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

Marlon Riggs Film Festival continues this weekend

Back in black

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs changed the face of black gay America with his monumental film Tongues Untied. The 1989 documentary was controversial, but his legacy endured. Two decades later, the Fahari Arts Institute strives to keep Riggs relevant — especially to a younger audience.

“Youth is a big focus this year,” says arts director Harold Steward. “We are encouraging people to bring their families to the festival.”

The Marlon Riggs Film Festival returns for a second year on Feb. 18. The festival is presented in association with Black Cinematheque, Q-Roc TV and the  South Dallas Cultural Center as well as with the cooperation of the United Black Ellument and AIDS Arms.

Read the entire article here.

—  Rich Lopez

All THIS, THAT and the OTHER

SPOKEN WORD | As the artistic director of Fahari, Harold Steward helps celebrate the queer-identified black arts community of Dallas with monthly programming like the spoken word event Queerly Speaking. (Tammye Nash, Dallas Voice)

Dallas’ black gay arts scene gets a future as Harold Steward refers to the past

RICH LOPEZ  |  Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Sometimes with death comes a birth — or maybe an outing.

When acclaimed author E. Lynn Harris died in the summer of 2009, Harold Steward, along with the rest of the gay black community and Harris’ fans, felt shock and sadness.

But with Harris’ death came the inception of an idea that is changing the face of arts in the Dallas African-American LGBT community.

“There had been nothing planned to memorialize him, so I approached View of Dallas [book club] about this idea,” Steward said. “I brought in the dance and poetry people while they read excerpts. We had about 30 people come … and Fahari was kinda outed at that point.”

Only 28, Steward speaks with the eloquence of a mature soul. In conversation, he throws in quotes from his heroes, and he often ends a thought with his go-to mantra: “All this, that and the other.”

But it is a wealth of passion and history that marks Steward as a visionary.

As the cofounder of the Fahari Arts Institute and the performing arts administrator at the South Dallas Cultural Center, Steward is in prime position to shape Dallas’ appreciation of its queer-identified African-American community and the arts that come out of it.

The road to Fahari began via his work at the SDCC. Queer artists constantly approached Steward about using the center as an outlet for their talents. In turn, arts organizations asked for references of artists to include in their shows or exhibits.

As the accidental conduit, Steward began looking for a solution.

“There was this disconnect. I wondered if I could be satisfied as a consultant and place people where they needed to be,” he said.

“There had to be a better way for this, but that led to me asking myself ‘What does a black, queer, LGBT arts organization look like?’ There couldn’t be much out there since I hadn’t heard about it.”

As it turned out, he was wrong — and gladly so.

In Steward’s research, he uncovered an entire culture of art and artists that overwhelmed him. He found movements that equated to a new renaissance.

A domino effect of research happened as he learned about one dancer that led to a singer that then led to writers, and so forth.

This not only nurtured the seed of an arts organization, it spoke to Steward himself.

“Finding so much history was affirming for me as an artist, and if I’m having this kind of experience finding these works, other people would too,” he said. “At the same time, I’m very comfortable in my position at the SDCC, so making Fahari happen wasn’t at the forefront.”

Steward grew up in the Singing Hills neighborhood in Dallas’ southern as the seventh of eight children. Instead of spending all his time playing on Sega or Nintendo like other kids, he spent his time demonstrating his artistic talents by drawing on the bathroom wall with his mother’s lipstick. And his parents encouraged his art — or he recalls it that way.

“First of all, I am a product of public schools when they worked, and I had teachers who cared,” Steward said. “I used to cover the whole wall with my imaginary thoughts. I think they [his parents] believed in me, even if they didn’t vocalize it, because they saw their child’s imagination at work.”

Steward didn’t discover his sexuality until middle school athletics, and despite moving over to the embracing arms of  Booker T. Washington arts magnet high school — where Steward found a mentor in his teacher, Vicki Washington-Nance — he struggled with being gay until his early 20s.

He had always been fascinated by his black culture, but hadn’t resolved his place as a gay man.

“I had a certain level of understanding in reading black literature. It was always a conscious thought to immerse myself in that,” he said. “Gay culture is something relatively new to me, but I saw a lot of parallel in my experience with the community.”

LADIES IN HIS LIFE | Steward pals around with his South Dallas Cultural Center director and boss, Vicki Meek and mentors Marilyn Clark and Vicki Washington-Nance. (Photo courtesy of Harold Steward).

When Steward began his research, all of his personal influences and heroes, such as James Baldwin, Langson Hughes and Alice Walker, were gay. When he discovered Haitian gay poet Assotto Saint, Steward found what he needed to proceed with Fahari.

“Saint talked about the importance of building cultural institutions and publishing houses and making sure they are not self-serving and they should out live you as a person,” Steward said. “He said we had to do this.”

Enter J.W. Richard.

Steward and Richard were acquainted because Richard had interviewed Vicki Meek, the director of the SDCC, on his Mandrake Society Radio program. Richard was in tune with the arts scene, as was Steward, but in varying degrees.

While Steward participated in the arts more, Richard highlighted and reported on them via his podcast. But Richard was more involved in political activism.

“When he [Steward] talked to me about the idea, it was on a learning curve and it still is,” Richard said. “I had not directly worked with anything much on the arts level even though I am an artist myself. This was such a unique opportunity.”

One thing was hanging on Steward’s mind. After the Harris memorial, he was intent on naming the still-forming idea of this nebulous arts organization. Perhaps giving it a name would give it weight, but he knew it needed to express so much in minimal fashion.

“I had been thinking about the program and titles are so important. And it is so easy to get tripped up on the right name,” he said. “We had names like Rainbow Connection but stuff like that is so played out. Fahari means ‘pride’ in Swahili. I wanted it to have a connection to our African community and it was perfect for, you know, all this, that and the other.”

Two guys, one idea — now came the hard part.

While Richard and Steward figured out what Fahari should offer, the answer unfolded amid Steward’s love life. He was dating a poet ,which drew him back into that scene of spoken word and slam poets, but it wasn’t one he liked all that much.

“It had become so sexist and misogynistic and that environment isn’t right,” Steward said. “So I wondered what a same-gender-loving-affirming event would look like?”

Queerly Speaking, a monthly event held on the fourth Friday, grew into such a success that it moved from its original home at the Backbeat Café downtown into the more accommodating SDCC. The growth was symbolic of a hunger for something more, whether it was in the gay community at large or in just a slice of the whole.

Fahari was onto something when the crowds showed up that were also unfamiliar to Steward and Richard. The impact began immediately.

But Steward acknowledges one important thing: He wasn’t the first. In Dallas’ history, many black organizations were making strides for their LGBT communities, such as the Legacy of Success and the DFW Senators. Without them or his heroes, Fahari may never have come into existence.

Steward expounded at length as if he felt the need to put his gratitude and sense of indebtedness out into the universe.

“I stand on the shoulders of giants,” he said. “The work they did set a platform, and if I’m able to be here, being interviewed about this work, it is a direct relation to their efforts.

“One of my things is to get black people to arrive and be known for our value. What would America and the world look like with no Alvin Ailey, no Color Purple, no Harlem Renaissance? Take all that way and people will understand who we are and what we bring,” he added. “I am standing on their shoulders because it is my responsibility.”

Steward didn’t realize that Fahari would hit the ground running although there was some personal frustration behind it. He tried to reconcile why Fahari had to happen now.

“It should not have emerged in 2009 as an entity in Dallas when it’s had such a history,” he said. “It is troubling when we’re the ‘first black’ this or that. When are we not going to be the first? But the stuff others and we are doing now is easy compared to what those before us did. See? It always ties to the history.”

Fahari’s other monthly event is the Queer Film Series every third Sunday that works in association with Black Cinematheque.

Local filmmaker Q-Roc Ragsdale was trying to start a film series highlighting queer directors. When Steward mentioned Fahari to her, the wheels turned. She became a key member, joining Richard and Steward to finish out the troika that pushed Fahari forward.

“It really was a marriage made in heaven,” Ragsdale said. “When the film series came to the point where I turned it over to Fahari, I knew it would be great. I still act as the curator and now so many black queer filmmakers will get some needed exposure.”

Born from that, two film festivals were added to its special programming: “The Marlon Riggs Film Festival” and “Short and Sweet.”

The latter is intended to open this summer featuring short films. The Riggs festival is a three-day event that had a successful run its first time out in February 2010.

The Fort Worth-born Riggs had profound impact with his revolutionary films giving black queer culture an identity, and that made an impression on Steward’s mission.

“I have these moments where I’m watching his film Black Is Black Ain’t and Riggs is on his deathbed due to complications from AIDS,” Steward said. “He says, on his deathbed, ‘as long as I have work, I am not dead.’ I couldn’t crucify or kill him all over again by not bringing his work to the forefront. AIDS wasn’t the end of him because in the end, his work will live on. I have to take up that personal charge.”

For Ragsdale, Steward symbolized something beyond the work he’s doing at this moment. This is more than just about Dallas’ black gay culture, it’s about the bigger picture.

“I really value him as a leader because he has extraordinary vision and great purpose,” she said. “The thing I love is how he makes sure Fahari is inclusive and so he actively invites lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders and allies to the events and to the table.

“I foresee him being a leader in the overall queer community.”

Just don’t tell Steward that. If it were up to him, he’d likely return to his research, spending his late nights soaking in the history he so loves.

“I struggle with stuff like that, but I think of George Washington Carver. He said to start with what you have, make something of it and never settle,” Steward said. “I don’t know why it’s me in this position. There are days when I wanna throw my hands up, but I have to remember somebody paid the price for me to be here and so with that reason I do ask, ‘Why not me?’”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 28, 2011.

—  John Wright

Watch: ‘In The Life’ Looks at Samuel Steward

Steward

I've mentioned the book Secret Historian here before. Cable show In The Life took a closer look at the book and its author, Justin Spring. They write:

"A self-invented legend, Samuel Steward lived as an out gay man decades before the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion. Sam's far-reaching impact includes detailed journals and recordkeeping which were invaluable to the studies of Alfred Kinsey and artistry that inspired famed designer Ed Hardy."

Watch, AFTER THE JUMP


(portions possibly nsfw)


Towleroad News #gay

—  admin

Rogue Air Steward Burglarized

STEVE SLATER ALT X390 (FAIR) | ADVOCATE.COMSteven Slater, the former JetBlue flight attendant who quit his job in dramatic style, has suffered a burglary — and his partner’s brother is accused of the crime.
Advocate.com: Daily News

—  admin

Fahari Arts Institute tells the Bull Jeans story

Fahari introduces you to Miss Bull Jeans

Harold J. Steward directs Q-Roc Ragsdale in this one-woman multi-media show about Bull Jeans and her life in the rural South of the 1920s. Her story of survival, love and lesbianism is told in the bull-jean stories based on the book by Sharon Bridgforth.

DEETS: South Dallas Cultural Center, 3400 S. Fitzhugh Ave. 8 p.m. Sunday at 3 p.m. $15. Q-Roc.tv/Bull-Jean.

—  Rich Lopez

Fahari Arts Institute’s Queerly Speaking plans special Pride edition with $500 cash prize

Fahari Arts Institute artistic director Harold Steward sent me this poster for their upcoming Queerly Speaking event. The poster pretty much speaks for itself, but the sweet deal is the $500 cash prize for the spoken word/poetry slam contest. I’m gonna bone up on my Walt Whitman ‘cuz poppa gotta get paid.

Steward did mention that they are gunning for a huge attendance with its timing during Black Pride. The monthly QS events have been successful at gaining an audience in its former Backbeat Cafe home and now in the South Dallas Cultural Arts Center. With national talent coming in and the larger venue, I speculate they are hoping at least to break even. Being a nonprofit, that’s a big deal.

Queerly Speaking

—  Rich Lopez

Air New Zealand Safety Film: Hot Ruggers & A Rebuffed Kiss Request From A Steward

The new passenger safety film from Air New Zealand is cute enough and includes lots of hotties from the famed All Blacks rugby club. But I’m not sure how I feel about the kiss request from the male flight attendant, which is turned down with a grimace by the handsome player. At the 2:45 mark.

Joe. My. God.

—  John Wright