BURBANK, Calif. — Since the 1970s, Gay Pride has been celebrated in cities across the nation and the world. But for the first time, the city of Burbank will officially recognize June as Pride Month.
Also, a first in Burbank is the YMCA raising the LGBTQ flag.
Watching the rainbow strips ribboning in the sky in unison with the star-spangled banner was a proud moment for Burbank Community YMCA's Director of Marketing and Social Responsibility, Rob Rodriguez.
"It resembles unity. It resembles being able to be yourself in this country and coming together as one," said Rodriguez, who doesn't identify as male nor female but uses the pronouns "they" and "them."
"Some days, I feel comfortable wearing jeans, a T-shirt, and sneakers. Some days I want to wear heels, glitter, makeup, a skirt, and that's how I'm feeling for the day," they said.
Rodriguez said that being non-binary eliminates restrictions on their identity. As a child, they lost both parents and was turned over to the foster care system at 11 years old.
When they came out as queer in high school, Rodriguez remembers longing for the sense of belonging and found it while attending New York City's first public high school devoted to students who identify as LGBTQ.
"Seeing individuals in power such as queer teachers, queer staff and directors, was truly inspiring growing up, and it was because I saw these models in safe spaces," they said.
But moving from New York to work in Burbank at the YMCA, the first thing Rodriguez noticed was the lack of LGBTQ safe spaces.
"People in Burbank had to exit Burbank in order to celebrate Pride and life," they said. That sparked the idea to open Burbank's first LGBTQ resource center, also a first for YMCA's nationwide.
Rodriguez spent the last year single-handedly creating what they've named the Social Impact Center at the YMCA, envisioning a judgment-free space for the LGBTQ community and foster care youth.
The center will provide after-school programs, life skill and health workshops, foster care and social justice advocacy.
As the visionary behind the space, Rodriguez said everything about designing it was intentional, down to the smallest details, including the artwork and the muted colors of the furniture and the walls.
"The youth and families of tomorrow are the colors. Their artwork, their workshops, their identities, they will be the colors in this gray space and let them shine bright," they said.
Rodriguez secured 26 partnerships with local and national brands that have social impact initiatives.
Many of those partners are based out of Burbank, such as Nickelodeon, Warner Bros. and Ikea, all of which made donations to the Social Impact Center.
The Social Impact Center will have its ribbon-cutting Friday and opens to the public Monday. Rodriguez also will personally accept the proclamation declaring June Pride Month in Burbank at City Hall this week