living here for 11 years (and through the Thomas Fire), I feel embedded in our beautiful city. Prior to moving to Ventura County, I lived in Mar Vista/Venice area outside of Los Angeles, arriving in California from the East Coast.

When did you get involved with Diversity Collective Ventura County?

I was hired as the first employee of DCVC in 2018 after working in Los Angeles for some time. The commute was terrible, and I happened across a job description that deeply resonated with me. And the rest, as they say, is herstory.

How many people would you say Diversity Collective serves in Ventura County? 

We easily see 150-300 people through our programs and outreach.

What are some of the most critical issues facing the LGBTQIA community today?

We are in a tumultuous time, with many areas of our country creating laws that oppress and exclude the LGBTQ community from needed resources. In many states, politicians are introducing measures aimed at disrupting the lives of transgender people. The recent turmoil in Texas regarding trans kids and their parents is a perfect example of how politicians are finding new ways to oppress. In that initiative, parents who seek gender-affirming therapies and treatments can be investigated by Child Protective Services. Other initiatives around the nation include barring transgender youth from playing competitive school sports, and the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida.

Are there special issues, concerns or factors that relate specifically to the Ventura County LGBTQIA community?

Allopathic medicine in Ventura County rarely includes services needed for the LGBTQ community. Something as simple as addressing someone by their correct pronouns is empowering and gains trust with the patient and/or client. Currently, we are spending some time working with the medical community on cultural competency training that will help bridge that gap. Transgender folx have a difficult time finding a supportive medical professional for needed hormones.

Another area of need is with our youth. Mental health with school-aged youth has been on a steep incline over the past few years, and when those people are LGBTQ, need for mental health services and resources skyrockets. We have formed alliances with the Ventura Office of Education to help educators become better allies and with Ventura County Behavioral Health to support youth toward better mental health. 

How has your mission changed in, say, the last 5-10 years versus when it first began? If anything has changed, what has shifted that mission?

Diversity Collective was originally formed to help continue providing a Pride celebration for the county. Since that time, we have opened our Community Resource Center and developed five programs as well as our cultural competency trainings.

AIDS Walk Ventura County is coming up — how many people are participating this year? 

We are expecting 300-400 walkers this year. The route will be the same as our pre-COVID route, which takes participants from Plaza Park to walking along the beach and turns toward downtown, ending again in Plaza Park. We have a Health and Resource Fair that will open at 9 a.m., when walkers arrive. The resources run the gamut from blood pressure checks and HIV testing to assistance with health insurance and LGBTQ social justice groups. The event is family friendly and we all have a great time! Anyone can participate, too. The link to get started is aidswalkventuracounty2022.funraise.org

AIDS Walk Ventura County provides funding for our HIV/AIDS Education and Prevention program at our Community Resource Center. This program offers free HIV testing each month as well as PEP/PrEP counseling and resourcing. The services can be booked anonymously, and everything is confidential.

Where do you see things going with your organization in the near future? How about in the next 5-10 years?

Diversity Collective is in a wonderful growth spurt, and I hope it will continue. We have hired new staff, and we have a new board member. With this growth, we can widen our outreach with programs and resources to include more of Eastern Ventura County. In 5-10 years, we expect to have programming in cities across the county and satellite offices to support the programs. We also hope to provide more in-house services for the LGBTQ community as a whole, such as housing, mental health, and legal aid.

What are your pie-in-the-sky dreams for Diversity Collective moving forward?

Dreams for us: A safe and confidential medical facility; housing for displaced LGBTQ persons, especially youth; on-site mental health professionals . . . and of course, a thriving LGBTQ community throughout Ventura County!