By Britney Nesbit, Southern Equality Fund Coordinator
One half of all national HIV diagnoses occur in the South and 52 percent of all AIDS deaths occur in our region, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control. Simply put, HIV is a crisis in the South, especially among LGBTQ folks. And gay men of color and trans women in the South are at particularly high risk.
These harrowing truths are largely due to the deprivation of accurate, LGBTQ inclusive sex education and preventative resources. For example, many states across the South have strict anti-LGBT curriculum laws, or so-called “no promo homo” laws, that prohibit the discussion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender issues in the classroom. This lack of inclusive sexual health curriculums in schools have compounding negative impacts on marginalized groups such as people of color, poor working class and immigrant communities.
At the Campaign for Southern Equality, we understand that winning full lived and legal equality for LGBTQ Southerners means prioritizing adequate, accessible healthcare for our people. How can we continue to fight against economic, gender and racial injustice if our bodies are not well enough to perform? This is why we launched the HIV/AIDS Leadership Cohort in January of this year, a program of our Southern LGBTQ Health Initiative, and we’re excited to tell you more about the amazing organizations we’re working with!
Each of these four amazing organizations has received a $2,500 grant to support an innovative project promoting HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in the LGBTQ South. While financial support is vital to grassroots work, it’s not enough by itself. So a leader from each organization is also taking part in a year-long leadership cohort to provide intensive coaching, training and resources to help support their organization’s growing work.
I am excited to facilitate this cohort this year not only for the opportunity to support the growth and leadership of these individuals, but also for the opportunity to learn from their experience as courageous LGBTQ leaders in the South. Being witness to the journeys of these leaders is a powerful reminder of how important radical redistribution of resources is and why I do the work that I do. This is an opportunity for me to support the Southern LGBTQ movement and to be informed from the front lines about what is needed for ALL of us to win.
My colleague Craig White is also providing support to the cohort, and here’s what he has to say:
“I really believe that grassroots organizations are the basic engine that drives social change, and I love the work of helping a community group become stronger and more successful at its work. This cohort has a special importance for me– I was doing HIV and AIDS education and prevention work in the early 90’s in New England and New York. A lot has changed since then, but it’s really frustrating how much has not changed. Sure, there’s better treatment and care–but who has access, and who doesn’t? The bias and discrimination… the lack of honest and accurate education… and most of all, being treated like a disposable population. I am fired up about the work that this cohort is doing and hope that I will be able to support them in doing it.”
Meet the Cohort!
Based in Memphis, TN, POZ Empowerment hosts support groups and community events focused on educating Black gay and bisexual men and MSM about HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment as well as community resources.
Transitions Louisiana’s mission is to to support all transgender and gender nonconforming individuals to lead happy, healthy and honored lives throughout Louisiana with a special emphasis on the unique needs of the Latinx community in New Orleans, LA.
Nuestra Voz is a project of El Centro Hispano, a community-based organization based in Durham, NC. Nuestra Voz centers LGBTQ Latinx folks who predominantly speak Spanish and works to increase access to HIV testing and prevention resources, including connection to clinics for PrEP.
Nationz Foundation is an organization that assists LGBTQ members of the Greater Richmond, VA area in accessing HIV/AIDS testing, linkage to care and holistic services.
This funding round is part of our newly-launched Southern LGBTQ Health Initiative, a partnership with Western NC Community Health Services to expand access to LGBTQ-friendly primary and HIV care at Southern community health centers. Right now, we believe it matters more than ever to support advocates, activists and providers in the South who understand that healthcare is a basic human right.
We are honored to support these organizations and can’t wait to tell you more about their work as the year unfolds.