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    Pacific Center: We’re Still Here, We’re Still Queer, and We’re Turning 50!

    By Sharon Knight–

    The Pacific Center for Human Growth, the oldest LGBTQIA+ center in the Bay Area, has been quietly operating the only sliding scale mental health clinic for LGBTQIA+ people and their families in Alameda County for the past 50 years. Now we are ready to come out (again) loud and proud, with a new home, a new executive director and executive team, and the message: “We’re Still Here, We’re Still Queer, and We’re Turning 50!”

    I recently spoke with Executive Director Lasara Firefox Allen about the Pacific Center’s proud legacy and what the future holds.

    Sharon Knight: Please tell us about yourself, your background, and why you were drawn to work with the Pacific Center.

    Lasara Firefox Allen

    Lasara Firefox Allen: My background is in social work and grassroots activism. I’m queer identified and have many queer family members. I was drawn to this position because it was an opportunity to both serve and work with my LGBTQIA+ community. 

    Sharon Knight: How did you and the Pacific Center find each other? 

    Lasara Firefox Allen: I was ready to make a move back to the Bay Area from Mendocino County. I had heard many good things about the Pacific Center over the years, and when I found the job opening and researched the organization, I found so many points of alignment that I really couldn’t pass the opportunity up. 

    Sharon Knight: Can you give an example of one of these points of alignment? 

    Lasara Firefox Allen: Pacific Center is a legacy organization with a young and increasingly diverse organizational culture. Pacific Center has hired several new team members in the past few years—at the directors’ level and throughout the organization—with a conscious focus on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) representation. We have an amazing team who are dedicated to Pacific Center and our community.

    Taunya Black—who is being honored with our Culture Shift award at our upcoming 50th gala on June 3rd—was instrumental in spearheading an effort to rewrite Pacific Center’s Mission, Vision, and Values statements in order to reflect racial equity as a central value of the organization. Our equitable hiring focus is one of the outward manifestations of that organizational work. As a white co-conspirator, I agree with this ethical value, and believe that representation is key.

    Another area of alignment is that our organizational culture encourages everyone with whom we work to show up as their whole selves. We employ from our community, with our community in mind. It is a peer-focused organization, and lives into the “nothing about us, without us” ethos. The overall diversity of the staff was, and is, a very attractive and alive aspect of the organization for me.

    Sharon Knight: The Pacific Center was founded in 1973 by Jim Green and Richard Boxer. What was the motivation for creating the Pacific Center? 

    Lasara Firefox Allen: According to the community stories I’ve heard, the Center was formed in response to a brutal gay bashing that happened in Oakland. I’ve also heard that it was founded as a response to folks being tired of only having bars as a meeting place. And indeed, having a space for our community to meet that’s not oriented around alcohol is important to this day. 

    The organization began as a community center. Our therapeutic services were added later. When the HIV/AIDS crisis began, the Pacific Center was here as a support. The Center has really been here through thick and thin for the East Bay LGBTQIA+ community.

    Sharon Knight: Do you think the founders would be proud of what the Pacific Center has accomplished since its inception?

    Lasara Firefox Allen: I hope so! I have had several folks from the organization’s past coming around and checking in, and that has felt really affirmative. And [former Executive Director] Leslie Ewing remains engaged, and I feel like that counts for a lot.

    Sharon Knight: Can you share an instance with us? 

    Lasara Firefox Allen: There have been five long standing couples who have gotten in touch since I’ve been here, all of whom met through the Monday Night Men’s Rap group. We had one couple show up on our doorstep on their anniversary. It was really sweet.

    Sharon Knight: I understand the Pacific Center is moving to a new location after 45 years. Where is the new location, and how do you envision this move enriching the programs Pacific Center offers to the LGBTQIA+ communities it serves?

    Lasara Firefox Allen: The new location is at 2130 Center Street in Berkeley. I’m seeing this move as an opportunity for growth for the Pacific Center. We performed a community survey regarding priorities in the new space. One of the things that we learned was a major priority for our community was a location that’s near a BART station. We prioritized the needs of the community, and the new site is mere steps away from a BART station. Also, the new suite is all one level, so it is much more accessible.

    Sharon Knight: Leslie Ewing continues to be a bright light in the Pacific Center’s story. Can you share with us some of her contributions to the Pacific Center’s legacy? 

    Lasara Firefox Allen: Leslie continues to be a valuable supporter of the Pacific Center in innumerable ways. She supports the Pacific Center and the greater community in so many ways that, in fact, we’re presenting her with a Lifetime Achievement award at Pacific Center’s 50th anniversary gala!

    Sharon Knight: The Pacific Center celebrates 50 years this year. Congratulations! To what do you attribute the organization’s remarkable staying power?

    Lasara Firefox Allen: A lot of very tenacious staff, board members, and volunteers over the years, and funders who believe in the mission of Pacific Center. The organization wouldn’t be here today without all of those points of support.  

    Sharon Knight: What are you most proud of in continuing the Pacific Center’s 50-year legacy?

    Lasara Firefox Allen: We support our community members throughout their entire lifespan; our Trans Tween group serves youth nine to twelve years old, while our Older and Out services support folks 55 and up. Last year we served over 3500 individuals, and delivered over 3200 hours of sliding-scale therapy sessions. We have 20 active peer groups running that serve the very distinct needs of our community. 

    I am also proud that our staff is actively engaged in increasing outreach to our QTBIPOC (Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous, People of Color) community members. This part of our community had less access to our services before our current staff came on. 

    I’m proud of our amazing and dedicated staff. They work tirelessly to make sure our community has access to life-saving services. 

    For the past 50 years, we’ve been committed to promoting mental health equity and liberation for LGBTQIA+ individuals in our shared community. I’m proud to be part of that.

    Sharon Knight: Thank you so much for spending some time with me and San Francisco Bay Times readers today. I look forward to joining you on June 3rd to celebrate your 50th anniversary with the Pacific Center community!

    The Pacific Center celebrates their 50th Anniversary with a Golden Dreams Gala in Berkeley on June 3rd. Purchase tickets at Eventbrite ( ) and visit Pacific Center’s website ( for more information. 

    Sharon Knight is the “Golden Dreams” Event Coordinator at the Pacific Center for Human Growth:

    Published on May 18, 2023