Fostering hope, health, safety, and inclusivity for the Central Valley’s LGBTQ+
Brian Poth and Nick Vargas grew up in the rural town of Visalia where they both felt a constant struggle to find acceptance as LGBTQ youth. As young adults, they sought freedom and opportunity in big cities. When personal circumstances eventually called each of them home, they found themselves back in the same challenging environment they had worked hard to leave behind. After their paths crossed, Poth and Vargas decided to work together to build the community they so desperately needed and set out on a mission to create a safe space—in part so youth would not feel the need to escape as they did. They founded The Source LGBT+ Center in 2016.
“The Source gives people a place they can come and be themselves. You don’t have to go away to be gay. You can stay.”
The Source is now the largest LGBT Center between Sacramento and Los Angeles and has provided services to over 24,000 individuals last year alone. The organization offers more than 30 programs including HIV prevention and support, youth leadership opportunities, transgender resources, a drop-in center, cultural competency trainings, and community events. Their innovative approach ensures that every LGBTQ+ individual in the area has access to the care and community they need to live healthy, fulfilling lives.
“The Source is more than just a community center; it’s a movement towards greater understanding, acceptance, and inclusion in a region where these values are most needed”
- Compared to their heterosexual peers, LGBTQ+ people face higher rates of discrimination in employment and housing, higher rates of poverty and homelessness, increased mental health issues, and a heightened risk of harassment.
- Epicenters of the HIV epidemic have shifted from urban to rural areas, where lower testing rates, delayed diagnosis, and limited access to prevention and treatments persist. Rural residents with HIV face challenges like stigma, isolation, and scarce specialized care, negatively impacting their health outcomes.
- LGBTQ+ youth living in rural communities are more likely than those in urban areas to report feeling unsafe and unsupported at school and in their communities and are more likely to report experiencing mental health challenges and bullying. Yet, compared to urban areas, rural LGBTQ+ centers are few and far between.
- Poth and Vargas replicated an existing model of major LGBTQ centers found in big cities and adapted it for the challenges the community faces in the Central Valley. They offer more than 30 programs tailored to the specific needs of the people they serve.
- The Source LGBT+ Center serves as a community hub, offering a safe and inclusive drop-in center for socializing and accessing resources, specialized support for LGBTQ youth, transgender-specific resources, essential mental health services such as counseling and specific mental health condition support groups, a food pantry, a queer-focused lending library as well as spaces for art exhibitions and community meetings.
- To address the lack of culturally competent and affirming care, The Source established a clinic to provide free rapid HIV and rapid Hepatitis C testing, as well as syphilis testing, and is one of the only clinics in the area providing those services.
- In just a few years, Poth and Vargas have propelled The Source from a modest office to a 4,800-square-foot campus in downtown Visalia, and they now offer programs in partnership with other LGBTQ-serving organizations in Tulare, Kings, and Fresno
- The Source is now the largest LGBT Center between Sacramento and Los Angeles and has provided services to over 24,000 individuals.
- The Source expanded its summer programming, including sober events and support, to more than 300 LGBTQ teens. Through outreach to schools and districts, The Source provided training sessions to 309 educators and administrators to foster more inclusive school environments and has reached thousands of youth through school site visits.
- In 2022, the organization saw over 2500 people attend their annual Pride Visalia event and advocated for the successful passage of the region’s first School Pride Proclamation.
- With anti-LGBTQ legislation and hate crimes rising, Poth and Vargas are acutely aware of the critical importance and challenges of centers like The Source and are committed to expanding its reach in the Central Valley.
- Poth and Vargas are currently developing a primarily volunteer-led clinic providing Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) prescriptions to reduce the risk of HIV transmission, in a culturally competent clinic setting with wraparound services. They are also exploring launching a Federally Qualified Health Center to expand their health services.
- The Source LGBT+ Center is committed to providing technical assistance to emerging LGBTQ+ initiatives across the state, especially in rural communities. Poth and Vargas are interested in exploring different ways the organization can support these start-ups.
The written profile and video reflect the work of the leader(s) the year they received a Leadership Award. Please contact the leader(s) for current information.