n two events on the state of our community — a panel & public forum and a brunch summit — queer & trans BIPOC from across the 805 shared their experiences and observations on where we are, and where we go from here. 

Perspectives came from Black, Latine, Indigenous, and Filipinx voices in the LGBTQ+ community. Ages ranged from 20 to 54, making this an intergenerational conversation. More than half carry they/them, she/her, or any/all pronouns, demonstrating the expansive gender representation of these events.

Participants included educators, nonprofit staff, nightlife & entertainment, arts & culture, movement and organizing, business owners and entrepreneurs, and active community members who want to create safety and comfort for others in the 805. Invitations were sent throughout the region; Ventura County and Santa Barbara County were among the counties represented.

Invitations were sent to 9 LGBTQ+ nonprofits in the 805 from SLO to Oxnard, and we are grateful that Diversity Collective, Oxnard LBGTQ, and Pacific Pride Foundation accepted the invitation and were represented by BIPOC staff.

April 5th’s “A Conversation for Our Wellbeing” was a collaboration between our new Couches & Blueprints program, and the Center for Equity and Social Justice at Santa Barbara City College.

At 5:30pm at the Fé Bland Forum at SBCC, our reception opened with DJ Tati the Queen helping to curate the atmosphere of the space, and a catered spread by Sazon Latino providing the nourishment to our community.

The panel conversation featured Edgar Euan of Diversity Collective and founder of Diversity Shines; drag performer and mental health advocate, Samara Sin; Wendy Santamaria, a housing justice and labor organizer; Kai Roldan, a mental health specialist and board member of the Santa Barbara Trans Advocacy Network; SBCC student and campus advocate, Mariam Martinez Gama; and Marco Silva, educator and former Board President at Pacific Pride Foundation. Moderating the panel was Erika Dr. Erika Endrijonas, President of Santa Barbara City College, and the first “out” President in the institution’s history.

In an open and frank discussion assessing the health, strength, and challenges of the 805’s LGBTQ+ community, these 7 individuals on stage — 6 BIPOC and one non-BIPOC ally — offered a broad range of perspectives and shared deep knowledge of our region and our community. It was wisdom borne of pain, heartache, compassion, a sacred obligation to dream, and an open dare to love each other more. And more than 50 people participated in this collaborative event for our community.

One week later, on April 13th, 50 members of the community convened at the first Summit for Our Wellbeing to again find out more about the state of our community in the 805, and find out how we can do more to make our region feel like home for queer & trans BIPOC.

On a rainy morning in Downtown Santa Barbara, volunteers welcomed attendees to EOS Lounge with optional N95 masks for the COVID conscious, and either black (“no photography, please”) or purple (“photography is okay”) lanyards to hold name badges carrying names, pronouns, and sectors they work in.

Caterers and friends of the community, Smoke Me Out BBQ, offered a buffet of options: vegan tacos of baked avocado, soyrizo, and gluten free tortillas; chorizo & egg mini frittatas; tri-tip chilaquiles; scrambled eggs, potatoes, and bacon; plus pancakes, tortilla chips, and other extras to round out the menu.

EOS staff poured a free drink for all — alcoholic and alcohol-free, depending on personal choice and needs.

In the Gold Room space, DJ Kidd made sure to create the vibe and work within the day’s program to find the right mix of culturally-affirming sound.

Leading off with the entertainment were two of the 805’s finest performers: Vivian Storm and Samara Sin. But to add to their time on stage, we worked with Vivian and Samara in advance to lead the summit in an exercise of creating an affirming space.

“If we view community as the quality of that space between us and any other, we need to practice how to recognize, acknowledge, and affirm each other, even people we have never met,” said Chief Esparza, Color Bloq’s executive director. Of course, Vivian and Samara delivered this part of the program as only they can — with laughter, emotional depth, and deep queer joy.

In a surprise known only to Chief, attendees honored Santa Barbara’s most prolific and celebrated drag performer by literally giving Vivian her flowers as she counts down the months to her move out of the 805. “These flowers are called stargazers. The reason why we have stargazers is because this is part of our collective, our community wish for you: for our brightest star, a sky that you may shine. And so please, if you would all come up and give Vivian her flowers.” And with that cue, our DJ let Stephanie Mills sing “Never Knew Love Like This Before” as every attendee walked up to give Vivian a hug, a smile, and a stargazer. The kleenex was passed around.

Over the next 2 hours, summit attendees shared space in breakout groups, answered prompts for discussion, and offered their input for all to see on several posters placed throughout the space. Beyond the importance of connection and sharing, attendees offered qualitative data — a set of assessments, needs, and actions that can be used in our work and personal lives to improve our collective wellbeing.

Twin events for our wellbeing, unlike any that had been done in recent memory. These were spaces for connections and expanding the capacities of networks and knowledge; it was community uplift, safety, and empowerment; these twin events offered the seeds for culturally-affirming beginnings.

Twice during the Conversation for Our Wellbeing, panelists shouted-out Color Bloq as being a single site of inspiration and community for queer & trans BIPOC. And at the Summit for Our Wellbeing, Shawn Southgate (who also performs as the Bearded Gotti) said, in front of the entire convening, that no one had ever created a space for community, empowerment, and collective change until Color Bloq. Our obligation to community is a sacred one, and we take this seriously as a means of demonstrating our love for community.

Each space was beautiful. In combination, it was pure joy. It was a gift to be part of it, and to share time & space with our community.