By Shelley Hoss
Originally published in the Orange County Register December 30, 2013.
No one likes to feel left out, yet we’ve all experienced the sting of being slighted, looked over or ignored at some point in our lives. In most cases, the harm is temporary and we’re able to move on.
But other exclusions are more insidious because they divide Orange County based on differences in race, economic status, ethnicity, education, religion or sexual orientation. Fortunately, two important local nonprofits are helping overcome ignorance and isolation to create a more tolerant and inclusive Orange County.
OC Human Relations is approaching this mission through effective programs offered in partnership with local schools.
“We work with approximately 35,000 students, teachers and parents annually in our BRIDGES: School Inter-Group Relations and Violence Prevention Program,” explained Rusty Kennedy, executive director of OC Human Relations. “We partner with schools to create safe, inclusive campuses, where all kids are valued and included and bullying is discouraged by a positive school climate.”
Programs like this are changing attitudes and helping Orange County residents adapt to changing economics, demographics and opportunities
Five decades ago, Orange County was a suburban bedroom community with predominately white residents. Today, we’ve exploded into a diverse urban county. According to the Orange County Department of Education, ethnic minorities account for two-thirds of our current K-12 population.
Orange County is home to one of the largest populations of Vietnamese Americans outside of Vietnam, and large immigrant populations of Chinese, Asian Indians, Koreans and other nationalities contribute to our diversity. While many in these groups have achieved socio-economic success, the largest among them is the Latino population, which is disproportionately represented at the lower end of the economic spectrum.
Attitudes toward immigration change slowly. Although Orange County is progressing, not everyone feels embraced and accepted as members of our community. In fact, OC Human Relations reported 61 bias-related crimes in 2012.
Sometimes, we need more than education to promote change. We need a safe place to feel like we belong. And that’s where The Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center of Orange County comes in. For more than 40 years, The Center OC has been advocating and offering a variety of programs and services to meet the needs of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning) community in Orange County.
“The LGBTQ community is the second-most frequently targeted community, according to OC Human Relations Commission’s annual statistics,” said Kevin O’Grady, Ed.D., executive director of The Center OC. “The strong anti-LGBT sentiment in many parts of the county means a high percentage of our community remains closeted.”
For them, the Center OC is a place where those who need services can receive them in a compassionate and knowledgeable setting. However, O’Grady recognizes that direct services alone will not change the climate toward the LGBT community in Orange County. For this reason, The Center OC also works at the systems level to create lasting change.
It is lasting change that we need most if we are to thrive as a healthy and diverse community. As Nelson Mandelasaid, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Shelley Hoss is president of the Orange County Community Foundation. She can be reached at [email protected].