RuPaul’s Drag Race’s Aja to attend Marsha P. Johnson center fundraiser

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The Marsha P. Johnson LGBTQ+ Youth Drop-In Center, located in Palm Springs, will be open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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The Transgender Health and Wellness Center in Palm Springs recently opened the doors to the Marsha P. Johnson LGBTQ+ Youth Drop-In Center, a space where teens can get resources, talk to peers and hang out.

Where is the Marsha P. Johnson LGBTQ+ Youth Drop-In Center, and when is it open?

The youth center, located at 340 S. Farrell Drive, Suite A106, Palm Springs, will be open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Renae Punzalan, director of outreach for the Transgender Health and Wellness Center, said it’ll be a convenient spot for nearby Palm Springs high schoolers to swing by and work on their homework after school. She envisions around three to five students at the center at a time.

What does the Palm Springs youth center offer?

Students who stop by the center will have access to snacks and drinks, board games, art and school supplies, hygiene items, pamphlets to connect them to resources and a work area. The space also features a rainbow-colored wall, encouraging posters and signs and LGBTQ flags.

The youth center is named after Johnson, an outspoken gay liberation activist who was one of the prominent figures in the Stonewall uprising of 1969.

Who specifically is the center hoping to reach?

The Transgender Health and Wellness Center has served more than 3,000 people since 2018, linking them to medical and mental health care, legal services, housing, employment and other resources. Along with its location in Palm Springs, it has centers in Riverside and San Diego as well.

“Our mission here is to have a safe space for LGBTQIA+ youth to come and get extra resources, whether it’s having a place to chill, getting some food, homework assistance,” Punzalan said. “We’ll link them to our free mental health therapy, which anybody 13 and older can access without parental permission.”

There are about 15 therapists available virtually who can speak with students. Punzalan said the Transgender Health and Wellness Center is already connected with 20 youth who seek in-person services and about 100 virtually.

Why are mental health resources important for LGBTQ youth?

Mental health services are an important, often vital, resource for teens, especially LGBTQ youth, as 41% have seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, according to the Trevor Project’s 2023 U.S. National Survey on the Mental Health of LGBTQ Young People. Additionally, 67% of LGBTQ youth reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety and 54% reported experiencing symptoms of depression.

It’s also an important time to open up the youth space as many states have considered and passed anti-transgender legislation in recent years.

“Youth are going to need a lot of attention,” Punzalan said.

Although the space has just opened its doors, Punzalan is already thinking about ways it can expand. One idea is installing an isolation booth, so that a teen has more privacy if they want to work on school work or just get away from noise. Creative art and physical activity classes are another potential addition, she mentioned, along with social events.

The Transgender Health and Wellness Center already holds monthly Trans and Non Binary Tuesday events with adults, where community members get to meet each other and various organizations throughout the county can present information.

Punzalan is also hoping to connect with schools across the Coachella Valley. She said she’s been trying to get acquainted with Gay Straight Alliance clubs at the three local school districts, and she’d like to hold presentations with those students to share information about the youth space and resources offered.

How is the the Marsha P. Johnson LGBTQ+ Youth Drop-In Center setting students up for success?

Center officials also would like to help students plan for their future by starting the Marsha P. Johnson scholarship program and a learning work program. Punzalan said students will be able to work at the youth drop-in center, gain skills and earn school credit.

Ultimately, Punzalan wants to develop a strong enough relationship with students so that they can brainstorm ideas together about what activities or events they’d like to see at the center and in the community, such as movie nights or hikes.

“We want those kids to be out, and they’re very shy,” she said.” It’s very different from when I was a youth.”

How can I support the Marsha P. Johnson LGBTQ+ Youth Drop-In Center?

To get the ball rolling on some of those ideas, the Transgender Health and Wellness Center is hosting a Equality Garden Party Fundraiser to support youth services and programs. The fundraiser will take place 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Rios Ranch, located at 2777 E. Baristo Road in Palm Springs. “RuPaul’s Drag Race” alumna Aja will receive the Stonewall Humanitarian Award at the event.

Tickets cost $100 and can be purchased at http://tinyurl.com/EqualityGardenParty

The Marsha P. Johnson LGBTQ+ Youth Drop-In Center is also accepting donations in the form of games, supplies food and other items. For more information, contact info@trans.health, call 760-202-4308 or visit https://trans.health/

Ema Sasic covers entertainment and health in the Coachella Valley. Reach her at ema.sasic@desertsun.com or on Twitter @ema_sasic.

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