The LGBT Center of SE Wisconsin, at 1456 Junction Ave, is identifiable by the rainbow “pride flag” flying over the entrance. I interviewed Barb Farrar, the Executive Director a few days ago. I wanted to find out more about the organization.
The LGBT Center was initially set up as a social organization for LGBT people by Bruce Jaffe, a recent transplant from Florida, in April 2009. “He wanted to build community,” Barb said. After it was open, it quickly became clear that the LGBT community needed “a lot more that just a way to have parties and cocktail hours.” There were a lot of needs in the community. “People needed walk in support. They needed mental health. They needed help getting jobs. They needed support groups,” Farrar said.
“Walk in support” is the biggest service the center provides. It does not have lisenced counselors so they make referrals. The people who come in might just behaving a “bad day” and want to talk to somebody. Or, they might want a referral to a therapist or be in a crisis situation. Others just might be new to town and want to learn where people hangout or how they can volunteer.
Before the interview, while I was waiting, Barb answered a call a from a parent whose child has just come out as transgender or gender nonconforming and felt like they needed help navigating that. “The call we got today was a parent just saying I don’t want to screw this up. I want my kid to be happy and healthy and want to support them in whatever way that is. I just need some help walking through how to do that.” They are coming in with their child on the weekend. Barb said she gets about two calls like that a month.
“The important part,” Barb noted, “is to insure that the child is listened to and that they are able to describe what is going on and if we can become a communication bridge to the parent. We are not counselors but we just want to make sure the communication is good and the situation is de-escalated.”
In term of counselors or therapists that the center refers people to, their resource list is small (still in development). They want to roll it out in a way that they are confident about the providers. Barb wants to sit down with therapists and ask them about their tactics and beliefs, etc. “especially around transgender issues.” She wants to make sure that the kids are getting the best support that they can and that they are safe. They are looking for a volunteer or intern to spearhead that.
The “flag ship program” of the center is the yearly “Equality Prom.” It has been held at the Delta Hotel by Marriott Racine for the two last years. This spring about 130 kids attended. It lasted for four hous and was free. Barb likes it because “kids come together with kids from other schools and they realize they are part of a much bigger community in their own county or southeast Wisconsin.”
The center also has a chat group on website hoping to build community.
About 80% of the center’s funding comes from family, city and county foundations; such as the Racine and Kenosha Community Foundations, the Racine County foundation, the Dominican nuns from the Eco-Justice Center, and SC Johnson. The remainder of its funding comes from individuals. The center is trying to be less reliant on foundation grants and more reliant on individual donors in its donor base. “When you ask for money from people it helps build a buy-in,” Barb observed. “They want to volunteer, host an event. It really builds community.”
One of the center’s more important programs is the “Safezone” program. “It is really just a LBGTQ awareness program,” observed Barb. The center offers companies the training and has a sliding scale that starts at $200 an hour. It consists of a series of videos that explain gender and sexual orientation, and intersex and gender nonconforming issues. Then 3-5 people tell their stories, one of whom ideally, is transgender. “We go through vocabulary. We talk about how to be an ally. We cover a lot of ground in an hour and try to bring awareness to employers about the community,” Barb said.
The center is trying to ramp up its advocacy as well. It was supportive of Mayor Mason’s ordinance banning discrimination based on gender identity. They hope to do more, possibly a conversion therapy ban. The center is also involved with the Equality Act, which is a bill in the United States Congress, that if passed, would amend the Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, public education, federal funding, credit, and the jury system.
On October 19, the center is celebrating its 10 year anniversary. There will be a “gala” at the Historic Masonic Mansion. Barb expects about 300 people. There will be drag queens and dancing. It is a chance to show pride. “It should be awesome”, Barb said with a smile.
The LGBT Center’s Vision
The LGBT Center of SE Wisconsin is an open affirming environment for people of all sexual orientations and gender identity expressions. We provide support, education, resources and advocacy to achieve a stronger and healthier world for all LGBTQ+ people and allies. With collaborative networking in Racine, Kenosha, Walworth County and Northern Illinois, we will empower our community to provide a safe space to support and celebrate LGBTQ+ diversity, equity, visibility and community building.
The LGBT Center of SE Wisconsin Programs
Support Groups: Emerge (All Ages), Transgender Nonconforming Support (Ages 18+), Renegades (Ages 19 and under), Rockstar Legends (Ages 40+), Lesbian Support Group (Ages 21+)
Education & Training: The LGBT Center hosts a number of educational workshops, trainings, support groups and guest speakers.
Advocacy: The LGBT Center is committed to advocating for equal rights and ending discrimination for all LGBTQ+ people.
Walk-in: The LGBT Center is here to help support, give peer-to-peer counseling, access to a wide range of resources and referrals.
Safe Zone Training: [Described above]
Hours of Operations
Monday – Friday 11 AM – 5 PM
Saturday | 11 AM – 3 PM
Sunday | CLOSED
Cisgender/cis: term for someone who exclusively identifies as their sex assigned at birth. It is not indicative of gender expression or sexual orientation.
Gender: A set of cultural constructs describing characteristics that may historically be related to femininity, masculinity, women, men, non-binary people, or social norms. The term was coined in 1955 by sexologist John Money.
Gender Identity: One’s internal sense of being male, female, neither of these, both, or other gender(s). Everyone has a gender identity.
Gender Expression/Presentation: The physical manifestation of one’s gender identity through clothing, hairstyle, voice, body shape, etc. Many transgender people seek to make their gender expression (how they look) match their gender identity, rather than their sex assigned at birth.
Nonbinary (Also Non-Binary): Preferred umbrella term for all genders other than female/male or woman/man, used as an adjective (e.g. Jesse is a nonbinary person). Not all nonbinary people identify as trans and not all trans people identify as nonbinary. Sometimes nonbinary can be used to describe the aesthetic/presentation/expression of a
Packing: Wearing a penile prosthesis.
Pansexual: Capable of being attracted to many/any gender(s). Sometimes the term omnisexual is used in the same manner.
Passing/blending/assimilating: Being perceived by others as a particular identity/gender or cisgender regardless how the individual in question identifies, e.g. passing as straight, passing as a cis woman, passing as a youth. This term has become controversial as “passing” can imply that one is not genuinely what they are passing as.
Polysexual: Capable of being attracted to multiple gender(s).
Sex: A set of characteristics associated with reproduction and biology that generally assign individuals into categories of “male” and “female.”
Sexual Orientation: A person’s physical, romantic, emotional, aesthetic, and/or other form of attraction to others.
Transgender/Trans: Encompassing term of many gender identities of those who do not identify or exclusively identify with their sex assigned at birth. The term transgender is not indicative of gender expression, sexual orientation, hormonal makeup, physical anatomy, or how one is perceived in daily life.
Transsexual: A deprecated term that is often considered pejorative. It indicates a difference between one’s gender identity and sex assigned at birth. Transsexual often – though not always – implicates hormonal/surgical transition from one binary gender (male or female) to the other. Unlike transgender/trans, transsexual is not an umbrella term, as many transgender people do not identify as transsexual.
Queer: A term for people of marginalized gender identities and sexual orientations who are not cisgender and/or heterosexual. This term has a complicated history as a reclaimed slur.