Addressing societal norms
From the political blogosphere, to social change movements, to government responses on HIV/AIDS among LGBTQ people of color, award-winning blogger and longtime activist Andrés Duque says it's time to think beyond an "either/or" mentality and "heal the divide."
Tell me about yourself. How did you become an activist on LGBTQ Latino/a issues?
Well, the path to activism was almost accidental. At the time I was working in film production but also beginning to embrace my sexual identity. And part of it, at least for me, was to explore gay New York in the early 90's. I became involved with the Stonewall 25 march, attended ACT UP meetings, and went to book readings at "A Different Light." And I met an incredible group of men and women, mostly Latino gay men, who had honed their activist chops through ACT UP. I was drafted as co-chair of a grassroots group called Immigrants Fighting AIDS and founded the Colombian Lesbian and Gay Association (COLEGA). Ultimately I was offered a paid job at the Latino Commission on AIDS, which I accepted.
For 14 years, you worked for the Latino Commission on AIDS in New York City, handling HIV prevention work in the city's Latino/a community. How has HIV/AIDS specifically affected LGBTQ Latino/as? What are their unique challenges?
Yes. It was a tremendous and humbling experience. Exhilarating at times but heartbreaking at others. Unfortunately, Latino gay and bisexual men are still getting infected at alarming rates in this country and the challenges are many. Of course, there are the general obstacles: language barriers, difficulties in getting health insurance or accessing health care, immigration status and the tremendous diversity within our community, which sometimes makes it difficult to develop effective prevention messages.
And then you ad sexuality to the mix. Let's just say that more than one agency doing HIV prevention work targeting gay and bisexual Latino men has dropped the ball. Particularly during the last presidential administration when limits were set on messaging content when it came to sexuality and when such a huge emphasis was placed on abstinence-only prevention methods and religious-based initiatives. The effect was chilling: I noticed, for example, that one agency would organize World AIDS Day events and promote them as a way to stand together with Latino women and children with HIV and communities of faith but would never include gays in their promotional materials. When confronted, they would simply say they forgot but would do the same thing year after year. It speaks to the homophobia that exists even in those agencies that are supposed to take care of our own.
I also think that HIV prevention agencies, due to stricter funding requirements, have moved away from community advocacy and mobilization and are increasingly focusing exclusively on behavioral prevention models. Agencies who used to treat individuals as individuals now see them as their clients and success is measured by how many condoms a person used each week or whether there as a reduction in sexual partners from week to week. There are benefits to tracking behavior butwithout also addressing societal norms that make Latino gay and bisexual men feel that they are worth less than othersit's a losing effort.
I have always believed that self-esteem is the key to successful HIV prevention efforts and helping Latino and bisexual gay men feel more comfortable with their sexuality, while also challenging the general community on their homophobia, is as effective, if not more, than simply counting how many condoms someone used each week.
This toolkit is exploring how funders can better promote racial equity in this country. Through your various roles over the years, how have you seen racial and economic inequities affect the LGBTQ Latino/a community?
I won't address, in general terms, the issues of racial and economic inequities facing LGBT people of color in the U.S. I believe others can be much more successful and succinct in addressing the issue than I would be.
But I will say that in the years that I worked closely with the Latino LGBT community in New York, as well as the various local grassroots organizations that represent them, it was frustrating to see, on the one hand, the amount of hours spent by many folk in those organizations reaching out and caring for members of the Latino LGBT communitymostly as volunteersand the scant support they received from foundations.
While at the Commission, I was successful in working with state government agencies to provide organizations with pass-through funding and technical assistance but, overall, private foundations were absent. Being privy to background discussionsand as part of the evaluation committee for a new Racial Equality Initiative at the Stonewall FoundationI know that there are recent efforts to take a new look at the work done by some of these small grassroots organizations and a renewed interest in supporting them, and I, for one, applaud those efforts.
Since 2005, your blog, Blabbeando, has chronicled the myriad of issues facing LGBTQ Latino/as in the U.S. and throughout Latin America. What were you hoping to achieve when you launched this blog?
As with many other people who begin blogging and are less than aware of how powerful a medium it can be, I wasn't necessarily hoping to achieve anything. I think I titled my first post "Blogs are over" because I felt I had come to it too late and wasn't sure what I'd be writing about. But I guess it soon became an extension of my work and my interests and I quickly realized that by simply highlighting news stories about the Latino LGBT community that few, if anyone, was writing about, I could bring them to a wider readership.
I have been lucky enough to get support from some of the top gay bloggers out there and was amazed last year when "Blabbeando" was chosen as one of the ten best LGBT blogs in the U.S. by the Weblog Awards. It has certainly opened the doors to an array of fields to which I hadn't been exposed before.
It does take a lot of time and commitment to keep it up. But the reward is that, just by writing about it, you can bring attention to a wide array of Latino LGBT issues outside what generally gets reported.
Any current news story you're tracking that emobodies this subject of LGBTQ racial equity?
I can't say that I am the best writer or analyst out there but recently I wrote about a fascinating local political story. A Latino Alderman in Chicago was vacating his City Council seat and had suggested that the city's mayor nominate a homophobic Puerto Rican Evangelical preacher to his seat. Of course, the Chicago gay community leadership reacted negatively but, for some Latino Chicagoans who lived in the Wardincluding gays and lesbiansit became an issue of community outsiders criticizing a preacher who cared for the Latino community and who fought against gentrification in the district. For them it was an issue of ethnic pride and community survival over LGBT rights. And, to some degree, they were right to criticize that some of the gay leaders who were criticizing the Reverend would probably never get involved in the local fight against gentrification.
In those posts, I wrote that I didn't think that it was an ‘either/or' proposition and that the departing Alderman could have very well chosen a member of the community who wasn't a homophobe. Ultimately, that is exactly what happened, when the preacher withdrew his name and someone else was selected.
As the process played out over a period of a few weeks, I couldn't help but feel that it was a microcosm of how the fight for LGBT equality is currently playing out with LGBT leaders demanding immediate equal rights without stopping to look or understand local community intricaciesparticularly in communities of coloras well as some in the Latino LGBT community being willing to embrace ethnic pride over LGBT rights.
How has blogging and new media alteredor not alteredthe political and cultural landscape for LGBTQ communities of color?
Some say that blogging as a medium is on the decline. That it takes so much time and effort that people are preferring to use their Facebook and Twitter accounts to share the news and keep up with the latest. And it certainly seems that way. When I started blogging I was amazed by the incredible synergy that I saw among African American LGBT bloggers. I remember joining a few of them in confronting "LifeBeat" (the music industry charity set up to combat AIDS) when they chose some of the worst homophobic reggae singers to headline a charity concert. It showed me the potential for online activism and for augmenting our voices as LGBT people of color. LifeBeat eventually cancelled the concert.
But three years later a lot of those blogs are on hiatus or gone altogether. At the same time, others have stepped to the plate: Rod McCullom at Rod 2.0, Pam Spaulding at Pam's House Blend, Monica Roberts at TransGriot, Ron Buckmire at The MadProfessah Lectures, Jasmyne Cannick at her blog and Michael Crawford at Bilerico, among others.
LGBT Latinos, on the other hand, remain woefully underrepresented in the political blogosphere. There's Gloria Nieto at Miss Wild Thing, Pedro Julio Serrano at El Blog de PJ and a few others. But they still remain a few.
What are some successesin our society, in our political movements, in the mediathat you'd like to see in your lifetime?
For some reason, I feel what happened on 9/11 set up a deep divide that is still having repercussions, even among those who are advocates for the LGBT community. I might be wrong, but I had a distinct feeling that before 9/11, there was a sense that some of the leading LGBT advocates and organizations on both sides of the people of color / non-people of color divide were trying to come to a better understanding and deeper sense of collaboration. But 9/11 made organizations retrench and focus on their individual needs and visions in ways that are still playing out.
Eight years later and the divide seems to be as wide as ever. Look at the reaction that followed the Prop. 8 vote in November of 2008 and the willingness of so many in the LGBT community to blame African-Americans for its passage. My hope is that some recent discussions on the role of racial equity when it comes to the LGBT community will begin to heal and mend those divides.
Finally, what advice would you give to a grantmaker who's interested in exploring funding to LGBTQ communities of color?
The common misperception out there is that LGBT people of color are mostly closeted and not organized. Not so. There are a great number of individuals and organizations doing key work in LGBT people of color communities. Some might be hard to find, but it doesn't mean that they are not out there, doing incredible work.
Andrés Duque, Blogger and Activist (New York, NY)
Andrés Duque was cited as one of Out Magazine's top 100 LGBT advocates and is currently an avid blogger on Latino LGBT issues at "Blabbeando." He created the first media watchdog project in the U.S. to track the representation of the LGBT community in Spanish-language media. He has also worked with the New York State Health Department to build the capacity of Latino LGBT organizations in New York. He served on the boards of the Empire State Pride Agenda, the Audre Lorde Project, and the Colombian Lesbian and Gay Association (COLEGA), as well as advisory boards for the Civil Marriage Collaborative and the Stonewall Foundation.
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