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LGBTQ Commission speaks for underrepresented community

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People square dance at the Pride Initiative celebration in San Mateo on June 4. (Courtesy County of San Mateo)
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When a transgender woman visiting San Mateo County from the Philippines found herself unable to obtain hormone replacement therapy drugs, she turned to a rather unusual community resource for help.

Formed two years ago, the San Mateo County Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Commission provides outreach and support for underrepresented LGBT community members, including seniors, people with disabilities and minorities.

When the Filipina visitor unexpectedly found herself unable to obtain her medications while in the U.S. because she had no prescription and no health insurance — which are not required of her in the Philippines — the commission stepped in to help.

LGBTQ Commission Executive Director Honora Miller made about 40 phone calls before she found a Planned Parenthood clinic willing to provide the patient with the needed psychiatric evaluation and prescription.

“That was a good two weeks of making phone calls,” Miller said. “It underscored the need for an easy way for people to get the information they need.”

In the two years since the commission formed, Miller said she has also received several calls from parents seeking referrals to LGBT-friendly pediatricians, because their children have recently come out to them as transgender.

The county is looking to fill two vacancies on the 11-member commission, which is believed to be only the second LGBTQ Commission created by any city or county government in California. The first was the LGBT Advisory Committee to San Francisco’s Human Rights Commission.

The positions are open to any San Mateo County resident, but a statement from Board of Supervisors President Warren Slocum’s office noted the ideal candidates would understand issues affecting underrepresented LGBT community members.

Candidates would also ideally have experience doing outreach with underserved and at-risk LGBT populations, and broad knowledge of the community resources available to those residents. All applications must be submitted by June 30.

The need for the commission is perhaps even more poignant following the mass shooting Sunday at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Fla., which claimed 49 victims.

Even in progressive San Mateo County, the commission’s co-chair Jennifer Walter said she feels the effects of bigotry “everywhere,” but noted responses to the tragedy in Orlando appear to have bridged gaps between people with differing identities and orientations.

“What I’m seeing across the country and in our county is both queer and non-queer people are reaching out to each other,” Walter said.

The LGBTQ Commission helped organize a candlelight vigil in San Mateo on Wednesday, and has scheduled another vigil at 4 p.m. Friday at the San Mateo County Government Center in Redwood City.

The commission has two concurrently running projects as well, said Miller, the commission’s executive director. One is an LGBT resources page on the county government’s website, with a growing list of business associations, crisis services, fitness and social clubs, housing and legal aid services, medical clinics, and other organizations that serve LGBT populations.

The other project is a recently launched survey designed to assess what services are most needed by which segments of the LGBT community. Created by a working group under commission member and Dr. Gabriel Garcia of Stanford Medicine, the survey had a beta rollout at the June 4 Pride celebration in San Mateo.

Walter said about 100 residents completed surveys while attending Pride, and noted the data and opinions collected would play a crucial role in the advocacy of the LGBTQ Commission before the Board of Supervisors.

“We want any recommendations that come out of the commission to be supported by what the community members are saying,” Walter said.

Applications to become an LGBTQ Commission member must be completed no later than 5:00 p.m. June 30. To apply, or to access the county’s LGBT resources page, visit www.lgbtq.smcgov.org

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