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

Former Dallasite helps form Brownsville PFLAG chapter

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Brownsville became the 17th city in Texas with a Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays chapter on Monday, Jan. 3 when about 35 people attended the new group’s first meeting.

Brownsville City Commissioner Melissa Zamora was among those attending. She said she was there as an ally, invited by the group’s president, Yolanda Speece.

“The communication was amazing. There was lots of talk about our culture and the stigma gays and lesbians face,” Zamora said. “There was a high school girl who was there to support her two lesbian mothers. A mom was there to support her transgender child.”

She said the meeting was well organized, providing good reciprocal support, and was attended by people from around the county — and even from South Padre Island.

Zamora said she recently became more aware of LGBT issues when she read a story by a high school student describing his struggle.

“This is a very Hispanic community,” Zamora said, “and it’s something you don’t talk about in the Hispanic community.”

Zamora said she hopes to find a co-sponsor to put an item on the city agenda introducing the group to the community.

Speece said she decided to found the group because she always had gay friends. She found that along the border and the coast, the closest groups were in El Paso and Corpus Christi and she knew there was a need locally.

“I would hear people say things,” Speece said. “I’d take it in and I didn’t know how to respond. But there’s something wrong with using God to justify their hate.”

Speece said that over the past two years there have been four murders of gay men in Cameron County. One, Barry Horn, was executive director of the Brownsville Museum of Fine Art.

The trial of the 19-year-old accused of Horn’s murder is set to begin in February. And Speece said she is sure defense attorneys are planning a “blame the victim” strategy.

“This needs to stop, Speece said. “We need to start educating the community, so I decided it’s time.”

Bobby Wightman-Cervantes, who helped the Dallas and Fort Worth chapters incorporate in the early 1990s, is involved in the new group’s formation. He said he was concerned that clashing personalities could kill the effort to organize and remembered similar concerns when P-FLAG formed in Dallas.

Wightman-Cervantes credited Dan and Pat Stone, two of the organizers of the Dallas group, with focusing on communication between parents with gay and lesbian children and a variety of allies when the group started.

Speece was also concerned about that, she said, and was very nervous as she began the meeting. But as people began talking to each other, she knew the new group was already working well. They were all there for one reason.

“Parents are supposed to protect their children,” she said.

P-FLAG Brownsville meets the first Monday of the month at 6:30 p.m. All Souls UU Church, 124 Paredes Line Road, Brownsville. 956-433-3524.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 7, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

A former Aggie cadet comes out and comes clean

Clint Hooper is a gay man who went to Texas A&M and served in A&M’s Cadet Corps.

On Monday, to mark National Coming Out Day, Clint sent a letter to Col. Jake Betty, interim commandant of the A&M Cadet Corps., coming out to Betty as a gay man, and “coming clean” about how he “broke the Aggie Honor Code in every way.”

With Clint’s permission, I wanted to share that letter with all of you in Instant Tea land:

Colonel Betty:

I am a proud Aggie, and as such, I believe it is my responsibility to inform you that as a cadet, I broke the Aggie Honor Code in every way and would like to come clean and come out.

As a closeted gay man in the Corps of Cadets, I lied. I lied to my buddies, to my leaders as an underclassman, to my followers as a First Sergeant and a Company Commander, and to myself. I lied because in a setting that is so masculinized it is “Not a privilege to be gay, sir!” there was seemingly no possible way to be honest.

As a closeted gay man in the Corps of Cadets, I cheated. I cheated during the selection process for leadership positions. I was selected to be company First Sergeant and Commander over my buddies because of my dishonesty. I knew that, should I have been truthful, I would not have been placed in those leadership positions.

As a closeted gay man in the Corps of Cadets, I stole. I stole the learning experience of knowing a gay man from my buddies and fellow cadets. There is a stigma and fear of gay people that only knowing and conversing with a gay person can dispel. I have seen it time and time again, the literal eye-opening experience when a person I knew has had a meaningful and educational conversation with a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person and realizes that what they have been told is wrong.

As you may know, today is National Coming Out Day. It is a day where gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender and allied individuals across the national make an effort to make people they known and love aware that they know and love a GLBT person. At this critical time in our nation, and ultimately, humankind’s history, it is imperative that you, the Commandant’s Staff, Corps Housing, cadets and anyone affiliated with the corps know that you are all surrounded by co-workers, friends, family, cadets, classmates, buddies, ol’ ladies, leaders, followers and professors who are openly being discriminated against and forced to live a life of lies. Since 1994, more than 14,000 soldiers have been discharged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; 29 states allow GLBT persons to be fired because of their sexuality, and GLBT youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.

With nearly 2,000 cadets walking the quad every day, it would be naive to believe that the Corps uniform is not being worn by even a single gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender individual. We are there. We are in the ranks of khaki. We are living on the quad. We are eating in Duncan. We are marching into Kyle Field to the beat of the drums that countless other gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender cadets have marched to for over a century.

Within each fish Cadence and in every Standard is a section of Core Values that states, “We respect others and have regard for their dignity, worth and individuality.” Yet I do not believe this to be so. When young men and women, destined to become leaders in the pubic and private sectors of society, are made to feel rejected, insignificant and outcast, then there is no regard for dignity, worth or individuality.

As an integral part of a university that is constantly working on not only advancement in education and science, but on improving our society, the Corps, as a foundation of the university, should take a stand on the acceptance of GLBT cadets and individuals in general. The Corps of Cadets proudly boasts that it is producing “leaders of character.” These future leaders will undoubtedly lead or be GLBT people. To deny this is absurd. This nation is changing, and the movement is reaching far and wide. People, young and old, are taking to the streets, picking up their phones and writing to their congressmen and women, demanding their own or their loved ones’ rights. One of our own, former president of Texas A&M Robert Gates, is currently working on the process of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Wouldn’t it be prudent of the Corps of Cadets to be at the forefront of this movement?

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is succumbing to public opinion and will be repealed sooner rather than later; states will change their employment laws that allow people to be fired based on their sexuality, and equality will lead to more public acceptance of the GLBT community. When this happens, should the Corps of Cadets be left behind as a relic of the past? Or should the Corps of Cadets take the necessary steps now to ensure that its former, current and future cadets are proud to say that they received the quality leadership experience and education that I received without having to break the Aggie Honor Code?

Colonel Betty, I am asking you to take a stand for the rights and welfare of the cadets that you advise and oversee. Though they may not be known to you, they are there and they are looking to for leadership. Support the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and make it known that the Corps of Cadets is a safe environment for everyone no matter their race, religion, gender, ethnicity, country of origin, (dis)ability or sexual orientation. That hate is not an Aggie value, discrimination based on sexuality will not be tolerated and that the leaders, destined for the military and for the civilian sector, which are forged and educated in our corps are true leaders of character. To not do so would be an injustice to them, to you, to our Cadet Corps, and to the university we hold so dear.

Clint Hooper, Denton

—  admin

Video: A Lifetime of stigma

In 2006, the Lifetime network began airing A Girl Like Me: The Gwen Araujo Story, a very well done, GLAAD award-winning telepic that covered the life and tragic murder of transgender teen Gwen Araujo. You probably remember that Gwen was murdered by a group a men at a 2002 house party, after it was discovered that she had biologically male genitalia. A victim of horrible circumstances, not her own “bad decisions.”

Well fast forward to 2010. Last night, a G-A-Y friend tipped us to the fact that the film is currently re-airing on the Lifetime Movie Network, which is a cool thing. However, look at how the network’s marketing the programming week of which Gwen’s story is a part:

Yep, that’s right — the film’s being marketed as part of an out-of-control teen block. Binge drinking. Promiscuity. Drugs. A transgender teen’s tragic murder?! One of these “good kids, bad decisions” scenario is most certainly not like the others!

Now we want to be careful in saying that we do not at all think this was a malicious decision by Lifetime, a network with a very positive record on LGBT matters. It was more likely just a boneheaded decision. An insensitive decision. But nevertheless, it’s still a potentially dangerous decision that we can now use as a teachable moment, reminding programming execs that transgender does not equate sensationalism.




Good As You

—  John Wright

Pow! Bam! Methadone Man, Buprenorphine Babe take on HIV/AIDS misinformation, stigma

The XVII International AIDS Conference recently wrapped up in Vienna, after six days of seminars, workshops, speeches and more, all chock full of the latest statistics, scientific advances and more. You can go to the official International AIDS Conference Vienna website here for transcripts of speeches and reports that were presented.

But there was more than just science available at the conference, and blogger Mark S. King was there to report on those other aspects on his blog, “My Fabulous Disease,” where you can read his “AIDS 2010 for Dummies: An Entertaining Review.”

When you’re checking out King’s take on the conference, be sure to click the link to watch a webisode of “Methadone Man and Buprenorphine Babe,” an HIV-fighting duo in the vein of Batman and Robin who are fighting misinformation and stigma (in the form of Mr. Thought Control and Evil Mr. Stigma and others) to spread the word that methadone and buprenorphone maintenance program can help stop the spread of HIV by helping injection drug users kick their habits.

Methadone Man and Buprenorphine Babe were created by The Open Society Institute’s International Harm Reduction Development Program to “help raise awareness about the glaring lack of access to these life-saving drugs.” And they might make you smile in the process.

Here’s Episode One:

—  admin

ASOs pleased with Obama’s AIDS strategy

Service providers are optimistic about holistic approach, but want to see the money to back up plan

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Raeline Nobles

The White House’s new National AIDS Strategy, released July 13, is getting good reviews from AIDS service organizations in North Texas.

The policy includes plans on how to reduce new infections, how to increase access to health care and how to improve the outcome for people living with HIV. It takes a holistic approach to AIDS, bringing resources from around the community together and recognizing the need for transportation, food and housing as well as medical treatment.

Its goals also include eliminating the stigma still attached to HIV/AIDS.

“This White House is more systemic,” said Raeline Nobles, executive director of AIDS Arms. “[They know that] when one part of the system is weak, the entire system breaks down. You have to reach out into the greater community.”

Nobles noted the focus on reducing the infection rate by 25 percent.

“I think the strategy is very aggressive,” she said. “A 25 percent drop is a huge drop.”

Still, she wondered how the plan would be funded.

“Healthcare reform will provide some answers, but not until 2014 and that’s a long time in the middle of an epidemic,” she said.

Steven Pace, executive director of AIDS Interfaith Network, said “What I hope emerges is renewed outreach and prevention because those were so destroyed under the Bush administration.”

And Don Maison, president and CEO of AIDS services of Dallas commended the plan’s “recognition of the importance of housing for overall health. … Housing has the attention of policymakers and is included for the first time.”

Maison attended a White House meeting in December with Jeffrey S. Crowley, director of the Office of National AIDS Policy. Four assistants to the president, officials from HUD and the Health Resources and Services Administration also attended.

When Maison read how their concerns were addressed in the strategy, he said he was delighted they were listening.

Nobles also was impressed with the process by which the administration put the strategy together.

She said that at least once every other week she received an e-mail asking her opinion.

Steve Dutton, executive director of Samaritan House in Fort Worth, pointed out three things he especially liked about the strategy.

“It’s important that housing is integrated into the plan,” he said. “I like the call to educating all Americans about the disease. And prevention is more than just condoms.”

He said this was the first administration that gathered information from experts and used that to formulate a strategy. He said he was impressed by the call for federal agencies to work closely with local agencies.

Like other agency directors, Dutton worried about funding.

He said the president made it clear in his executive summary of the document that this is not a budget document.

“But it clearly establishes national priorities,” Dutton said. “That’s very impressive. It’s been a long time since leadership asked people on the street, ‘What do you think?’”

Bret Camp from Nelson Tebedo Clinic was cautiously optimistic.

“It’s good that we finally have a plan,” he said. “I would like to see money behind it.”

Camp liked the idea of collaboration among faith-based groups, government agencies, the medical community and service organizations.

“That makes the continuum of prevention services seamless,” he said.

Camp pointed to the Stomp Out Syphilis program at Resource Center Dallas that works well with faith-based organizations throughout the community.
“The state holds that program up as a model,” he said.

Allan Gould, executive director of AIDS Outreach Center in Fort Worth, said the plan had the right goals for halting the spread of HIV. He said that over the last five to 10 years, most people acted as though the AIDS epidemic was over, but, “AIDS is still a huge problem.”

Gould said that the two things to watch are how the plan is implemented and where the money is coming from. The federal government funds Tarrant County and other areas with fewer than 2,000 cases of AIDS differently than cities like Dallas with more people infected with HIV.

“Small agencies will close,” Gould said.

But his reading of the strategy is that it is a fresh approach.

“It’s a health issue, not a moral issue,” he said. “The plan takes a holistic approach.”

He said the president sounded pragmatic when he announced the strategy, admitting he didn’t have all the answers.

Gould said that for the first time, ASOs wouldn’t have to wait for a change in administration to get rid of a policy or an approach that isn’t working.
But Gould laughed at one of the main goals — to reduce the stigma of AIDS.

He said you can’t tell people how to think, but he thought it was better to have that as policy than not.

Getting the prevention message out there once again, Gould said, was among the most important pieces of the new plan.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 23, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens