BQ+ Center for Liberation: Working to forward the mobility of Black, queer persons in Houston

The BQ+ Center for Liberation, a project of The Normal Anomaly in southwest Houston, hosted its grand opening on March 10 of this year. In an OutSmart (an LGBTQ Magazine in Houston) article about the Center, Ian stated that “BQ+ is dedicated to building community resources through programming, events, and collaboration that reduces the incidence and effect of HIV, creating and procuring employment opportunities, housing a community burial fund in partnership with community organizations, building knowledge around policy and advocacy, and providing support groups for issues like intimate-partner violence, racial injustice, and social injustice.”

We sat down with The Normal Anomaly founder and executive director Ian L. Haddock to discuss the history and goals of the center and how they see their work fitting into the current intersecting landscapes of pride and Juneteenth this month.

AT: How did you decide to start the BQ+ Center and how does its work differ from that of The Normal Anomaly?

The Normal Anomaly Initiative, Inc. is the organization and BQ+ is a program in the organization. The Normal Anomaly Initiative, Inc. started as a space to curate stories and tell the narratives of marginalized people, but we have expanded to be more than digital storytelling to working to move the story forward. That is where BQ+ comes in: the BQ+ Center creates a physical space that can deliver resources; space for other smaller community organizations to meet; technology for employment applications; research; and to reach the community where they are. Our work at BQ+ allows for The Normal Anomaly Initiative, Inc.’s work to be more tangible, community-driven and accessible.

AT: What are the goals of the Center?

For us, the primary goal is to see the forward mobility of Black, queer persons. We look at that in a few different ways:

  • Moving people from an anomaly in our programs — which we define as many barriers, minimal resources, etc.–to their new normal-–which we define as lower or lessened barriers and expansive resources.
  • Moving organizations and companies from anomalies –which we define as full of barriers, stigmatizing or unwelcoming programming or services and not accessible to Black, queer persons–to a new normal where Black, queer persons are welcomed, treated with respect and dignity, and are in positions to make decisions.

We do this through four focus areas:

  1. Programming/Advocacy Services
  2. Training/Capacity Building
  3. Preventive Services/Linkage to Resources
  4. Social Connectivity

AT: Who is your target audience? It sounds like y’all were specific in choosing your location and your team. Can we hear more about who your target audience is for the work that the Center is doing? 

We chose to be right in the middle of marginalized communities when we were looking for space for BQ+. Our location at 10039 Bissonnet Street Suite 107, Houston, TX 77036 is right in the center of our target audiences: Black persons of transgender experience, persons living with HIV, gender non-conforming and nonbinary people, sex workers, and young adults just beginning their queer journey. This is a central focus of us meeting our community where they are.

We were even strategic in hiring people from these intersections as our team consists of persons openly living with HIV, former sex workers, persons of transgender experience and those who live in fluid sexualities and genders of queerness. We are for the people, by the people, and with the people.

AT: How do you prioritize your initiatives, work, and goals for the Center?

One of the primary ways we prioritize our initiatives, work, and goals is through our development of our strategic plan and the carryout of the key performance indicators that we accepted with our board, staff, consultants, and community. Our community space is our Community Offering Real Engagement (CORE) Group; this group ensures we are in line with what the community is asking for and creates flexibility in our programming to shift closer to the needs of the communities we serve.

AT: How are you promoting the work of the Center?

We are grateful that, though the center has only been open for three months, we have gotten a lot of media attention both locally and nationally. From hosting the first social media takeover in collaboration with Gilead Compass Initiative on GLAAD’s social media to forthcoming highlights during Pride Month on local television to being in print magazines like Outsmart Magazine, podcast features, and capacity-building work with local universities and Fortune 500 companies, we have been intentional with getting the word out there that we are here for the community and to create space with our work.

Still, we are working on creating some items to be disseminated through social media to speak to the impact we are making on the ground. For instance, 24 people have gone through our employment services program and 33% of those have been connected to sustainable employment thus far. Also, we had a cohort of 10 persons living with HIV that taught empowerment, advocacy, and self-care over an 8-session series. As our programs continue to make impact, it will be important to have platforms to support us in moving the story forward for our community.

AT: What advice would you give to others in other cities in Texas looking to start something similar in their community?

We would offer three things to people who desire to create something like this in their communities:

  1. Understand the root of the problem. For instance, one of our goals is to help end the epidemic of HIV through our Center for Liberation. Many organizations go about that by testing, linkage, and PrEP resources. For us, we had to get to the root of the problem and ask, “What is our community telling us with the disproportionate rates of HIV? What do we truly need to get there?” For us, we found some of those answers to be employment, safety, empowerment and sex positivity programming. Once we understand the root, we can immediately make an impact.
  2. Understanding capacity. These types of programming can’t be a “one-off” of a person’s responsibilities; it must be really focused and, more than likely, at least one person’s full-time job. It is a lot of work to be liberating in this work and requires people who are truly passionate about racial and social justice work.
  3. Provide quality employment. It would be a shame to be doing liberation work and have people working for you for pennies or overworked with a moderate salary. This work is not only time consuming, but it is mentally and emotionally exhausting. Be fair. At our organization, we have a self-care day every single week which reduces our work week to four days/week instead of five. Work hard to find resources to pay folx an equitable wage and do human check-ins several times a week. This work requires every step to be liberating, including the employment of people.

AT:  Finally, since this month celebrates both Pride and Juneteenth, how do you see your work within those intersecting identities and struggles?

The Normal Anomaly Initiative, Inc. is dedicated to the forward mobility of Black, queer persons. In this, we would be remiss in not acknowledging the importance of Juneteenth for the intersections in which we exist. Juneteenth was the beginning of a paramount change for Black people here in Texas; that freedom is a part of the liberation work in which our program and center, the Black, Queer Plus (BQ+): Center for Liberation, is founded on. Still, we must consider the nuances of our identities as we also celebrate Pride during this month. Pride is also an important focus for us as it is one of the months where our queerness is most explored, emphasized and empowered.

We choose not to separate either of these intersections because the Black, queer experience is different in that our queerness is often not accepted by our Black community and anti-Blackness is still pervasive in queer communities. Black, queer reality is that Pride 2020 was the deadliest month of the year for Black transgender women being murdered, the month we spent marching here in Houston for George Floyd with Black Lives Matter, and the first month in history we celebrated LGBT protections in employment as a civil right. This is why each one of our intersections during this month is important to highlight; we have a vast amount of power, resilience and promise, but all our intersections are important because they all require a lot of work to get us closer to liberation.

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