Political Notbook: Trevor Project opens SF call center Sunday
by Matthew S. Bajko
In the Hollywood film Milk there is a particularly poignant part where the late gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, played by Sean Penn, answers a phone call from a young man seeking help with accepting the fact that he is gay.
The fictionalized scene brought to life a story Milk often told about fielding a phone call from a gay youth in Altoona, Pennsylvania who had heard about his historic election in November 1977, when he became California's first openly gay elected official.
Beginning this Sunday, May 22 that scene will play out on a daily basis when the Trevor Project opens the Trevor Lifeline's Harvey Milk Call Center inside the site of Milk's former camera shop and campaign headquarters at 575 Castro Street in the heart of San Francisco's gayborhood. The hotline provides crisis and suicide prevention counseling to LGBT and questioning youth 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"Harvey Milk made calls to the kids three decades ago in that same space," said David McFarland, the agency's interim executive director and chief executive officer. "What excites us is so very soon those calls will once again be answered by trained voices of compassion and understanding in the very place Harvey answered those calls for help."
The call center, whose unveiling coincides with the second observation of the state's Harvey Milk Day, which also happens to be Milk's birthday, came about due to local objections to seeing the Human Rights Campaign relocate its store and action center into the historic storefront. Critics of the national LGBT rights group derided its associating itself with Milk's legacy and decried the use of the space for largely retail purposes.
One suggestion that had been floated amid the controversy this past winter was seeing an organization working with LGBT youth be housed inside Milk's old shop.
At the time, Trevor Project officials had been looking for a site to open its third call center – it operates ones in New York and Los Angeles – to handle overnight calls in-house rather than using an outside contractor, said McFarland. The nonprofit reached an agreement with HRC to locate its nighttime hotline staff in the city.
"Because of the outpouring of support from the San Francisco Bay Area community, we decided the perfect new home would be in the same space that Harvey took calls," said McFarland.
As part of the deal, the Trevor Project is using the space rent-free while HRC paid for the build out and agreed to donate $10,000 annually to the nonprofit during the duration of its five-year lease at the site. The Milk call center will operate from 11 p.m. to 11 a.m. and will be staffed by one full-time manager and six part-time phone operators.
For now the positions are all paid Trevor Project staff members, though volunteers will be utilized in the future, said McFarland.
"The plan is to initially launch with the paid crisis workers but we will eventually add volunteers. At this point we don't know when, we need to get the crisis call center up and going," he said.
McFarland said the agency, which had a budget last year of $2.5 million, does not release how much its call centers cost to operate. Nor does it usually reveal the exact location of its call centers for safety reasons.
The high-profile nature of, and interest in, its San Francisco location made keeping it a secret impossible. Trevor officials have invited the public to celebrate its grand opening at 11 a.m. this Sunday with a ribbon-cutting and tours.
A number of Milk's campaign aides and City Hall staffers, including Cleve Jones, Anne Kronenberg, Frank Robinson , and Danny Nicoletta , are expected to attend. Also expected to attend are Stuart Milk, Milk's openly gay nephew; Dustin Lance Black, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of Milk; and gay author Armistead Maupin, whose Tales of the City series musical adaptation premieres next month at the American Conservatory Theater.
Also on hand will be Bay Area Reporter publisher Thomas E. Horn. In his role as president of the Bob A. Ross Foundation, Horn granted the Trevor Project a two-year $50,000 challenge grant to help cover the operating expenses of its new call center. [The foundation is named after the B.A.R. 's founding publisher and is a separate and distinct legal entity from the newspaper.]
Horn said the foundation made the financial contribution "because the work they do is terribly important" and "because Bob would be in the middle of efforts to prevent teen suicide were he here."
The agency, so far, has received a warm welcome to the Bay Area, home to three of its corporate sponsors: Levi's, Google and Wells Fargo.
"We have had donors coming from San Francisco all 13 years we've been around. They are very excited at seeing us having a physical presence in the Bay Area," said Brian Davis, Trevor's major gifts officer on the West Coast.
San Francisco Pride named the agency a 2011 organizational grand marshal and invited it to be part of the lead parade contingent Sunday, June 26. In March the Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom presented the Trevor Project with its Community Service Award.
But there have been some rumblings of what impact the agency, with its ties to Hollywood celebrities, may have on the bottom lines of other LGBT youth-based nonprofits as they all compete for scarce resources in the Bay Area. Daniel Radcliffe, the lead star of the Harry Potter films, will receive an award at its New York fundraiser in June.
For now there are no plans to hold a major fundraiser in San Francisco, said McFarland. But that could change.
"If the community would love for us to do an event in San Francisco, we would be there," he said.
He said Trevor officials would be reaching out to the local LGBT youth providers to find areas where they can work together. Any youth who stop by its Milk call center in need of services will be directed to contact the Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center in the Castro.
"Certainly, we are excited to be part of the community and do our part to reach out and integrate with all LGBT youth organizations in San Francisco," said McFarland.
While its hotline for LGBT and questioning youth has been its "cornerstone program" since 1998, it is not the only program that the Trevor Project runs. Its volunteer Ambassadors Committees, which began two years ago, work in six different cities, including San Francisco and San Diego, on raising the Trevor Project's profile and programming in the local areas.
It is introducing its Trevor Lifeguard Workshop Program in San Francisco, where it will train middle school, high school and college educators about suicide prevention and the needs of LGBT youth.
"Our job is to be there for crisis prevention and suicide prevention," said McFarland.
The agency is also in the middle of a national search for a permanent executive director following the surprise resignation in April of its former Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer Charles Robbins. While the sudden departure of executive directors at several San Francisco-based LGBT nonprofits came amid fiscal crisis at those agencies, McFarland said the Trevor Project is financially sound.
"Change is inherent to any agency," he said. "We are well positioned to sustain this transition. We are in a strong position fiscally, programmatically, and structurally to lead suicide prevention for all LGBT youth across this country."
The hotline number is 1-866-4-U-Trevor. To learn more about the Trevor Project and its programs, visit http://www.thetrevorproject.org.
Gay GOPer out of CA House race
Redondo Beach Mayor Mike Gin came up short in his bid for a Los Angeles-area congressional seat, coming in fifth place in Tuesday's special election.
The openly gay Republican was one of 16 people seeking the state's vacant 36th Congressional District seat. It became up for grabs when longtime Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman resigned to oversee a Washington, D.C. think tank.
According to unofficial returns Wednesday, Gin had 4,145 votes. Democratic Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn was the top vote-getter with 25 percent or 13,137 votes.
In a major surprise, Republican businessman Craig Huey eked out a second-place finish with 22 percent or 11,648 votes, according to unofficial returns. Coming in third was Democratic California Secretary of State Debra Bowen with 22 percent or 11,442 votes.
Bowen could still move into second place, as elections officials have thousands of ballots yet to tally. Because no one captured more than 50 percent of the vote this week, the top two finishers will now move on to the July 12 runoff election.
Due to the state's new open primary system, which voters adopted last year, candidates in runoff elections are no longer determined by party affiliation. The change allows for candidates from the same party to face-off against each other, in the hope that it will result in more moderates being elected.
Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings around 10 a.m. for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reports on why Equality California snubbed gay GOPer Mike Gin in his congressional race.
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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail mailto:.