MiSELA is located at 4265 Florence Avenue, Bell, CA 90201, their phone number is (323) 286-7224. To find out more check out Somoslea on Instagram & TIKTOK. 

An “oasis in the desert,” that’s how Thursday Storm, 21, sees MiSELA, a new LGBTQ+ youth center that opened in Bell last week. 

Storm and several other local notables including Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Long Beach) and Huntington Park Councilmember Eddie Martinez, spoke at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the small space, on Wed. August 16, highlighting the idea of progress, acceptance and the need to provide services to LQBTQ+ youth in southeast Los Angeles (SELA).

The Latino Equality Alliance (LEA) and the Los Angeles LGBT Center have teamed up to provide pop-up services and outreach in SELA for years, but never had a dedicated location for youth LGBTQ+ in Southeast LA until this week. Wednesday’s ribbon cutting marked a step towards open acceptance in the community where queer youth have often struggled. The MiSELA Center will offer such services as parent and youth support groups, help with homework, space and equipment for study, leadership development activities, and a generally accepting space.

Though Los Angeles County has 10 million residents, for decades there were only two major resource centers catering to the LGBTQ community: the Los Angeles LGBT Center in West Hollywood, which began organizing in 1969; and the LGBTQ Center, in Long Beach, which officially opened in 1980, with resources trickling out from these central locations to the rest of the county.

Then, about eight years ago the Latino Equality Alliance joined forces with the Los Angeles LGBT Center to open the first LGBTQ+ Center resource space in the East LA area, MiCentro at 553 S. Clarence St. in Boyle Heights.

But SELA remained underserved.

As Jesus Suatan, LEA program coordinator, explained at Wednesday’s event, “The juxtaposition between the amount of visibility that there is in Boyle Heights and the East LA area, is completely polar to the amount of visibility and resources that are available here in the Southeast LA region … In my parent workshops, I’ve noticed that the parents here in this side of town are a little bit more reluctant — and I think it’s because they don’t have the necessary language and education that comes when learning about the LGBTQ community.”

Recently, LEA and the Los Angeles LGBT Center obtained a grant from the Los Angeles County Justice, Care and Opportunities Department’s Care First Community Investment, made possible by Measure J which passed in 2020.

Storm, a summer youth program ambassador with the Latino Equality Alliance, said they are happy to be in the kind of environment where they can be a resource for others and that being a part of MiSELA is like, “Giving back to myself, the queer child that always wanted a support system.”

Eddie Martinez, executive director of LEA and a Huntington Park city councilmember, has long seen the need for services. “I kind of wish there was a youth center here so we could have had opportunities to educate parents and provide a safe space for me, so that means a lot to me,” said Martinez.

Fidencio Gallardo, Bell city mayor says that SELA has been lacking in resources and investments for health and wellness since he was a child here in the 70’s. He said he would have to drive all the way out to WeHo on Friday nights to find a safe space to connect with the LGBTQ community. 

Martinez added that ultimately the goal for MiSELA is to be a safe space to support the youth’s well being and academic success, with services like support groups, homework. He also said that their aim is to create programming that is youth led so that they can build the leadership skills they will need to advocate for themselves and their communities. 

Though so far the reception for the center has been good, Martinez cautioned that, “We haven’t seen any push back yet but we are expecting it, that’s our job.”

“This is a flourishing of life,” said Storm who also expressed their hope that having resources like the ones that will be provided at MiSELA will make for a more accepting and beautiful community in SELA.

Amanda is a journalist born and raised in SELA, where you can find her playing tennis at a local park or taking her cat out for a walk.