Mi Centro, at home in the center of Latino LA

Mi Centro

BY TROY MASTERS  Boyle Heights, home to one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the city of Los Angeles, is more than 90 percent Latino.  It is also home to the nation’s largest Latino LGBT community, a community that has until now been served by the Los Angeles LGBT Center in Hollywood.

Enter Mi Centro, a new LGBT Center focused soley on the needs of the city’s spanish speaking and Latino LGBT community, a collaborative effort of the Los Angeles LGBT Center and  a Latino Equality Alliance (LEA).

Mi Centro will provide bilingual services for gay Latinos at its Clarence Street facility, also offering immigration and housing support, legal services, transgender support services, youth and senior programming, family counseling and empowerment programs.

Mi Centro’s home, shared with LEA, is a renovated warehouse at 553 S. Clarence St. (it’s a 15-minute walk from the Mariachi Plaza) and housed within City Labs Boyle Heights.  City Labs is a collaborative space for creative groups and nonprofits like Leadership for Urban Renewal (LURN), a group that focuses on low-income communities.

Though the Hollywood LGBT Center continues to provide Latino-specific services, residents on the Eastside will benefit from a more locally focused and tailored experience.   

Mercedes Marquez, a lesbian who serves as a board member of the Los Angeles LGBT center and Latino Equality Alliance, said of the new space. “…this (Boyle Heights) is our cultural home. This is our community of joy and celebration and sorrow.”

Out gay State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), said at the recent dedication of the new center “Finally, we get a little piece of heaven on the Eastside for us to be able to be who we are.”

Angel Ortiz, 19, a gay teen who lives “on the streets” of Boyle Heights, says he is excited he no longer has to travel so far. “I can’t afford to go (to Hollywood) because I don’t have a car and sometimes I am homeless.”  Ortiz says he left Guatemala when he was 14 and immigrated with his parents.  “My whole family knows I am gay but it’s not easy for me.  They are very religious and my mother cries all the time.  She leaves prayer cards everywhere, like in my pockets.  One time she packed a bag and set my things on the streets, more than one time; she gave me no money or food, just a bible and my boy clothes.  I just went to sleep at my Tia Felicia’s house but she said I had to leave because her husband did not understand.  I just feel bullied all the time.”

Lorri L. Jean, the chief executive of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, told the Los Angeles times that she hoped that having a center in Boyle Heights would embolden people to be open about their sexuality and gender identity in their own neighborhood.

“Some are going to love it, others aren’t. But we’ve always been really good neighbors.”

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