Posts Tagged ‘AID Atlanta’

The LGBTQ community has seen many facets of resistance to marginalization but perhaps the most imperative and poignant was the unapologetic grassroots activism of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). An international, direct-action, and advocacy group, ACT UP works to impact the lives of people with AIDS and was created in response to the AIDS Crisis. I am involved in this work because as a queer person, my history is intertwined with this struggle. The late 80s and early 90s witnessed rampant homophobia and stigma surrounding AIDS that thwarted research and funding. Such antagonisms from an apathetic, stingy government and pharmaceutical companies killed a generation of what could have been the mentors and role models for my queer generation. My initial inspiration for prevention work came from the lessons of this despicable period of US history and recognizing that today, much progress remains in terms of eliminating stigma and providing equal access to care and prevention for those living at the bottoms of stratification. When I entered the harm-reduction world, I was unaware of the many other facets of myself, the struggle for an AIDS free generation, and queer liberation I’d discover.

AID Atlanta, the largest AIDS Service Organization in the Southeast, was the first work environment that welcomed “all of me”.  Growing up in the South with multiple oppressions (I am queer, Peruano-Americano that was living in an agricultural, white, and small town) I learned the heaviness of prejudice and hate. So, I was grateful to enter an organization pivoted around harm-reduction as an intern. Eventually, I became a full-time employee, serving as a Program Coordinator. During my time there, AID Atlanta colleagues inspired me to understand and embrace my lived experience (all of them).  I had the wonderful opportunity to work with amazing community members that are still constant reminders that there is no such thing as “a single life issue” (thanks Audre Lorde).

The resilience I gained from experiencing interlocking oppressions made me proud to call myself a sero-negative (a person without HIV), fierce ally for those living with HIV and an advocate for prevention and care.  HIV stigma operates similarly to other oppressions in the gay community. Every time one writes “clean” or “white only” on dating/hook up sites, entire communities are slandered as ‘other’.  HIV rates increase in the communities and areas that experience the most oppression and lack resources. Therefore, because I’m young, Latino, Southern, and a man who has sex with men – health departments tell me I’m in a high–risk category. While this might be true in terms of where new infection rates are multiplying, what such labels lack is the impetus necessary to change the conditions that put me at risk (i.e. poverty, racism, and stigma surrounding HIV).

There is interconnectivity between transcending risk factors, combating new infections, advocating for comprehensive health-care, and fighting for community space that embraces each aspect of identity. All are necessary for an AIDS free generation. ACT-UP served as a rage against hetero-cis-patriarchal hegemony that silenced the very existence of HIV. Today, that same silence is echoed on the faces of those not represented in white media and all who experience internal and external barriers to seek testing or treatment. It is now the responsibility of this generation’s activists, to advocate for HIV prevention, obliterate stigma, and dismantle oppression on all levels.


 

 

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– Edric Figueroa is a queer, first generation Peruano-Americano with organizing roots planted in the Dirty South (ATL!). He has worked in and volunteered with traditional AIDS Service Organization’s as well as community organizing efforts for over four years. Currently, he works to empower young people at a youth-led, social justice non-profit, Seattle Young People’s Project and is part of the Youth Scholar Steering Committee for 2014 United States Conference on AIDS. Transformative justice, the process of recognizing oppression as the root cause of all forms of injustice and creating personal, community-based and beyond alternatives to such- is at the core of all the work Edric does. –

 

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Image  April second through the fourth saw 55 young black men from across the nation to meet in Atlanta, Georgia for the YBGLI’s second Policy and Advocacy Summit. When I confirmed to my parents that I was gay so many years ago they warned me that my life would be very difficult, and that it would be full of barriers that would require me to be the very best in everything that I do. This belief stayed within and made me believe until more recently that if I was not perfect or the best in whatever I was attempting then there was no reason trying to pursue.

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  While on my flight heading to Atlanta so many thoughts were running through my head. I really wanted to work hard to learn as much as possible and network. I am not going to lie when I felt as if the summit would be the same as any other conference, which would be information overload and maybe some opportunities to network. We all met downstairs to talk and network before walking over to the location we had our first session waiting for us. It was a great opportunity because it was a happy hour. This allowed us to begin the process to truly get to know each other. It was truly great to see old friends but have the ability to start the process of making new ones. Our first night had us at The Evolution Project. The Evolution Project is a drop-in community center for young black gay/bisexual men and transgender individuals between 18 and 28 years of age. There we got an overview of the drop-in center, listened to representatives of AID Atlanta and the state health department, and got to hear from Jose R. Rodriguez-Diaz who is the CEO of AID Atlanta. We then received a presentation on the Affordable Care Act and then had a private screening of Blackbird by Patrik-Ian Polk.

  Throughout the next day and a half we discussed health disparities, policy, advocacy, HIV prevention among Young Black Men Who Have Sex with Men (YBMSM), research, leadership, Feminism and its importance to Black Gay Men, and personal development & personal branding. The always-fantastic Testing Makes Us Stronger Team gave a presentation on their program to us before the Twitter Town Hall that will forever remain one of the most interesting experiences of my life.

On the final day, we had two very special events and both of them I will cherish for the rest of my life. We had the pleasure of having Dr. Theo Hodge, whom is a provider in DC, yet shared his story about his experiences in the district during the AIDS epidemic. Hearing him tell the stories of having clients taking HIV medications in the handfuls, the effects of AZT that were physically noticeable, and more importantly reviewing the timeline of then to here. The recording of the presentation needs to happen so it has the opportunity to play for every Young Black Gay Man (heck everyone) who is not familiar with the history of HIV. Our group truly enjoyed his charisma and his ability to convey such a serious story in a way to continue to engage us throughout our time together. Finally, the last session of the summit was one where Dr. David Malebranche, Dr. Sheldon D. Fields, Robert Miller, and Mr. Bernard Owens each gave us their stories and additional encouragement. I cannot tell you how much I saw the future me in these men. Each of them made me feel so comfortable I was able to break down my walls of protection and cry on their shoulders. I finally was able to let out my internalized stress and express my frustrations in a space where I felt as if I did not have to be either politically correct or forced to give some bullshit pageant reply like “I just want world piece.” It is truly a blessing to be in this position; however, it sometimes makes me feel extra diligent to stay on my Ps and Qs (even if that means saving those conversations for ‘kitchen table talk’). Immediately they offered their experiences and friendships and I am happy to say that post YGBLI’s Policy and Advocacy Summit we are still in contact and their words and perspectives have been invaluable. Having this opportunity would have been very difficult to achieve outside of this space.

This summit was definitely a success and far exceeded my expectations. The participants were very diverse and came from different geographical areas and professional (not just HIV). Topics were set but we had the ability to truly dissect what we were discussing, even if it transitioned off-topic for a bit. Having the ability to speak to representatives of our government agencies (CDC, HRSA, SAMHSA, and the Georgia Department of Public Health) gave us the ability to voice our concerns, thoughts, and ideas. The lack of job vacancies/internships and leadership positions, slow approval times for marketing materials, lack of funding to rural and other low socioeconomic communities that are seeing a rise in HIV, lack of cultural competency, and a vast array of others issues that were mentioned during this time period. I concern I had was that many of the representatives on the panel were white and only two members participating were Black. This is a perfect reminder that we need to have more opportunities to have Young Black Men Who Have Sex with Men (to include those who are HIV-positive) to fill these seats in the future to ensure that decisions made for us are created by and come from us. A huge shout-out though goes to Mr. Harold Phillips of HRSA who saw a need to address our questions due to the lack of time/ability of those reps on the panel to answer them. He graciously volunteered his own time to say back lack from 12am-1am to answer any of the questions he could. During this time, our awesome Organizing Committee Members took who concerns down and later brought them up with Douglas Brooks, the New Director Imageof the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP). Feeling as if we had a voice was very empowering. Having that experience has and will continue to ensure engage my government on concerning issues.

The Policy and Advocacy Summit allowed for the formation of new relationships and partnership .It was like a beginning of a new brotherhood. From my end, there were phenomenal conversations and I cannot wait to announce fantastic news in the coming weeks! Addressing surviving as an YBMSM professional, leadership, and more importantly branding made me look at myself and analyze ways I can still to this day continue to seek self-improvement. This summit created a space where we could exchange stories, ideas, experiences, and more importantly continued support for one another. To this day, I am still in contact with many of my new friends and colleagues as we check in or support each other through the struggles of being an YBMSM in a society that has serious issues accepting us as social norms.

Coming to a close of the summit Daniel Driffin, Chair of the Organizing Committee for YBGLI said something that we all took back to our homes, careers, and everyday lives. This was that our voice does matter, no matter where we were, no matter how hard the struggle was, and no matter how muchImage we felt like our voices were unheard. This can seem very frustrating at jobs or ASOs where our advice or knowledge isn’t used; we continue to be disenfranchised; we deal with disrespect or ignorance from Cisgender white men (even gay) who do not truly understand the struggles and barriers of being a young Black Man who loves Men. These men still face a huge war within our own communities, to include mainstream society. His words really were soothing and helped to bury anger and resentment I had from some of those situations. In the end, I truly hope that this summit continues and wish that many more could take place across the country. If we can get more YBMSMs to go through a program like this, our community would see an increase in advocacy, activism, enlightenment, and progression toward more solidarity.

 

A very special thank you goes out to NGBMAC, NASTAD, The City of Atlanta, AID Atlanta, The Evolution Project, Testing Makes Us Stronger, Sphere Lab, The Red Door Foundation, Inc., AIDS.gov, Gilead, San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Georgia Department of Health, Impulse Group, AHF, Hudson Grille, Patrik-Ian Polk, HRC, Broadway Cares, Levi Strauss Foundation, Renaissance Atlanta Midtown Hotel, Summit Faculty, OC Members, and more importantly the participants for making this event happen.  For more information check out www.ybgli.org