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.
Baltazar De Anda Santana is the director of Orgullo Latinx LGBT+, a Madison organization with a mission to create spaces for Dane County’s Latinx LGBT+ community to thrive through education, social justice, and community engagement.
A long-time advocate for the Latinx community, De Anda Santana has worked with the Vera Court Neighborhood Center and the United Way of Dane County. Orgullo Latinx LGBT+ has made it a priority to increase the visibility of the LGBT+ Latinos through community service and connecting with allies. Orgullo Latinx LGBT+ held a vigil following the Pulse shooting in Orlando last year and organized dozens of Latinos to participate in local LGBT+ Pride parades. “We have put the LGBT+ Latino community on the map in Madison,” De Anda Santana said. “That is something that we didn’t have before. Right now, the community knows that we exist.”
As a gay Latinx man, De Anda Santana feels it is important to be proud of his identity to reduce stigma and stereotypes against LGBT+ people. “We are working hard to normalize LGBT+ (identity) in the Latinx community,” he said. “We want people to know that being gay means that you can be a volunteer, you can be a professional, you can be a leader.” CONNECT: orgullolatinx.org
Tiffany Lee is the program coordinator at the LGBT Campus Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Lee helps undergraduate students cultivate their leadership by training them to serve as discussion facilitators. “It is important to facilitate conversations,” Lee said. “There is not enough space for folks to come around and talk, and there seems to be a desire for it in the community.” Discussion groups center on topics that are important to queer students and encompass their intersectional identities.
Lee is pursuing her Masters degree in African-American Studies and Gender/Women’s Studies. She said learning about activists like the women in the Combahee River Collective spurred her to see her identity as a black, queer, women as a source of power. “It directly spoke to my life and the people I loved,” she said. “It spoke to how I moved through the world.”
OD Kimani is a performer. He’s been a cabaret, stage, and film actor. For the past three years, Kimani’s primary focus has been burlesque. He remembers seeing his first burlesque performance in 2013 with his fellow performer, Mercury Stardust. He started out assisting Stardust with their shows, “but emceeing turned into guest spots, and that turned into full-on performances,” he said.
Kimani said most burlesque performers are self-taught, taking charge of their own costuming, makeup, and choreography. He loves the control of producing an entire show that is solely his creative vision. “I love to create my art, my own way, and execute it the way I want to.”
He also enjoys that the burlesque scene in Madison creates space for all types of performers. “I enjoy burlesque as an art. I appreciate it for body positivity and individual expression,” he said. “Every performer comes from a different walk of life. There is a variety of ages, genders, and races.” CONNECT: @od_kimani on Instagram
Ja’Mel Ware is the founder and chief executive officer of Intellectual Ratchet, a Madison-based lifestyle company. Ware was inspired to start IR to create spaces for diverse audiences to connect and feel comfortable in their communities. “I was tired of traveling to places like Milwaukee and Chicago for an urban experience,” Ware said. “I wanted to connect people of different backgrounds and allow people to bring their whole selves.”
Since IR’s inception in 2015, Ware has hosted events in the Madison and throughout the state. In particular, Ware is proud of his first event, a sold-out screening of the movie, “Straight Outta Compton,” partnering with the Wisconsin Union and U.W.-Madison student organizations to bring Golden Globe-nominated actress Issa Rae to Madison, and working with downtown Madison businesses to host the city’s first series of night markets.
As a trans person who was born with HIV, Ware said creating IR was cathartic for him because it allows people to focus on what he brings to the community, instead of his lived experience.
“My entire life, the story that the larger community knows about is being this kid with AIDS. When I transitioned, it happened again,” he said.
“I didn’t want to be fetishized by my identities. I wanted to have space where I can just be. It doesn’t matter that I am a Black trans man that lives with AIDS, it’s freeing to me. I am able to talk about my identities and not feel shackled by them.”
Ware’s ultimate vision for IR is to scale the model up, so there are places around the world where intellectual ratchets can build community. “We will draw audiences of tens of thousands and feature their local talent,” he said. “In 10 years IR will be a household name.” CONNECT: facebook.com/JaeMoFamo
Laura P. Minero is a Ph.D. student in counseling psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Minero immigrated to the United States with her parents at five. Minero said watching her parents work to provide her with a better life influenced her work as an activist. “That really shaped who I am as a person. I value my parent’s sacrifices,” Minero said. “Experiencing exclusion and marginalization compelled me to think about the other.” Minero’s identity as a queer, non-binary, undocumented person compels her to advocate on behalf of marginalized people, particularly undocumented queer and trans immigrants.
Minero wants to use her work as a scientist to influence policy to benefit under-served communities. “There is a lot of anti-immigrant and anti-LGBTQ policy that pretty much dictates our lives. People don’t really think about the day-to-day impact unless they are living it,” Minero said. “Policy impacts mental health. My hope is that, through research, we can enact change. I really see it is a way to promote well-being and policy that is inclusive.”
Monty Scott is an HIV/AIDS prevention specialist at the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin. Scott works in 13 counties across the state and provides testing, education, counseling, and other resources to community members. Scott makes it a point to meet people where they are, and often visits gay bars, community centers, and schools. He also leverages social media and dating sites to provide information about testing and preventative methods.
For Scott, it is important to talk openly about sexual health so people can safely enjoy themselves. “HIV and AIDS is still an issue around the world. With it affecting mostly gay and bisexual men, I feel in my heart that I need to provide this service,” he said. “A lot of people don’t talk about sex or the benefits and consequences that come with it. If I provide education on high-risk behavior, my community will take proper steps to protect themselves and enjoy sex.” CONNECT:
Cedric Johnson recalls returning to his hometown of Rockford after studying at Knox College: “I looked around and said, ‘there is nothing going on.’ I thought, ‘OK, I’ll step up and make something happen.” Johnson collaborated with friends to create spaces for young people to showcase their art, an opportunity they felt was lacking in their city. “Once I saw what could happen if people step up and do something, I thought, ‘ain’t no stopping me.’”
Johnson continues to live by that mantra as the Development and Communications Director at Briarpatch Youth Services. Briarpatch provides housing, job training, and programmatic support for runaway, at-risk, and homeless youth and their families in Dane County. Johnson estimates that over 40 percent of the youth Briarpatch serves are LGBTQ. Although his family was very supportive when Johnson came out as a teen, he is aware that experience is not the reality for all LGBTQ youth. “That is a big motivator for me every day,” he said.
Before coming to Briarpatch, Johnson worked in development at the Madison Children’s Museum. He has also served as the President of OPEN, the Out Professional Engagement Network. Johnson enjoys living in Madison because of all the opportunities the city provides for service. “The work that needs to be done keeps me here. It is a challenge,” Johnson said. “I know my skills, and if I am not able to do something, Madison is the type of town where you can coalition-build to do the work.”
Working in development, Johnson knows that networking is a powerful tool to initiate change. He makes a point to connect people with opportunities that would be a good fit for them and credits Madison as a great place to grow your personal and professional ties. “I’ve built such a great network of friends and mentors who have always been open to helping,” he said. “What drives me is seeing how one person can leverage their personality and their skills to make a tangible difference.” Connect: linkedin.com/in/cedricjohnson
Bria Brown is the membership coordinator at Community Shares of Wisconsin. In her work, Brown helps non-profits boost fundraising and effectively utilize social media to promote their causes. In addition to her work at Community Shares, Brown is also a freelance videographer and online content producer.
Brown’s YouTube channel, “Unapologetically Bria Bea,” has amassed tens of thousands of views. She started producing videos as a hobby while she was at the College of William and Mary, and uses her talent to promote her brand and in her professional work. “I am really getting a chance to make a living out of it, which is cool,” Brown said. “But also flex a muscle and build my skills as much as I can.”
Although Brown only been in Madison for about a year, she’s already partnered with local entrepreneurs on a variety of projects, including producing a video for the Black Business Expo and the documentary “Throwing Rocks at the Pen.” CONNECT: @beaunapologetic (all platforms)
Gabe Javier is the director of the LGBT Campus Center and the interim director of the Multicultural Student Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Javier said his work is “deeply rooted in intersectionality.” He strives to create spaces on campus where students can build coalitions and blossom in their identities.
“I like to concentrate my work on creating durable and sustainable communities. Places where people can find each other and find haven spaces and, thereby, be their true and authentic selves,” he said. “That takes a lot of trust, and trust is built on experience of doing really intentional work and gaining that trust.”
Javier started his career at the University of Michigan, where he earned his masters in higher education administration. At Michigan, he was a sexual violence educator with a focus on men. He credits that experience with helping him develop his social justice standpoint. “You can’t un-ring a bell or un-crack an egg. Once I started working with people who were doing amazing work around sexual violence prevention and getting men involved, I couldn’t not be involved in undoing misogyny and rape culture,” he said. “That translated into my own activism with my gay identity and community organizing. It is all related.”
In his six years at the U.W.-Madison, he is particularly proud helping to improve health care options for trans-identified students, the opening of the Black Cultural Center, and developing Crossroads, a partnership between the LGBT Campus Center and the Multicultural Student Center. “We are purposefully and institutionally putting resources out there for intersectionality,” Javier said. CONNECT: lgbt.wisc.edu & msc.wisc.edu
Written by Amber Walker for Our Lives Magazine. Part two coming Tuesday!