Madison365 is proud to partner with Our Lives, Dane County’s LGBTQ magazine, to highlight more than 40 QPOC leaders in business, education, government and community. Each day this week, we’ll bring you more #QPOCPRIDE. The opening feature on Vaunce Ashby of the Wisconsin Historical Society is available here, Part 1 of the full list is available here, Part 2 is available here, Part 3 is here and Part 4 is here.
Alix Shabazz is the CEO of Debra’s Love Cooperative, a collective of queer entrepreneurs of color with a mission to build capital to support small businesses. Debra’s Love is named for two mother figures in Shabazz’s life who nurtured their LGBTQ+ children and provided support and solace for other youth.
“There is this myth that Black people are more homophobic than anyone else and that Black parents don’t support queer kids,” Shabazz said. “These are two mothers with queer and trans children, and they have been mothers for all of us.”
Shabazz’s entrepreneurial endeavors include Butiq, an online concept to thrifting and CocoaBean, a handmade beauty company. Shabazz also works at Madison’s Tenant Resource Center. In her role, she provides services for Black, queer folks who are currently homeless or at risk of homelessness.
Shabazz served as an organizer at Freedom Inc., but decided to step away to focus on starting her own business and prioritizing self-care. She still considers herself an activist, but is serving the community in a different capacity. “I like not being in the public eye. It’s a tough place to be to have every part of you scrutinized,” Shabazz said. “A big part of organizing is direct services, and the transition to fully doing direct service has been beneficial to my mental health.” Shabazz also helps train other activists as co-coordinator of the Neighborhood Organizer’s Institute at Lussier Community Education Center. CONNECT: facebook.com/butiqthrift
Tiffany Virag is an orthopedic board-certified physical therapist. She moved to Madison 12 years ago to pursue advanced training in manual physical therapy. Three years ago, she opened her own practice, Madison Physical Therapy and Consulting. Virag started her business to better serve patients who are under-insured or who’ve experienced automobile and workplace accidents.
“I saw these gaps in health care that no one was really addressing,” Virag said. “It could take four to six weeks for people to get appointments. Physical therapy doesn’t work if you can’t get in for treatment. A lot of clinics don’t target (automobile and workplace injury) populations. Additionally, some people could not afford their co-pays or deductibles.” Virag also assists patients with return to work testing to help them find new career options after they’ve suffered a life-changing injury and may not be able to return to their current or former line of work.
Virag is an animal lover and has a side business, Pawsitive Results PT, which focuses on physical therapy for rescue dogs. She felt compelled to act after police raided a puppy mill in Ohio, and she saw the condition of some of the animals.
“One of the dogs was so weak he couldn’t lift his head up against gravity. I spent a couple of weeks with the dog, helping him get stronger and have a normal life,” she said. “There is a need for this, and rescue groups don’t necessarily have the money to pay for it. I wanted to make it a part of my business.”
During her free time, Virag enjoys biking. She is a member of the Bombay Bicycle Club and said Madison is a great place for cyclists. “The cycling community caused me to stay; a lot of them have become family over the years,” she said. “If you get just outside of Madison on a bike, it is so beautiful.” CONNECT: madisonptandconsulting.com & pawsitiveresultspt.com
Cooper Talbot is at her best when she is in the studio. “Music is a big part of my life; there is always that one song that lifts you,” she said. As a host of “Her Infinite Variety” on WORT, Madison’s community radio station, Talbot likes to use her weekly show to bring joy to her listeners. “People have a wonderful time with me sharing my voice and music.”
Talbot moved to Madison in 2011 from New Jersey to join the Madison Cougars (now the Madison Blaze), a professional women’s football team. After suffering an injury, she was forced to retire prematurely from the game.
Leaving football caused Talbot to evaluate what truly made her happy, and she found her niche in Madison’s creative scene. In addition to DJing, Talbot is also passionate about theater. She serves as an executive board member at StageQ, a theater company dedicated to telling the stories of LGBTQ people.
“Working with StageQ really puts me in touch with the LGBT community,” she said. Talbot has both written and produced plays during her time at StageQ. “There is a sense of togetherness when you are working on a show,” she said. “A good show only succeeds with the whole cast.” CONNECT: @herinfinitevariety on Facebook
Syd Robinson is the LGBTQ advocate at the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center. Robinson started his career at the Center as a member of Public Allies, an Americorps service organization. He credits Public Allies for cultivating his interest in activism. “That is how my mind got turned on to being of service to my community. That was the best decision I’ve made so far,” he said.
Robinson worked with the ACLU of Wisconsin as the state’s youth organizer. Although he enjoyed his work with the organization, he wanted to be more directly involved with the LGBTQ+ community and decided to return to the Center. “I am a trans person who has been very blessed in the things that I’ve been able to do and the people that I’ve been able to work with. I wanted to give back to my own community, especially LGBTQ youth of color,” he said. For his work, Robinson received the Gary Hollander Adult Leadership Award from Milwaukee non-profit, Diverse & Resilient.
In addition to his advocacy work, Robinson is an actor and DJ. He recently got involved with a DJ collective in Milwaukee, with a mission to create safe social spaces for marginalized communities. Connect: gofundme.com/sydrobbie
Duane Herron is the Midwest Regional Coordinator for Great Lakes Hemophilia Foundation. In his role, Herron manages federal grants to monitor 14 hemophilia treatment centers that care for over 5,000 patients.
With almost 20 years of experience in public health, Herron was motivated to enter the field after losing both his biological and adopted mothers to heart disease when they were in their 40s.
“I wish they were still here,” he said. “If they had taken better care of themselves, or if the health system was a little more kind to them, despite their lack of resources, they’d probably still be here.”
Herron balances his work with his passion for drag performance. Since 1998, Herron has performed across the country as Symphony Alexander Love. For Herron, drag was a way to continue to explore performance and hold on to childhood values. “I was a professional baton twirler as a kid, and also musically inclined,” Herron said. “Drag allowed me to perform and be modest. I could cover my body and learn how to entertain at the same time.”
Symphony is Herron’s drag name. She has been a finalist at several national drag pageants. Symphony currently holds the title of Miss Wisconsin USofA at Large. Symphony said younger drag performers seek her out as a mentor since she is not only a successful performer but also career oriented. “I wanted to be the drag queen who was also a professional during the day. It allows people to look up to me and respect me for my contributions on and off stage,” she said.
Even though she is a veteran performer, Symphony only has three drag children. To be attached to her legacy, it is key that you possess what it takes to be a successful drag performer. “I am a strict mother; to be a true child, you have to possess talent, and you have to be smart,” she said. “Drag is a business, if you don’t have any business smarts, you are not going to survive. If you don’t have any talent, you are not going to get booked.” CONNECT: email@example.com
Victor Raymond is a sociology professor at Madison College. As a member of the Lakota Sioux tribe, Raymond is two-spirit, which encompasses his identity as a bi-sexual, bi-racial man. He believes that LGBTQ+ people need broader, culturally responsive definitions of identity. “If you look at communities of color and Native culture, you will see that there are different understandings of gender and sexuality that do not fall neatly into the labels that we use,” he said. “We ought to be ready to recognize a rainbow of understanding.”
Raymond has been a political activist since college and works to advance causes affecting bisexual people. He served on the board of directors for BiNet USA, a nonprofit that seeks to connect the bisexual community. He was invited to the White House to speak about the needs of bisexual people. He was also a member of the Indigenous People’s Task Force. Raymond believes that politics is at the root of education and social change. “You can’t be an educator without addressing issues of political importance. I don’t think you can build community without looking at politics as an arena for change,” he said. “If you are going to make the world a better place, politics is where that work needs to be done.”
Ashli Lyles is a rising senior at Madison East High School. Lyles serves on GSAFE’s Youth Leadership Board. Lyles considers themself a “general advocate for folks with marginalized identities” and centers their work around consent and self-love.
Witnessing the marginalization of queer people of color compels Lyles to call out injustice. “In most places, queer people of color are often put on the back burner and disregarded when it comes to equality,” Lyles said. “Being a QPOC has pushed me to fight for racial justice and LGBTQ+ rights because I see and feel the effects of oppression against these groups firsthand every day.”
Lyles is also a photographer and enjoys using their camera to capture beauty in their community. Lyles thinks that photography is a hobby that is accessible for a variety of people, and it represents their idea that everyone can lead in their own way. “I believe that capturing moments that make you happy is an amazing act of self-care that you can always keep with you,” Lyles said. “Anyone can press a button and take picture.”
Amber C. Walker is a Madison-based writer. She unapologetically centers her work around stories from communities that are ignored by mainstream media sources. She has a particular affinity for the narratives of Black womyn and LGBTQ+ folks, which is why she was so excited to partner with Our Lives magazine to write its first QPOC Pride List. She hopes that this list will facilitate connections among QPOC folks around our state and celebrate the work we do in service to ourselves and our communities.
Walker attended Oberlin College and double majored in Africana Studies and Gender/Sexuality/Feminist Studies. Walker decided on Oberlin because of its history of providing safe spaces for people of color, womyn and LGBTQ+ folks. Oberlin provided the support she needed to articulate her identity and find community among people who shared similar experiences.
After graduating from Oberlin, Walker moved to Miami, Florida, where she served as an Americorps member and taught an after-school civic engagement program at Miami Northwestern Senior High School. After a year at “The West,” Walker was accepted into Teach for America and joined the staff at the school as an English teacher.
Walker came to Madison after accepting a job at a local healthcare IT company and quickly realized money can’t buy (enough) happiness. She decided to pursue writing full-time, and after almost a year of the freelance hustle, she accepted a job as the K-12 education reporter for the Capital Times in Madison. She is grateful that her work allows her to maintain a connection to young people and the classroom while developing her craft as a writer. When she does not have a pen in her hand or her head in a book, Walker enjoys weekend jaunts to her hometown of Chicago and live-tweeting her favorite shows. CONNECT: @ACWalker620 on Twitter
Written by Amber Walker for Our Lives Magazine.