Finley Walker, a 20-year-old Santa Clarita resident, has been working towards his goal of opening a center for LGBTQ residents in Santa Clarita since the beginning of COVID-19.
“I came out as trans when I was 15, and came out as queer at some point, I don’t even remember, because it was kind of overshadowed by the trans thing,” he said. “This year, I will be I think five years on testosterone and two years post-op.”
The idea came about after Walker returned to Santa Clarita due to the pandemic after residing in San Francisco working towards his BA in Sociology at San Francisco State University. Upon returning, he came to realize that Santa Clarita’s environment is not as accepting towards LGBTQ individuals as other major cities in California. Due to this, Walker decided to start working towards opening an LGBTQ Center in SCV — a center he hopes will be utilized as a resource, as well as a safe space.
“When I was transitioning I knew that there weren’t resources [in Santa Clarita], but I had the ability, because my parents were accepting, we had the time and we could afford it to drive down to LA for any of my needs, but I wouldn’t even say that half the kids here have access to those same opportunities,” Walker said. “If they don’t come out to their parents, then, there’s nothing because they can’t go anywhere and also there’s affordability. So, I was like, ‘You know what, we should have these things. Okay, LGBT Center! Let’s do it!’”
When Walker brought the idea for the LGBTQ Center to his mother, Dawn, she began teaching Walker about networking, filing forms for the business and even connecting Walker with organizations that help people open LGBTQ Centers. Walker also said that his mother was there to help motivate him, or, as Walker put it, “just getting me off my butt.”
After building up a large social media following, the mother-son duo set their goal of opening a physical resource center. As the SCV LGBTQ Center website states on the “About Us” page, “Though it will take up to two years, they [Finley and Dawn] are determined to provide this important place for the LGBTQ community of SCV as well as other minority groups that need a safe space not offered anywhere else in Santa Clarita.”
This center is essential to the Santa Clarita Valley, especially seeing as the culture in SCV has fallen behind when it comes to tolerance. As Walker put it, “How acceptable is it in most of the communities within Santa Clarita for queer people to exist? The unfortunate answer is that the acceptance isn’t really there. People have a lot of trouble and people are stuck in really scary scenarios.”
In order to combat this issue, Finley Walker and his team at the LGBTQ Center — Vice President Jasmine Enecial , Secretary Marshal Peralta, Board Member Kelly Ramnarine, Website Manager Beckett Sanchez and Head of Graphics Gabby Cario — are working toward their goal of opening a physical location for members of the LGBTQ community to be able to visit and receive resources such as for hormones, therapy and a sense of community. Walker also hopes the center will serve as “a legitimate, safe place for people to go to, a drop-in space with food — for people who may be food insecure — activities, and a space for people to just be, where they don’t have to worry about so much of the lack of acceptance that can exist most everywhere else.”
Although the center does not currently have a physical location, Walker does have some ideas of potential areas the center could be located in the future.
“There’s this place in Newhall that has this stained glass, and it’s been ‘For Lease’ forever. That’s kind of a dream location because it’s a gorgeous building. There’s this other location along McBean [Parkway], in Granary Square I think, that’s just like an empty building, that would be a beautiful location,” Walker said. “In the end, we’re probably going to have to start small with like an office space, and then work our way up until we have more money to a bigger space. The goal is to have something kind of like the Bella Vida Senior Center where there’s, like, rooms and offices and a kitchen. That’s the ultimate goal.”
As Walker and the rest of the LGBTQ Center team work towards their goal of opening a physical center location, they have been working on countless community events in the meantime.
“We’ve done a food drive, we’ve done a toy drive, just to put effort into the community and show that we’re not just here for specific people.” Walker said. “We want to help too, you know?”
“We had a Pride March last year, which was great,” Walker continued. “It was later in the year, it was a socially-distant, masks-on kind of thing. That was really successful because a lot of people showed up. We were in the park, we had T-shirts and masks and stuff that people were able to get. We just marched, it was great! People had signs and flags, and it was primarily youth. It was really great for them to show up and have an opportunity to be queer at an event in Santa Clarita, which is just rare. There is a trans and nonbinary peer-lead support group happening biweekly, but that’s also [for 18 years and older] because there are certain legalities we need to go through before we have things available for minors. We’re also promoting virtual queer events that are happening, whether in Santa Clarita or just anywhere.”
The SCV LGBTQ Center website also provides resources and information, including crisis hotlines, links to other LGBTQ organizations (such as The Trevor Project and The Human Rights Campaign), information on LGBTQ identities and terminology, as well as a comprehensive list of LGBTQ friendly religious organizations and marriage officiates located in SCV.
A space like the LGBTQ Center is vital to any community, but especially one like SCV, Walker said.
“It’s necessary,” Walker said. “It’s necessary for the mental health of queer individuals in Santa Clarita. There are people who grow up not even knowing what the LGBTQ Comunity is, not knowing about themselves [or] if they are in the community because they’re not exposed to it. So it gives [them] that exposure, also, in the sense of just existing [which] raises tolerance and acceptance. It’s scientifically proven, people who know someone who is in the community… tolerance and acceptance goes up, even if it’s just by a little. Even a little would do wonders for the community here in Santa Clarita.”
Walker and his team at the SCV LGBTQ Center hope to have a physical location up and running within two years. They have been gathering donations through GoFundMe to fund this venture and are working to put direct donation links on their website once the necessary paperwork is in order.
Stay up to date on events hosted or promoted by the center by following their Instagram, @scv.lgbtq.center.