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Casa Loto’s April 23 ‘LGBTQ Masquerade’ is a fundraiser for the Center’s youth programs
BY KARLA PETERSON
APRIL 20, 2022 11 AM PT
When Craig Thomas came to San Diego for the first time in the summer of 2019, he wasn’t visiting. He was relocating, sight unseen.
But if the man from Kansas City, Mo., was a new guy in town, he wasn’t new to the leap of faith it took to get here. He’s had plenty of practice on that front.
Thomas’ latest leap landed him at the helm of Casa Loto, a new San Diego-based nonprofit whose goal is to support and strengthen local LGBTQ+ youth programs and to establish a community home in Mexico for displaced LGBTQ+ youth.
The organization’s first big fundraiser is Saturday’s “LGBTQ Masquerade” to benefit the San Diego LGBT Community Center’s youth programs. The masquerade was originally scheduled for January of this year, but it was postponed due to the Omicron variant. Fortunately, Casa Loto is more than ready to meet the pent-up need to party for a cause.
“We want to see people happy,” the 34-year-old Thomas said. “This is a way to give people a night of fun and excitement to help give young people a chance at a new lease on life.”
Thomas’ need to give back began with his charity-minded mother and his youth in the Catholic Church. When he graduated from high school in 2006, Thomas moved from a small town in Kansas to Conception Seminary College in Conception, Mo., with the intention of becoming a Benedictine monk.
But after earning his bachelor’s in philosophy and religious studies four years later, Thomas decided to leave the seminary life, while still pursuing a life of service.
“I knew I was doing a lot of good, but I felt like I had more to offer,” said Thomas, who went on to get masters’ degrees in music education, educational administration and business administration.
“I can say without reservation that it was the best experience of my life, in that it helped me become the person I am. My tendency to give and to be a part of the community was only amplified by that time.”
Before moving to San Diego, Thomas — who works at the Inovalon health-care technology company — was a high-school teacher and the president of the Metropolitan Parliamentary Debate League of Kansas City.
He also spent 12 years as a volunteer pianist with the Epilepsy Foundation of Kansas and Missouri, and two-plus years as the chair of the board of directors for the Kansas City Center for Inclusion, which worked to provide a safe, welcoming place for LGBTQIA+ individuals and their friends, families and allies.
After his move to San Diego, Thomas planned to give himself a year to explore the community before getting involved in a new venture. His timetable got thrown off by COVID, but in July of 2021, he threw what he calls his “Debutante Ball.” In fact, the big catered event was a party with multiple purposes.
One of them was to make new friends and expand his social network. The other was to find the people who would help him figure out what his next giving-back venture was going to be. And after a brainstorming dinner with other members of San Diego’s gay community, Thomas had his answer.
It was Casa Loto. Thomas is the organization’s president and founder. This weekend, he is also a busy party planner.
For the “LGBTQ Masquerade,” which was inspired by an event Thomas produced for the Kansas City Center for Inclusion, attendees are encouraged to wear their finest gold, silver or bronze finery to the masked extravaganza, which will feature music, dancing, food, drink and prizes.
Casa Loto’s ambitious plans for an LGBTQ youth community home in Mexico are still in the very early stages, but Saturday’s bash will bring much-needed support to San Diego’s LGBTQ youth right away.
“We are always looking for allies in the community to support our efforts to provide LGBTQ youth access to the resources they need,” said Ian Johnson, senior director of development for the San Diego LGBT Community Center.
“For example, we have local restaurants who partner with us every year to raise funds for our HIV services and prevention programs. This year, Dining Out for Life participating locations will donate 25 percent or more of their proceeds on April 28. Fundraisers like the Masquerade and Dining Out for Life San Diego give members of our community an opportunity to contribute to the wellbeing of the LGBTQ community in San Diego.”
Up to 40 percent of young people experiencing homelessness in the U.S. identify as LGBTQ. The masquerade will benefit the Center’s youth programs, including the Sunburst Youth Housing Project. The 23-unit facility in downtown San Diego provides safe and supportive housing for homeless people between the ages of 18 and 24, including LGBTQ youth and youth living with HIV.
Craig Thomas knows what it’s like to take a leap into the unknown. He also knows what it’s like to need a soft place to land. That is his hope for the young people in Casa Loto’s future. And that future begins now.
“When I first moved to Kansas City or to San Diego, I did not really feel like I had a place to go. I think that’s another reason why I do what I do — to help foster a sense of community” said Thomas, who hosts monthly Friday-night potluck dinners in his Lemon Grove home for anyone who wants to drop in.
“I would like people to know that regardless of who you are or where you come from, you have a place where you belong.”