Meet Sam ZzeniaMessler, Founder of DiversityDHS and Men of Desert Hot Springs, Your LGBTQ+ Connection.
Posted on May 16, 2022
Brooklyn-born boy raised in Buffalo where he began his teaching career in 1971. After relocating to California immediately following the Blizzard of ’77, Sam sought a climate far from snow and cold adding a career in the airline industry to that of being an educator working with students from middle school to high school to college. After 30 years of teaching, 14 years enjoying passenger relations with airlines, and four years with Sony PlayStation as Senior Manager of Learning and Development and Quality Assurance, Sam retired. Disliking the life of a couch potato, he ventured into the world of volunteering, at one point working on 13 separate projects simultaneously. Together with Floyd Barten, they transformed a vision into reality giving birth to the first annual Desert Hot Springs Pride Festival in 2016-2017. In the beginning, Sam took on the role of President of DiversityDHS. Today, he is the Secretary focusing on organizational communications, community relations, fundraising, and festival logistics. Sam is a proud member of the DiversityDHS team and looks forward to meeting all supporters of the LGBTQ+ community within Desert Hot Springs and beyond. You can reach Sam at DiversityDHS@roadrunner.com.
1. Sam, please tell us about DiversityDHS and the LGBTQ community of Desert Hot Springs, California.
DiversityDHS came into being back in 2016 when Floyd Barton and I felt there was a gap in how the City of Desert Hot Springs is serving the ever increasing LGBTQ+ community. As more and more of us choose this city in which to reside, the questions are:
- What services can the city offer that is focused on improving the lives of our community?
- What are the wishes of our community to help us want to remain in Desert Hot Springs?
- What can DiversityDHS do to help our elected leaders realize the voting power of our growing community?
- What can be done to more effectively communicate with our LGBTQ+ community residents?
- What activities can DiversityDHS and city leadership offer that will entice our community members to get out of their homes to be active participants?
DiversityDHS can help fill the gap, but we cannot do it alone. We need our city leadership to step up as well as our residents from both Gay and non-Gay communities.
2. What does it mean to be a member of the LGBTQ community today?
Growing-up in the 1950s and 1960s, just about every person of the then referred to Gay community were residing in a tightly closed closet. We had little rights or acceptance as the non-Gay Americans had. We had to fight meaning, in many lives, we had to come out of our closets at the risk of losing family, friends, jobs, housing, and much more. All too many of us were emotionally and physically beaten or even killed simply for announcing that we are Gay or Lesbian. After decades of winning our constitutional equal rights, life improved for many, not all, of us. Unfortunately, the conservative Republican Party is doing all it can to turn the clock back to the 1950s and 1960s. Just weeks ago, I learned there were 237 laws or legislative bills across this country that are reversing the equal rights we so diligently fought for. Today’s LGBTQ+ citizens must more actively fight these GOP enemies. When was the last March on Washington for our equal rights or in the capital cities of all 50 states and U.S. territories? The fight does not stop when we win each equal right, but must continue in order to maintain them. No one party should have the power to put us back into the closet. Nonetheless, it is happening each and every day in American states, cities, towns, and even local school boards. It only takes one conservative legislative bill, or as in Florida’s new “Don’t Say Gay” law, one parent to take a teacher and a school district to court for teaching historical lessons of equality simply because that one parent did not want their child to hear the word, “Gay or Lesbian or Transgender or Bi-sexual”. They seem to believe the teacher would be recruiting their child to be LGBTQ+ which is proof-positive that they have no idea how people identify themselves as LGBTQ+. No one is recruited into the world of discrimination, we are simply and proudly born this way. Like all too many in the MAGA community, they do not believe in science, but rather lies.
3. What are the greatest needs and challenges that DiversityDHS faces today and what are those challenges preventing DiversityDHS from accomplishing?
People. DiversityDHS first needs active people. It’s as simple as that. The five or ten DiversityDHS volunteers who come to our planning meetings are deeply appreciated, but it takes more than a small circle of friends to plan a Pride festival that potentially educates tens of thousands of people.
Secondly, money. It takes tens of thousands of dollars to put on a most successful Pride festival. Our current members work to plan and host fundraising activities throughout the year that are both fun and inviting to supporters of what we do. In addition, there are numerous csorporations and government agencies that offer grant money. We simply need volunteers to do the research and complete the applications. It costs money to raise money. That is why we are asking our city leaders to help. The Desert Hot Springs Pride Festival, held the Saturday following the Palm Springs Pride Festival and Parade, could advertise a positive story of our city to all of Coachella Valley as a welcoming and diverse event and city we can all be proud of.
4. Why are California and Desert Hot Springs good places for the LGBTQ community to be? What do both offer the LGBTQ community that other states and cities don’t?
The latest survey that I am aware of is that Desert Hot Springs is the 7th fastest LGBTQ+ city in the State of California. With the active participation of our rapidly growing LGBTQ+ community, we could easily become the 5th or 3rd fastest growing city in the state. DiversityDHS, with a growing membership, can help make that happen. I encourage people from all backgrounds and sexual identities to visit www.DiversityDHS.org to sign-up as a volunteer and/or donate funds in support of our vision and mission. As I mentioned previously, our equal rights are under attack, predominantly by several conservative Republicans in not only red states and communities, but in every state, every community, every school board. The mayor and city council members of Desert Hot Springs, along with our police chief and officers have consistently exhibited their support of our equality accepting us as human beings, as Americans. I’m proud of them and I’m proud to be a resident of Desert Hot Springs.
5. What do you want to say to people who are considering moving to Desert Hot Springs and what do you want to say to people who are already here?
First, to those contemplating Desert Hot Springs as a potential city in which to reside, come check us out. However, do more than simply drive around our expansive city borders. Speak to members of the local LGBTQ+ community having them be your guide on a tour of our growing city. Whether you know someone in Desert Hot Springs or not, I invite you to contact me and I will be happy to show you around town. I’ve lived here since 2003 and still love living here.
Next, for those who are currently residing in Desert Hot Springs, we love that you chose to live here. Like in every city, residents are constantly verbalizing their ideas of how the city leaders can improve life for all. I ask you to contact DiversityDHS at our website or send an email to me expressing your ideas so DiversityDHS can be a vehicle to the ears of our mayor and city council members or our city manager or those at Parks and Recreation or police chief and deputy police chief. Ultimately, DiversityDHS would like to work with the city in opening a brick and mortar LGBTQ+ Community Center where our community members can physically go to seeking assistance for both personal and civic concerns.
- Specifically, what can the city leaders do to support the LGBTQ+| community?
As I stated previously, funding and staffing for our planning and hosting the Desert Hot Springs Pride Festival are of utmost importance. In order to file for a permit to hold the festival at a city park, there are fees that must be paid for NOW, including city, fire, and county health permits. Deposits must be made NOW that include reserving street closure and directional signs, hiring a company to provide canopies, tables, and chairs, generators, porta-potties, security, advertising, entertainers, and so much more. We are beginning our fundraising activities shortly in order to pay for these expenses, but that is far from what we need. We are asking the city for help, but we need it NOW. Nothing in government moves quickly, yet the invoices arrive at a much quicker pace.
With the assistance of the city, DiversityDHS can
- Better host a successful Desert Hot Springs Pride Festival that attracts people not only within our city, but from throughout Coachella Valley and beyond.
- Reach out to both the LGBTQ+ community and other local communities.
- A brick and mortar LGBTQ+ Community Center could offer services to our community residents focused on sexual orientation, transgender life challenges, medical attention, mental health assistance, youth without a home guidance, senior transportation help, home buying assistance, legal representation, and so much more.
- Open a brick and mortar LGBTQ+ Community Center financially supported by city funding and grants. This center can offer the programs listed in 6.c. above as well as a central “home” for community members to go to for meeting space, men and women and youth rap sessions, and so many more social services. My coming-out year at age 30 was when I resided in San Diego. I turned to the Gay and Lesbian Community Center for assistance and support for which I am deeply grateful. I don’t know if I would be alive today and so “out of the closet” without the people who worked and volunteered there offering words and hugs of support. That is what we need here in Desert Hot Springs. You can reach Sam at DiversityDHS@roadrunner.com.