Proof positive

Terrance Gilbert combated the stigma of HIV by turning his camera on himself

HIV?IN?FOCUS | Gilbert’s photo essay is part of a series by queer black artsis. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

When Terrance Omar Gilbert takes a look at himself, he does it in dramatic fashion. It’s not with a mirror that he gazed into the man he is, but through a lens. At 18, Gilbert was diagnosed with HIV; by 24, his body had deteriorated to 110 pounds before he got on medication. That’s when he decided to use his camera to document his body’s reaction and transformation.

“It’s very difficult, but those early pictures are something I have to look at in order to appreciate where I am now,” says the 25-year-old photographer. “I look back at them and think about how I felt and the pain I was in. I see a skeleton.”

In Gilbert’s petite body, now 40 pounds healthier, lies a dynamo. He struggled initially after the diagnosis, suffering depression and a sense of dread along with coping with the stigma of having HIV — which, in his African-American culture, was an added burden. But he opted not to be seen as a victim. Instead, he strived for self-awareness and empowerment. That resolve led him to point the camera at himself, where he could gain something even more important: Knowledge.
“Never once was I exposed to proper sex education in school, so I educated myself,” he says. “For me to go in and do research, now that I work professionally in the field, that makes me have a passion to help anyone. And honestly, I can do that through pictures.”

Gilbert teamed with Fahari Arts Institute for their “Arts and AIDS” season, which addresses the disease through African-American perspectives. Gilbert was set to debut his photographic essay for the Poz Eyes exhibit in April, but there was a bump in the road.

“That didn’t happen as planned,” Fahari artistic director Harold Steward says. “But we’re reworking it and intend to have Terrance’s work up maybe by the end of summer.”

The intent of Poz Eyes is to feature exhibits by queer, poz black artists in solo shows. The rescheduling, however, worked in Gilbert’s favor: His pictorial essay is perpetually evolving, and he has added photos to his work.

“My goal is to do a day, to six months, to a year with this project,” he says. “And the year wrap up would roughly be around October. I have done portions of it at conferences and as well as the Positive Youth Conference which will be here in August.”

The photos range from abstract images of himself to daily living to visits to his doctor.

But Gilbert just isn’t about his pictures. Although it’s his artistic expression, he’s been an advocate for education and awareness with intent on teaching people his age, notably African-Americans, the language of HIV and the preventive nature people can approach it with. In Houston, he worked with Empowerment as an introduction to AIDS advocacy work. Upon moving to Dallas, he transferred to United Black Ellument to expand his work. He is now the Youth Ambassador for the Anthony Chisom AIDS Foundation, which the organization announced last Monday.

Although he speaks in a professional and serious demeanor, Gilbert chuckles at his own vanity and admits to pulling out the camera for random photos of himself to post on Facebook.
“I have like 1,300 pictures on there, and, like, 1,200 are of me,” he laughs.

The photographer who had been taking pictures since he was a child has the philosophy that every picture tells a story.  And his own story turns out to be one of the most compelling — and not just for him. Gilbert is documenting not only his own life, but also the face of HIV in a younger generation.

“I found this was my calling,” he says.

For more on Gilbert’s photography work, visit  TrademarkFotography.Blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 1, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Dear Gaby

Local Telemundo host Gabriela Natale opens eyes by shining a spotlight to the gay Latino community

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer  lopez@dallasvoice.com

Gabriela Natale
MADE FOR TV | Natale sees the Latino community in a state of transformation, opening up to LGBT issues. She hopes ‘SuperLatina’ is contributing to that change.

Gabriela Natale (Gaby for short) has a voice beyond her 32 years. She talks spiritedly and quickly with youthful enthusiasm, but there’s wisdom in her tone. Natale talks like she knows something others don’t.

“I hope to create understanding bridges because we as human beings have so much more in common with each other,” she says.

Natale hosts SuperLatina, a Spanish-language talk show on Telemundo that airs Wednesday mornings. SuperLatina heralds a new type of voice in the Latino community; Natale cites Ellen as an influence, but Tyra Banks has been a specific inspiration for her.

“I’m inspired by Oprah and Ellen but I love how Tyra will touch on delicate topics in African-American culture that aren’t talked about out loud,” she says.” “We have those same problems in the Hispanic community.”

With her show, Natale has also burst open the door of LGBT topics within the Latino community — a decision that has led to discomfort among some. With a culture mostly steeped in Catholic tradition, Latinos can be uneasy talking about gay issues, and Natale says Spanish language television reflects that —there is relatively little coverage of LGBT topics. But when SuperLatina had a show on Latino gay youth, Natale met with a surprising response.

“When I heard about the suicide rate for gay teens, I wanted to talk about how they felt,” she says. “It’s hard to be a minority within a minority. I got messages on Facebook, people had seen the show on YouTube and I got so many thank yous. The audience was very positive about it. This was probably some people’s first exposure to the LGBT community.”

Natale doesn’t approach such topics with ulterior motives. SuperLatina isn’t about controversy — she’s committed to making the show a positive tool. Every episode, however, doesn’t have a heavy inspirational message: Some are heartwarming stories of giving youth an educational scholarship or granting someone’s wish to meet a star … and of course, what would a talk show be without makeovers?

But she does put in the effort to make her LGBT-related episodes mean something to both the audience and the community.

“I don’t want circus topics,” she says. “When I reached out to people for my same-sex parents episode, I took more time on that and wanted to establish trust with them. I don’t want anyone to be on my show in fear or as if they are in the hot seat. I don’t want them to be awkward.”

In that episode, she discussed parenting with both male and female couples as well as a specialist on how to approach the subject with children. She says that these families were happy to share this episode with their families, but she also knows that the mindset in the Latino community will be accepted slowly. However, she’s found that Latino families are more accepting than most might think.

“It comes from the heart but I think that people choose to know reality,” she says.

Originally from Argentina, where she graduated with a degree in journalism, Natale moved to Washington, D.C., in 2003 after working for free at a political marketing conference. Following a stint as a news anchor at Univision, she moved on to Telemundo to develop SuperLatina.
But North Texans audiences didn’t get to know Natale until last August, when production on her show moved to the Fort Worth office and it began to air locally.

The Emmy nominee didn’t have a particular go-to person for her interest in the gay community — no gay friend who suffered discrimination that sparked her activism. Instead, she felt obliged to reach out after seeing how Latinos are demographically classified.

“I think it’s a contradiction as a minority to turn your back on another minority,” she says. ”I consider myself a voice for my community and I want to be a stronger voice for positive change.”

Natale sees the shift of thinking in the new generations of Latinos — especially when it comes to the gay community. She references two events over the last year that were crucial to opening minds and embracing the community and both involved music superstars.

“First, there was Ricky Martin coming out, “ she says. “Then there was the Mexican singer Paquita la del Barrio statement in March “that she would prefer a child die on the streets rather than be adopted by a gay couple. “

GLAAD immediately called for an apology and la del Barrio has worked to repair her image by giving a concert at a gay club outside Mexico City. (Interestingly, she recanted not just because of GLAAD’s demand but because of outrage in the Mexican community at large.) Add to it Martin’s eloquent coming out letter on his website and the Latino community could be growing into a more accepting culture respecting gay issues.

“I think there is this shift of shame in the culture,” she says. “People are more proud to speak Spanish and embrace their heritage. But also, I humbly feel part of the transformation in the community is awareness, participation and even education. Right now is a special moment.”

SuperLatina airs on Telemundo on Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m.

TelemundoDallas.com/SuperLatina.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 6, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens