Unity in Diversity: The Impact of LGBTQ+ Connection in Napa Valley

Jenesis Diwa and Solicia Aguilar from LGBTQ Connection smile with another attendee of the pride celebration

Pride Month, celebrated each June, shines a spotlight on the diverse experiences, triumphs, and challenges of the LGBTQ+ community. In Napa Valley, a program of On The Move called LGBTQ+ Connection is diligently working to foster an environment where these narratives are not just heard but honored, particularly focusing on adolescents and young adults. The program has been an essential lifeline for the local community, and this Pride Month, we’re celebrating their vital contributions. At Napa Valley Community Foundation, we’re proud to have supported LGBTQ Connection’s work in Napa Valley with grants dating back to 2012, and we recently made a new grant to help sustain their local programming. 

The passionate voice behind LGBTQ Connection is Solicia Aguilar, who uses the pronouns she/they/he and identifies as Two-Spirit, a term used within some Indigenous cultures to recognize individuals who possess qualities of more than one gender. Solicia, the Program Director, is an unwavering advocate for LGBTQ+ rights. Their empathetic approach, coupled with their firsthand experiences, underscores the organization’s mission to foster a healthy, diverse, and inclusive community driven by emerging leaders. 

At the heart of LGBTQ Connection’s work is the Oasis Model. This three-pronged strategy aims to foster a supportive and understanding environment for LGBTQ+ individuals within their communities. The first pillar of this model revolves around socials and support groups, which provide a welcoming space for members of the community to connect and lean on each other for support. The second component focuses on the cultivation of Youth Leadership Teams. These teams serve as platforms for young people to assume leadership roles, amplify their voices, and advocate for their rights and those of their peers. Lastly, the organization extends best practices training to various groups such as schools, police departments, medical staff, and other community businesses. The aim of these trainings is to equip these crucial service providers with the knowledge and skills needed to effectively support LGBTQ+ identifying individuals, enhancing inclusivity and understanding. 

Solicia warmly invites us into their world, sharing a glimpse into the organization’s social programs, the positive impact of those programs, and the continuing struggles and triumphs of the community they serve. Every Friday, the Voices Napa Center—which houses LGBTQ Connection—transforms into an open art social, a sanctuary called “Free Form Fridays.” It’s a space where anyone from the community can come and express themselves through art, embracing their individuality. Beyond this, the organization hosts regular office hours for one-on-one support, leads a youth leadership initiative, and hosts social events across the county. 

In a world where stressors are continually increasing, Solicia acknowledges the additional adversity faced by the LGBTQ+ community. However, the unity and resilience they witness inspire them every day, fueling the organization’s mission and work.  

Discussing the challenges LGBTQ+ youth face, especially those who are victims of bullying, Solicia shares that “What young people are really expressing is wanting safe, inclusive spaces at school, in the community, and at home. It’s incredible to me—our youth are seeing rejection, hostility, harassment, and self-doubt—they’re facing this, and yet, they’re still showing up. They’re still sharing joy. That’s what pride is.” 

Another critical concern is the fear and anxiety the LGBTQ+ community is experiencing when seeking healthcare. Solicia shares harrowing stories of biases and lack of respect for autonomy in healthcare settings. Far from hypothetical, these are real issues faced daily, even in Napa County. 

“Here’s the thing—some realness: It’s already happening. Many people in our community have a hard time accessing health care because medical facilities and staff don’t know how to address someone that uses a different set of pronouns or how to help patients that are trans,” shares Solicia. “That’s why we do our trainings. It’s why we bring people from the community to speak and share their experiences—because this kind of discrimination is happening here. It’s been here.” 

Despite these hurdles, Solicia is optimistic about the power of personal stories and shared experiences in fostering connection and understanding. “That’s what helps us connect with people. It’s what makes us dynamic.” 

When asked about their proudest moments, Solicia credits the youth they work with, the wisdom of the community elders, and their team’s unwavering passion and authenticity. 

“We’re real people navigating the same things that are happening to the people in the community and we really understand what’s going on,” they share. “We’re able to use it to fuel our passion. It gives us our sense of purpose and understanding for how to navigate these situations authentically.” 

Reflecting on the importance of intergenerational connection, Solicia shares about the organization’s intergenerational socials. “It’s important to know your past, where you’ve come from, who did the walk before you… so that you can help those that come after you to keep walking,” they say, underlining the significance of shared experiences across ages. 

LGBTQ+ Connection’s roots trace back to around 2010, born out of the initiative of On The Move staffer Ian Stanley, who recognized the lack of LGBTQ+ services in the Napa region. Looking to the future, Solicia is hopeful. The program needs additional funding, but has plans to further expand. As Solicia reflects on the organization’s journey, the narrative becomes a testament to the strength, resilience, and heart of the LGBTQ+ community. 

As we celebrate Pride Month, the story LGBTQ Connection stands as a vivid reminder of the importance of acceptance, unity, and ongoing advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights. It’s a story of connection, understanding, and, most importantly, hope for a brighter, more inclusive future led by youth leaders like the ones from LGBTQ Connection.  

“It’s incredible,” Solicia says. “There’s not really words in the English language that can really convey how cool and wonderful the youth are. How they come together, how they learn to work with one another. I’m really excited to see that come to fruition. It’s a great experience.” 

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