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.

Long-Term Survivors Awareness Day: 40 year anniversary of HIV

June 5th marked the 40 year anniversary of the first official reporting, in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), of cases that would later become known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome and HIV.  The anniversary is also HIV Long-Term Survivors Awareness Day, honoring those that have lived with HIV for 25 or more years and raising awareness of their needs, issues, and experiences.  It is also an opportunity to reflect on the past 40 years of HIV and the impact it has had on so many communities. 

In Texas, there are 9,580 people who have been living with HIV for 25 or more years.  Last year, Achieving Together was honored to host a webinar featuring a panel of incredible individuals, highlighting the experiences and journeys of long-term survivors from Texas.  We encourage you to revisit the webinar and hear from these wonderful community members as you reflect on this anniversary and honor HIV Long-Term Survivors Awareness Day.

To learn more about the history of HIV check out this short informative video covering the last 40 years.

We also encourage you to visit the National AIDS Memorial to view the virtual AIDS Memorial Quilt and see their 40 Years 40 Stories page where they have begun to share the stories and experiences of people living with HIV.

Achieving Together Honors Human Rights Day

The United Nations (UN) declared December 10 to be Human Rights Day to honor the day in 1948 when the body adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UN declared the theme of this year’s Human Rights Day to be “Recover Better – Stand Up for Human Rights.” They developed this theme in light of “the COVID-19 pandemic and…the need to build back better by ensuring Human Rights are central to recovery efforts.”

The UN states in this year’s theme that, “We will reach our common global goals only if we are able to create equal opportunities for all, address the failures exposed and exploited by COVID-19, and apply human rights standards to tackle entrenched, systematic, and intergenerational inequalities, exclusion and discrimination.”

The UN Recover Better campaign states that:

Human Rights must be at the centre of the post COVID-19 world.

The COVID-19 crisis has been fuelled by deepening poverty, rising inequalities, structural and entrenched discrimination and other gaps in human rights protection. Only measures to close these gaps and advance human rights can ensure we fully recover and build back a world that is better, more resilient, just, and sustainable.

    • End discrimination of any kind: Structural discrimination and racism have fuelled the COVID-19 crisis. Equality and non-discrimination are core requirements for a post-COVID world.
    • Address inequalities: To recover from the crisis, we must also address the inequality pandemic. For that, we need to promote and protect economic, social, and cultural rights. We need a new social contract for a new era.
    • Encourage participation and solidarity: We are all in this together. From individuals to governments, from civil society and grass-roots communities to the private sector, everyone has a role in building a post-COVID world that is better for present and future generations. We need to ensure the voices of the most affected and vulnerable inform the recovery efforts.
    • Promote sustainable development: We need sustainable development for people and planet. Human rights, the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement are the cornerstone of a recovery that leaves no one behind.

In a commentary appearing on the Journal of the American Medical Association website entitled, Racism, Not Race, Drives Inequity Across the COVID-19 Continuum, the authors noted that “significant racial and ethnic inequities have persisted across the continuum of COVID-19 morbidity, hospitalization, and mortality,” and “that fundamental causes of COVID-19 inequity include systemically racist policies, such as historic racial segregation and their inextricable downstream effects on the differential quality and distribution of housing, transportation, economic opportunity, education, food, air quality, health care, and beyond.” Similarly, we know that in Texas Black and Latinx peoplemade up approximately 75% of new HIV diagnoses in 2018 and that in order to reach the goals of the Achieving Together Plan, we must address these systemic barriers to equitable health outcomes.

(Image courtesy of amfAR)

Aligning with the 2020 Human Rights Day theme, the guiding principles of the Achieving Together Plan encourage us to follow the principles of social justice, equity, integration, empowerment, advocacy, and community to combat the HIV epidemic in Texas. It is only through acknowledging and honoring the humanity in each of us and addressing systemic racism and inequities while promoting human rights for all that we can truly end the HIV Epidemic in Texas and beyond.

Learn more about Human Rights Day here.

Achieving Together Honors World AIDS Day

UNAIDS declared the theme of this year’s World AIDS Day (December 1) to be “Global solidarity, shared responsibility,” and we at Achieving Together Texas couldn’t agree more with the theme. With the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic this year, people living with HIV have faced a number of physical, emotional, psychological challenges. Many people in the HIV community have lost loved ones to COVID-19 this year – and much like HIV – the pandemic has only further exacerbated and shone a light on the inequities that exist in our current systems.

The guiding principles of the Achieving Together Plan implore us to use equity as a lens through which we advance our work and commit ourselves to the principles of social justice, equity, integration, empowerment, advocacy, and community. These guiding principles echo the UNAIDS theme of “Global solidarity, shared responsibility.”

We’d like to share a few excerpts from this year’s UNAIDS World AIDS Day website:

In 2020, the world’s attention has been focused by the COVID-19 pandemic on health and how pandemics affect lives and livelihoods. COVID-19 is showing once again how health is interlinked with other critical issues, such as reducing inequality, human rights, gender equality, social protection and economic growth. With this in mind, this year the theme of World AIDS Day is “Global solidarity, shared responsibility.”

Global solidarity and shared responsibility requires us to view global health responses, including the AIDS response, in a new way. It requires the world to come together to ensure that:

  • Health is fully financed. Governments must come together and find new ways to ensure that health care is fully funded. No one country can do it alone. Domestic and international funding for health must be increased.
  • Health systems are strengthened. Investments in the AIDS response in the past few decades have helped to strengthen health systems and have been supporting the COVID-19 response. But more needs to be done to further strengthen health systems and protect health-care workers.
  • Access is ensured. Life-saving medicines, vaccines and diagnostics must be considered as public goods. There must be global solidarity and shared responsibility to ensure that no individual, community or country is left behind in accessing life-saving health commodities.
  • Human rights are respected. A human rights approach applied everywhere will produce sustainable results for health. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fault lines in society and how key populations have been left behind in many parts of the world.
  • The rights of women and girls, and gender equality, are at the centre. The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected women’s livelihoods, which have been disproportionally affected by lockdown measures, and lockdowns have resulted in an increase of violence against women in household settings. Women must be included in decision-making processes that affect their lives. The world cannot afford rollbacks in decades of hard-won gains in gender equality.

Now is the moment for bold leadership for equal societies, the right to health for all and a robust and equitable global recovery. This World AIDS Day join us in calling on countries to step up their efforts to achieve healthier societies. This World AIDS Day let us demand global solidarity and shared responsibility.”

Read more here.

Black Trans Empowerment Week

November 13-20 is Black Trans Empowerment Week, a week-long celebration of Black trans life.  The theme this year, “When We Rise” focuses on rising up as a community as well as on a celebration of life.

In recognition of the week, we are reflecting on our recent conversation with Jayla Sylvester. In this webinar, Jayla discusses challenges faced by transgender people of color when accessing HIV prevention and care services.

Jayla explains transgender basics and expands on this information with personal narratives to illustrate how changing services and approaches can affirm and support transgender individuals. The presentation also highlights issues that need to be addressed to provide better services transgender individuals.

What can organizations do to better serve transgender individuals? Jayla emphasizes the need for a holistic approach. Holistic health encompasses mental, physical and spiritual health. This means that not only that services are available to a community, but the community is empowered to seek those services. By caring for the heart and soul of an individual, we’re also caring for the heart and soul of a community.

To explore a variety of resources to support transgender individuals in Texas, visit the Texas Transgender Alliance Resource Guide.