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.

Texas HIV Advocacy Day

Monday, March 29th is the Virtual HIV Advocacy Day at the Texas capitol.

The HIV community has a long-rooted history in public advocacy.  In truth, all advances in HIV treatment, including funding and medical advances, can be traced to community mobilizing to demand action.  One of the first, and best known, HIV advocacy and protests that began in the first decade of HIV is ACT UP.  Begun in 1987, ACT UP was created in response to the silence and inaction of the Reagan administration as the HIV epidemic ravaged communities across the country.

Early HIV advocacy, such work to draw attention to the need to develop and release treatments were successful in creating new fast track processes at the FDA.  These processes shortened approval processes to allow lifesaving medications to be released without protracted and often bureaucratic processes.  Today we can trace the rapid approval of COVID vaccines to the early days of HIV advocacy that resulted in new review and approval processes.

These early advocacy efforts also lead to the creation of the Ryan White CARE Act.  First passed in 1990, the Ryan White Care Act is the largest funder of HIV treatment in the United States.  In 2020, the Ryan White program provided $2.39 billion to support programs providing care and treatment to people living with HIV. 

More recently, the HIV community has led efforts to effectively end the HIV epidemic.  Communities across the country have worked to develop plans and lead efforts to stop the continued spread of HIV.  Here in Texas, community members have come together to develop the Achieving Together plan to lay a framework and vision for reducing the number of people who contract HIV annually and effectively end the HIV epidemic in our state by 2030.

Progress has been made but has now been heavily impacted by the COVID pandemic which has interrupted prevention programs, created barriers for HIV treatment programs, and has stretched local and state public health systems.  The COVID pandemic has threatened the safety net programs across the state, most notably the Texas HIV Medication Program.  Advocates from across the state have mobilized to address these challenges locally and at the state. 

The 2021 Texas HIV Advocacy Day is organized by multiple agencies and organizations to draw together community to ensure that the voices of people living with and affected by HIV are heard.  Advocates from across the state will gather on Monday, March 29th to meet with HIV change-makers and state policy makers to discuss some of the most important HIV legislation of the 2021 Texas legislative session, including HIV treatment and prevention, HIV education, HIV criminalization, and funding for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP).

To learn more about the 2021 Texas HIV Advocacy Day and to get involved visit and register at:

Texas HIV Advocacy Day

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day – Perspectives on ending the HIV epidemic among Black Texans

February 7th is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.  It is a day to raise awareness and spark conversations on the disproportionate impact that HIV has on Black communities.

There were 35,834 Black Texans living with diagnosed HIV in 2019.  Black Texans are about 13% of the total population of Texas but disproportionately carry roughly a third of Texans living with diagnosed HIV. 

The number of Black Texans acquiring HIV each year has fallen over the last decade, and progress has been made to ensure that Black Texans living with HIV are aware of their status. In 2019, 88% of Black Texans living with HIV were aware of their HIV status, close to reaching the Achieving Together goal of 90%.

More work must be done to address the impact that HIV continues to have on Black communities in Texas.  While significant progress has been made to address and decrease HIV among Black women, they still carry a disproportionate burden among women in Texas.  The number of Black gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men who acquire HIV each year has remained flat for almost a decade and more must be done to support this community in reducing the impact of HIV.

As we approach National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, we asked several partners across the state to share with us their perspectives on what we all need to focus on in order to end the HIV epidemic among Black Texans.

Chris Allen, Health Equity Coordinator

From my perspective, ending the HIV epidemic among Black Texans requires a focus on systems; 

  • Ensuring access to economic, educational, and political opportunities;
  • Transforming organizations and building capacity within Black communities where we are able to make decisions and affect change for ourselves;
  • Ensuring social and environmental safety where we live, learn, work, worship, and play – and working with Black communities to identify what this means (it does not mean increased police presence)
  • Offering culturally competent, appropriate, and affirming health care when the need arises

We have to understand the historical context that has created the inequities we see today and allows them to persist. The first step towards doing this is realizing that a problem exists and making a commitment to be a part of the solution. For some, this may mean stepping back and allowing people with the lived experiences to take the lead.

Michele Durham, Executive Director B.E.A.T. AIDS

From my perspective, in order to end the HIV epidemic among Black Texans, we need to launch a full-on campaign in the churches, schools and in the African American families’ homes.  Some Black Pastors don’t want to talk about HIV or recognize that members of their congregations are affected by HIV.  Also, a lot of black families do not want to acknowledge that they have gay family members or that their children are having sex or that the community needs accurate information and education.  The public campaigns must saturate all of Texas saying “I’m Black and I’m Proud”, “Black Lives Matter”, “Black Girl Magic”, “Black Men are Strong Providers,” and “The Black Family is Loving, Caring, Kind and Beautiful.”  In other words, Black Texans need to know that they are important and loved and worth life.  Texans everywhere must speak-out to sisters and brothers everywhere and say “We Love you No Matter What and We are in this Fight with You!”  After all, “Together, We Can Beat AIDS.”  

Marsha Jones, Executive Director, The Afiya Center

We need to change the lens from which we view HIV in Texas and be prepared to do the hard work that will get us to an end. Ending stigma, access to affordable healthcare, housing, and equitable and fair wages are key.  However, if we are going to truly end HIV and its impact on Black people in Texas, we will have to change the lens to one that is informed by anti-Black racism and its direct connection to why in 2021 Black people continue to carry the greatest disproportionate burden of HIV in Texas.  The existence and practice of implicit biases among the folk who write and pass policy, run programs and serve those most marginalized in this state must be rectified if we with intentions want to end HIV. How we see people is how we treat people. I believe we can end HIV among Black people in Texas. In order to do so we must deconstruct these systems of oppression that continue to disenfranchise and deprioritizes the most vulnerable folk in its society.

Tarik Daniels, Executive Director/Founder, Whatsinthemirror?

The biggest question I thought I had for the week at first was: Why would J.Lo shout “Let’s Get Loud” in her America the Beautiful and This Land Is Your Land mashup performance? It was a very bizarre and confusing moment for me. But as the 2021 Inauguration of President Biden and Madam Vice President Harris continued, my attention was drawn closely to President Biden calling out white supremacy in his inaugural speech. After realizing he was the first president to do so, I wonder how many people in public health were actually listening?

As a Black queer health care worker working through COVID-19, I helped many black patients access HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and HIV treatment, and most shared their sentiments with mistrust of the medical industrial complex in America. As a black boy born in the eighties, by the time I blossomed into a full queer, HIV had already become a black person’s problem that was disproportionately impacting Black MSM more than any other population. I must admit watching COVID-19 evolve into another health epidemic that began to impact black people at alarming rates became very triggering and I had to reach into my toolbox to cope with the new trauma I was experiencing as a person living with HIV.

“We do know that health inequities at their very core are due to racism,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. “There’s no doubt about that.” After that comment came in 2020, medical institutions and doctors were declaring racism as a public health crisis across the nation. I even had to write a statement as a Black health administrator managing several sexual health clinics in response to Dr. Benjamin’s comments. But very little seemed to follow. I soon realized that for many declaring racism as a public health crisis, they were also mistaking representation for actual change.

HIV-related stigma has continued being a factor as to why many black people don’t get tested or want to get into treatment. HIV-related stigma and discrimination continues to negatively impact African Americans living with HIV as well. The focus on ending the HIV epidemic among Black Texans and black folks across the nation should start with the acknowledgment of medical mistrust in public health amongst black people. The medical institutions must move past declaring racism as a public health crisis and take responsibility for why black communities have been impacted by HIV and other chronic illnesses at disproportionate rates. It is proven that black people are treated differently. We have data showing us that Black people get different quality of care. Why not create HIV prevention campaigns with the intention of boosting morale and trust in medicine with Black people? I no longer believe that it is ethical to use Black people as the face of HIV simply because we are mostly impacted without historical truth and justification. Let’s start having the conversations around racism in public health that’s been absent in HIV prevention and care and begin to change policies and attitudes. HIV is not the epidemic it once was thirty years ago but the racial inequities that lead to poor outcomes for black people are thriving more now than ever before.

Cordella Lyon, Baptist Hospitals of Southeast Texas

Martin Luther King Jr Day, 2021

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr, we share excerpts from “The American Dream” speech given at Drew University in February, 1964. 

In developing this blog, we reflected on the past year of civil rights protests, the groundswell of interconnected social justice movements, and the momentous Black Lives Matter movement.  We reflected on the approaching inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States and the violent terroristic response that saw our nation’s capital gripped by violence. 

We reread many works by Dr. King in considering what to share today.  Finally, excerpts from this speech seemed to carry messages that resonate with today’s struggles to fulfill the American Dream. We encourage you to read the entire speech online at the Drew University archives The American Dream

I would like to use as a subject from which to speak tonight, the American Dream. And I use this subject because America is essentially a dream, a dream yet unfulfilled. The substance of the dream is expressed in some very familiar words found in the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This is a dream.

Now one of the first things we notice about this dream is an amazing universalism. It does not say some men, it says all men. It does not say all white men, but it says all men which includes black men. It doesn’t say all Protestants, but it says all men which includes Catholics. It doesn’t say all Gentiles, it says all men which includes Jews. And that is something else at the center of the American Dream which is one of the distinguishing points, one of the things that distinguishes it from other forms of government, particularly totalitarian systems. It says that each individual has certain basic rights that are neither derived from nor conferred by the state. They are gifts from the hands of the Almighty God. Very seldom if ever in the history of the world has a socio-political document expressed in such profound eloquent and unequivocal language the dignity and the worth of human personality.

28 Aug 1963, Washington, DC, USA — Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. waves to participants in the Civil Rights Movement’s March on Washington from the Lincoln Memorial. It was from this spot that he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963. — Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

But ever since the Founding Fathers of our nation dreamed this dream, America has been something of a schizophrenic personality, tragically divided against herself. On the one hand we have proudly professed the great principles of democracy. On the other hand we have sadly practiced the very antithesis of those principles. Indeed, slavery and racial segregation are strange paradoxes in the nation founded on the principle that all men are created equal.

But now, more than ever before, our nation is challenged to realize this dream. For the shape of the world today does not afford us the luxury of an anemic democracy, and the price that America must pay for the continued oppression of the Negro and other minority groups is the price of its own destruction. The hour is late and the clock of destiny is ticking out, and we must act now before it is too late.

We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. This is the challenge of the hour. No individual can live alone, no nation can live alone.

Somehow we are interdependent.