Women's History Month at Penny Lane Centers

February 28, 2023

Celebrating Penny Lane's Founder- Ivelise Markovits

In the month of March, we celebrate Women’s History!  We commemorate and encourage the study and observance of these amazing women as we look back at the role they played in American history.  Penny Lane was founded by one such woman 53 years ago.  Let’s take a moment to celebrate the contributions of our very own Ive Markovits!

The year was 1969 and the mood around the country was one of love and peace.  The Beatles exemplified this message.  Ive found inspiration in their music.  To her, the music represented freedom.  There was always a message that everything would be okay.  “It was an inspirational period.  We all believed that things would be better.”  It was with that mindset that Ive set out to open the doors of Penny Lane Centers.  It was not easy.  Ive faced many challenges.  Writing various proposals for 3-4 years, requesting financial support only to be met with responses stating that she was too young, inexperienced, and it didn’t help that she was a woman and a woman of color at that.  Against all odds however, Penny Lane opened its doors on Friday, December 15th with 5 teenage girls.  By December 31st that number grown to 15.  A little-known fact is the original location of Penny Lane was in Altadena. Ive was able to find an abandoned Nursing Home that she got at a rock bottom price. Back then Penny Lane had a staff of 10, but it was only the cook and maintenance staff who received a salary, all others volunteered their time for the first 6 months because they shared Ive’s vision and commitment.  

Ive still remembers those first 5 girls as if it was yesterday.  She fondly, although at the time not so much, recalls when all the girls ran away on New Year’s Eve, leaving a mess in their wake.  Ive also noted the challenges she faced as she did what she could to help these young women.  To this day she remains in touch with those very first clients.  They call regularly to share and catch up, always remembering how Penny Lane advocated for them when they could not advocate for themselves.

Ive’s commitment to young women created an agency that has helped tens of thousands over the years.  When the doors of Penny Lane opened, she had a vision to provide safe housing for young women, but what she created was so much more than that.  It is an honor to share a bit of this story with you as we celebrate Women’s History Month.  If it was not for this one woman’s grit and passion, Penny Lane Centers would not be here.  Penny Lane history is American history, but more importantly, it is a part of Women’s history.

-Judy Grant, Penny Lane Centers

Feeling Myself at Penny Lane- Desiree Bocanegra's Journey

My name is Desiree, I am twenty-five and I’ve worked at Penny Lane since November 2022. My transition to Penny Lane has been one of the easiest and most fulfilling journeys I’ve ever been on. I have never felt supremely comfortable anywhere I’ve been, but at Penny Lane I do feel safe, heard, and validated hence my comfort in sharing my story.

Since I was in middle school, I knew I was not straight, I’ve always been attracted more to other girls, but I still thought boys weren’t entirely gross. I had no problem hiding my feelings until I met a girl who was openly out in school, and no one seemed to care. I started off by coming out to my friends at school and none of them seemed to be bothered by it.  They still saw me as me and did not treat me any differently. My younger siblings also went to school with me, and I knew it would get to them eventually, so I never felt the need to say “I’m bisexual” to them.

The term bisexual didn’t feel right to me, and I eventually started going by lesbian. Often, I got the typical response from immature peers of “you don’t look lesbian,” “if you like girls, kiss her", “can we watch.” For the most part at school being me was easy. Something in me still didn’t feel right, by fourteen I was fully developed as a girl, and I hated it. I would do anything to not look like a girl such as dress in all black, wear oversized clothes, avoid anything “feminine”, I practically always wore beanies. This continued until high school where I developed a sense of “not belonging” with all my new peers. Everyone started growing into their styles and bodies and I still felt like mine was weird and not mine. People started to notice my still developing girl body and questioning why I dress like a boy or ‘emo.’ I started to get self-conscience and dressed more “girly.” I wore makeup styled my hair.  Instead of being asked if I was a boy, I was labeled a tomboy. I adapted to fit in, and I did, but I wasn’t happy at all. I struggled internally a lot with my sexuality and gender identity. I questioned myself If I was trans, was I meant to be a man. It took a long time to find the words for all my feelings but eventually I did.

My best friend is the one who brought up the term nonbinary to me. He said to me while we were playing BioShock in his room “hey Dez, you know how you don’t like being a girl but like you’re not a boy either?” I said, “yeah I guess if you want to say it like that, I rather be nothing.” He responded with “you’re nonbinary, it means you’re just a person, no gender, like a baby doll” Instantly I got so excited to know there is a word for how I feel, not only is there a word but that must mean there are more people who feel that way. From then on, all my friends called me Des or Doll.  My teachers, except one, respected my they/them pronouns. Everything was great. But then moved to Lancaster with a whole new group of people, losing all of that and starting a new high school. Again, I was terrified to be me. I dressed girly basically my whole time, my two friends I eventually made knew I was nonbinary and pansexual.

After graduation I stared working at a faith-based school as a teacher’s aide. I absolutely loved teaching:  being around the kids, the lesson planning and everything about it.  But in our contract, it specifically said, “I will not participate in homosexual behavior” That was the nail in the coffin moment. In the real adult world, being pansexual will not “pass”, in this faith-based school being nonbinary is not ok. I removed my piercings threw out my binders, anything that made me… me. I stayed like this for 6 years until I finally had enough.  The management was horrible the school was no longer worth sacrificing my happiness. I did not want to be ashamed of my partners or hide anymore but I felt stuck. A friend of mine was also feeling stuck in their job and wanted me to help them find a new job utilizing their degree. They wanted to work at Tarzana Treatment Center.  During my search to help them I came across a post for an LGBTQ+ TSY/TAY Peer Specialist. The title alone caught my eye, I continued to read, and everything got me so excited, I applied for the position and wrote my resignation letter at the same time. I received a call a week later and the first question was are you LGBTQIA+, I have never been so excited to say "YES! I’M PANSEXUAL! I’M GAY, I’M ME."  A few months later I received an orientation date I found myself dressing extra girly by default and drove my way to North Hills.  At that meeting we received LGBTQIA+ training and Summer Gomez had us go around and say our names and pronouns, it came to my turn, and I hesitated. Even knowing I was hired specifically for this position because I’m LGBTQIA+, I was scared. I said hi I am Desiree she/they and it was the most freeing feeling ever. Since then, I have gone fully into my role as a peer navigator in the LGBTQIA+ TSY program and the Peer Specialist at the TAY center and I am fully accepted, my pronouns are respected, and my coworkers want to know me. My coworkers, Jen and Maritza, heard some of my story and have been so supportive in helping me accurately express my gender identity and feel like myself. I feel like I belong, for the first time ever I genuinely feel like I belong somewhere as me in my truest form. I haven’t brought back my binders yet, but all my coworkers have been amazing helping me navigate back to my comfort level and encourage me to feel “myself.” I do not feel invalid or doubt myself. Penny Lane has been amazing to me, and I am thankful for the sense of community and belonging everyone on staff actively displays and that they embrace the Heart Centered Culture with each other and not reserve it just for clients. Thank you to everyone I’ve met, come in to contact with and those I have yet to meet.  I feel like I belong.

-Desiree Bocanegra, Penny Lane Centers