March 14, 2017 5:37 AM
It's a lot more than a room with sofas, sodas, snacks and Wi-Fi.
For the local transgender community, it's their new home, a place where individuals can talk in a safe environment.
Lisa's Place, a community center, opened recently at First Congregational Church on upper State Street. Money for the center will be raised when the Santa Barbara Transgender Advocacy Network celebrates the International Transgender Day of Visibility at 5 p.m. March 24 at the UCSB Multicultural Center.
Operated by SBTAN, the center is named after Lisa Gilinger, who started a day of remembrance in the Courthouse Sunken Garden for transgender individuals who died from violence or suicide. She's among the speakers, including SBTAN board members, at the event.
"We really love her," SBTAN President Phillippa Bisou told the News-Press. "She's been a big supporter and organizer at Pacific Pride (a local nonprofit helping the LGBTQ community) in the past."
In addition to SBTAN members, the audience at the Day of Visibility is expected to include people from LGBTQ groups and centers in Ventura, Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo.
They'll enjoy a potato bar provided by Santa Barbara caterer Eileen Randall and bid on art, including masks created by TransYouth Santa Barbara, a group of SBTAN.
The event will also feature musicians varying from Los Angeles band Lunden Reign to Ventura finger-style guitarist Melody Bird and The Discords, a Goleta band.
Musicians from TransYouth Santa Barbara will also perform.
The youth group and the SBTAN board meet on the first Saturday of each month at First Congregational Church, where Lisa's Place opened with grants from Fund for Santa Barbara and Trans Justice Funding Project.
Ms. Bisou, a transgender woman, said she doesn't know of any other center dedicated exclusively to the transgender community on the Central Coast or in Los Angeles. Centers serving the entire LGBTQ community are more common.
"Now that we have Lisa's Place, we're starting to network with other (transgender) organizations who are interested in seeing it and developing their own centers," Ms. Bisou said.
Center coordinator Stephenson Brooks told the News-Press that Lisa's Place is a safe area for light and serious conversations among transgender adults and youths. The center also serves non-binary individuals — people who define themselves differently than simply male or female.
"Even if they haven't faced discrimination, most of us grew up with a very clear idea passed down from our family, society, our neighborhood and schools about what a man is supposed to be, what a woman is supposed to be," Ms. Brooks, a 56-year-old transgender woman, told the News-Press. "When you feel like you don't fit in that strict construct, you begin to feel alienated and isolated.
"That's what this place is for, to give people a chance to see there are others out there like them," she said. "Mostly it's camaraderie and mutual support."
So far, three or four people — a mix of familiar and new faces — are at the center at any one moment, and Ms. Brooks said conversations can range from hobbies to relationships and making the transition to their gender with which they identify through hormones.
As the crowd grows, volunteers can be brought in to add more nights, said Ms. Brooks, a communications graduate student at UCSB. She added she would like to host a potluck at Lisa's Place and that the center is sorting through donated clothes for transgender individuals. The facility also has space for arts and crafts.
Ms. Brooks said Lisa's Place may organize field trips to explore Santa Barbara.
"We're trying to see exactly what the community wants, then we will do our best to provide it," she said.
"The main challenge we have to overcome is visibility, to get people in the community to get to know us and perhaps understand us a little better. That will make all the difference in the world."
The Santa Barbara Transgender Advocacy Network will celebrate the International Transgender Day of Visibility at
5 p.m. March 24 at the UCSB Multicultural Center. The program will feature speakers and musicians, and there will be a gourmet potato bar.
Tickets cost a suggested donation of $15, $25, $100 or $250. To purchase, go towww.sbtan.org.
Proceeds will go to Lisa's Place, the new community center for transgender and non-binary youths and adults at First Congregational Church, 2101 State St. ("Non-binary" refers to people who define themselves differently than simply male or female.)
The center's hours are 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Thursdays and 4 to 8 p.m. Saturdays.
For more information, contact the transgender advocacy network at firstname.lastname@example.org.