As Southern California’s queer community celebrates its own month with a series of events and speeches, overall progress in key areas has been slow.

“There’s progress for the queer community but hate crimes are up across the country, there’s still discrimination for jobs and housing,” said Virginia Bauman, 34, co-owner of Cuties Coffee and a queer activist.

California crime rates have risen 11 percent between 2016 and 2017 (the most recent data available), according to a report by the Associated Press. Gay men were targets in three-quarters of the reported hate crimes and sexual orientation was a factor in a little over 200 crimes that year.

Hate crimes as well as day-to-day social oppression lead to a condition called minority stress, according to Dr. Brandon Ito, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry UCLA. The condition is best described as chronic stress related to a person’s minority status. It can lead to elevated stress levels and affects not only mental but physical health.

“From medical literature, we know that people in the LGBTQ community have higher instances of mood disorders, substance abuse, depression, anxiety and PTSD,” Ito said. “What we’ve been trying to understand as a medical community is why.”

Ito has worked with LGBTQ people for more than a decade and said the medical community is working to have a better connection to the queer community. According to a report by the Center for American Progress, 29 percent of transgender people who visited a doctor in the last year said they were refused service because of their actual or perceived gender identity.

“We’ve seen medical communities be more vocal on their stance of protecting LGBTQ people. It’s a duty of the medical profession to treat people equally and without disrespect,” Ito said.

Ito noted that many LGBTQ-friendly medical offices use visuals to show it’s a safe space, train staff to use preferred pronouns and names and adjust patient intake forms to accommodate different family structures or sexual orientations. He added that the UCLA Gender Health Program and the Trevor Project are great resources for healthcare and support in Los Angeles.

“A lot of queer community events are often centered around mental health,” said Iris Bainum-Hole, 34, co-owner of Cuties Coffee. “But we wanted the complement to be events that are lighthearted and just about getting together for no other reason than to celebrate that we are all together.”

Bainum-Houle and Bauman opened Cuties Coffee Bar in March 2017 as both a place to celebrate progress and provide a safe space for people in the community.

“We open up the space in the evening to different groups of people in the queer community and also have umbrella events where we invite everyone,” Bainum-Houle said.

As part of their mission of inclusion, Bainum-Houle and Bauman specifically reach out to bisexual and queer people. But, some people in the community, have mixed feelings about the word “queer.”

“The word ‘queer’ has been a slur for a long time – there are older generations who have a hard time with that word,” Bainum-Houle said. “But that’s where the power comes from – how you define yourself – not how society has been trying to describe us for so long.”

“Since starting this space, we’ve encountered a lot of pain of people from older generations who felt like they didn’t fit in. We reach out to those people, especially to people in the bisexual community, and say we see you and we’re glad you’re here,” Bainum-Houle said.

According to a report in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, loneliness can lead to various psychiatric disorders like depression, alcohol abuse, child abuse, sleep problems, personality disorders and Alzheimer’s disease. For a population that already has increased risk of mood disorders and substance abuse, building community is vital.

“Fighting isolation is one of the most important things we can do. Keeping in touch with our chosen family and finding a space where our identities will be validated,” Bainum-Houle said.

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