The state's public health department is providing several Bay Area nonprofits with millions of dollars over the next five years in order to reduce mental health disparities among LGBTQs and others.

In a news release, state Public Health Director Dr. Karen Smith said that the project "is an important step toward ensuring access to culturally and linguistically competent mental health services." 

The groups receiving funding "will serve as key players in our effort to achieve health and mental health equity for all Californians," Smith said in the May 2 announcement. The agency is awarding Implementation Pilot Projects as part of Phase II of the California Reducing Disparities Project, which aims to cut mental health disparities across LGBTQ, African American, Asian and Pacific Islander, Latino, and Native American communities.

The state health department said in its announcement that the projects' primary goal "is to validate community-defined evidence-based practices through rigorous evaluation."

The LGBTQ groups receiving funding are Asian and Pacific Islander Wellness Center and Openhouse in San Francisco; Gender Spectrum in Alameda County; and On the Move in Napa County. The first three agencies expect to get about $1.1 million over five years. Staff at On the Move declined to be interviewed.

Ming Ming Kwan, API Wellness Center's director of behavioral health and community programs, said the funding would be used for clients in the nonprofit's Trans Thrive program, which operates a drop-in clinic and provides support groups, among other services.

"We're going to be implementing a communication skills-building curriculum designed specifically for the transgender community," Kwan said. 

The aim of the lessons will be to give people skills to communicate with their allies, partners, and others in the community. They'll be learning de-escalation skills, among other tools, "all around how they're able to interact with the world," Kwan said.

"Most of the people who access Trans Thrive have experienced some kind of trauma," including sexual abuse and having to engage in sex work, "so their mental health needs are high," she said.

API Wellness Center, which will be collaborating with the LGBT Community Center on the project, will also use the money for evaluation. Kwan said the funding offers "a unique opportunity" to take something that's community-based and turn it into something that's "scalable, replicable, and adaptable for other communities."

In response to emailed questions, outgoing Openhouse Executive Director Seth Kilbourn and programs director Michelle Alcedo said most of the funds will be used to build capacity around programs meant to reduce social isolation and boost access to "LGBTQ-aging affirming mental health services," along with similar work.

"We are very excited about this grant because older adults – especially LGBTQ older adults – are overlooked in mental health research," they said. "Our community programs fill a critical gap in promoting and improving the emotional health of our community. This grant will not only allow us to expand our Friendly Visitor Program, our support groups, and social engagement wrap-around programs, it also provides critical evaluation protocols to help replicate this model in other communities." 

At Gender Spectrum, the funding will be used to help school students.

Joel Baum, the nonprofit's senior director for professional development, said that the money will support efforts "to work with schools around creating gender-inclusive school climates" and looking at "the various forms of gender diversity and the need to create greater understanding about gender among young people."

"A lot of the harassment and bullying often experienced by LGBT people is frequently rooted in gender, so the idea of this project is we're going to be researching and evaluating the practices we've been using for many years for working with schools to support the needs of transgender students," Baum said.

However, he added, his group's model is also that there's a need to "create more gender-inclusive conditions around all kids – not just some kids, but every kid." 

In total, the state agency said it would award $60 million to 41 contractors and grantees over six years to implement Phase II of the disparities project. Proposition 63, the Mental Health Services Act, which voters passed in 2004, funds the project. The act imposes a 1 percent income tax on personal income over $1 million.