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Santa Maria Sun / Spotlight

The following article was posted on October 12th, 2021, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 22, Issue 33 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 22, Issue 33

The American Association of University Women, Santa Maria Public Library, and LGBTQ-plus nonprofits partner on panel

By Taylor O'Connor

After a family member faced a lack of understanding of their gender identity from the community, Lata Murti decided to create an LGBTQ-plus educational opportunity for Santa Maria’s residents.

“We may know about diversity in gender and sexual orientation, and we may not have anything against anyone’s identity, but there’s this idea that it exists, just not in Santa Maria,” Murti said. 

Murti wanted to see the LGBTQ-plus community reflected throughout Santa Maria organizations, including her chapter of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), one of the oldest women’s organizations in the nation. 


HOPE
The House of Pride and Equality’s Eva Didion (right) was one of the guest speakers during the American Association of University Women panel on Oct. 9 in Santa Maria.
FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM

“A larger theme and goal for AAUW Santa Maria this year is expanding our reach. Our membership is mostly retired, professional women. I am one of the youngest at 45 years of age, and one of the few women of color,” she said. “I think our membership realizes it’s time to diversify, reach out to younger women, and help make this organization something inviting.” 

As co-president of the Santa Maria chapter, Murti partnered with several LGBTQ-plus organizations and the Santa Maria Public Library to host Reading the Rainbow on Oct. 9, a free panel discussion about sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression in recognition of National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11. 

“Part of our goal at the national level of AAUW is to be more inclusive of gender diversity and diversity in sexual orientation. I thought our branch could benefit from that national goal in that we have a lot to learn,” Murti said. 

The panel—which took a year and a half of planning—featured speakers from the GALA Pride and Diversity Center, House of Pride and Equality, and the Central Coast Coalition of Inclusive Schools. Murti provided four questions to each guest speaker and allotted two to three minutes per person so they could speak about their own experiences and answer questions. 

When community members speak of their past, it makes the audience more comfortable with the discussion, Murti said. 

“When there are panelists speaking from personal experiences, face to face, you can’t deny that people live through these experiences; it’s people we know, people we consider friends, or people we love,” she said. 

One of the speakers was Eva Didion, House of Pride and Equality’s co-founder.

“I’m hoping this event will resolve doubts and open minds and hearts in the community to make Santa Maria as welcoming as possible,” Didion said.  

Didion has lived in Santa Maria since 1975 and was a social worker for 34 years, she said. She lives with her wife—they’ve been together for 19 years, legally married for seven. 

After the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Didion founded House of Pride and Equality so that members of the LGBTQ-plus community could be safely out in public and visible in Santa Maria, she said. 

“I’ve lived in Santa Maria for many years, and the community as a whole was quite conservative, and LGBTQ-plus members were quite unseen, even though our population includes many people,” Didion said. 

“When Santa Maria experienced its first Pride [parade], a switch flipped. There’s just more visibility. There’s a lot more [LGBTQ-plus] events and more people offer support; it’s been transforming,” she continued. 

People told Didion that they felt like they could hold hands in public and said they were able to express themselves like they never could before. Locals also responded by asking for more resources. 

There’s always room for improvement, she said. 

“Change is something that progresses slowly. There’s always more that we can do, and it can always get better,” Didion said.

Highlight 

• The Dana Adobe is hosting a Halloween Bash on Oct. 29 with a trunk-or-treat, a costume march, and a family-friendly movie night. There will be designated spots in the parking lot for each trunk—spaced out appropriately for social distancing—and safe trick-or-treating. The kids costume parade begins at 6 p.m. where children will march around while being socially distant. The trunk-or-treat will begin at 6:30 p.m., but participating cars must be decorated and ready by 5:30 p.m. Those who want to participate in the event must sign up by Oct. 20 by emailing events@danaadobe.org. The best decorated trunk will win a private adobe tour for six people. For more information, visit danaadobe.org.

Staff Writer Taylor O’Connor wrote this week’s Spotlight. You can reach her at toconnor@santamariasun.com.










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