For Kendall Granberry, the work to end the HIV epidemic must create compassionate, affirming spaces for Black men to exist as they are.
“I think we need to prioritize supporting novel, alternative and healthier masculinities for Black GBQ/SGL men,” they said. “I see toxic, maladaptive masculinities as being one of the largest challenges impeding people feeling comfortable and safe enough getting something as simple as an HIV/STI screening.”
Granberry is a part of AIDS United’s first-ever cohort of the Fund for Resilience, Equity and Engagement and the Transgender Leadership Initiative Leadership Development Program. These leaders were chosen through AIDS United’s grantee partner organizations as representatives of transgender and gender-nonconforming people and Black gay, bisexual, queer and same-gender-loving men — populations in our communities most disproportionately impacted by HIV.
They serve as an outreach specialist at the Chicago Center for HIV Elimination, an organization which seeks to reduce the rates of HIV/AIDS and other STIs among Black and Latinx populations throughout the Chicago area, with a focus on South Side communities.
We caught up with Granberry to learn more about their story and how they work to mobilize their community to stop HIV together.
How did you get into this work?
I have been working in and around queer advocacy in Chicago since 2013, beginning first with campus organizing and the creation of healthy communal spaces and continuing as part of a collective of radical queer activists and thinkers known as Gender JUST. Specifically, with regards to HIV/AIDS, my pursuit of work in service provision began in July of 2018. I had been thinking about getting into public health for some time and have been — and continue to be — a beneficiary of relatively sound, queer-affirming healthcare infrastructure. The election of the current president of the United States in 2016 made it clear to me that the financial support of these institutions might become strained and reminded me acutely of my duty and responsibility to use my skills, resources, and knowledge in the service of mitigating the damage that might befall Black communities if it were reduced.
I’ve always been concerned about those left to the margins of society and holding space for their needs and personal transformations. I see improving health literacy and engagement, empowering people’s choices in and for sexual agency, and providing helpful and targeted counseling and support to vulnerable people and those who work with them as a necessary site of struggle and a place of critical intervention.
What are some of the barriers that prevent Black GBQ/SGL men from accessing care?
Some of the barriers that impede Black GBQ/SGL men’s ability to access care are a general distrust of the medical establishment, medical institutions and health professionals broadly. There’s a real hesitation to embrace these systems and the people working within them that is, justifiably, due to centuries of medical neglect or experimentation. Black people, in general, have a hesitation to seek care because we’re frequently not believed when we do articulate our pains, sorrows and challenges. I think this is especially true among those further marginalized by their gender or sexuality, and it certainly compounds iniquities. The bureaucracy of the health care system and its fractured nature also poses a challenge as it is ill-equipped to sufficiently meet the needs of even those actively seeking resources and treatment. For Black men moving through the world with these base understandings, navigating a byzantine health care landscape often becomes more trouble than its worth. Health care systems and providers rarely address root causes of health challenges like stress or high blood pressure and instead pursue and promote behavioral or biomedical solutions. While this may meet arbitrary public health targets, those targets are rarely locally or individually defined and often leave Black GBQ/SGL men feeling as though they are misunderstood, undervalued or unseen.
How do we start to reduce those barriers?
I think the language that we use when speaking to clients (and to ourselves), as well as the way we practice and engage our people, should be used intentionally to build relationships, navigate bureaucratic systems and aid people in their personal journeys of transformation. One of the things I offer my team is a deep love for Black people and for Black self-determination. This allows me to avoid labeling clients and to reframe encounters in ways that don’t pathologize them –– and that don’t reinforce white supremacist or anti-Black tropes or narratives.
When I conduct testing and counseling sessions, I also engage a practice of radical consent, understanding that consent should be sought and asked for consistently on a moment-to-moment basis. As best I can, I inform clients of what they can expect from interactions with me and from other staff members, and I always seek affirmative responses before continuing a plan of action.
What are some of the challenges preventing Black GBQ/SGL men from being in executive leadership roles?
One of the challenges Black GBQ/SGL men face is that they are not provided with sufficient resources or opportunities for advancement, particularly in grant-supported or non-profit work in HIV/AIDS. This partially has to do with assumptions that, because they may be like or in close relationship with impacted people and communities, they are the best or only ones who can meaningfully engage these communities and so should be placed in direct, client-facing positions.
These Black GBQ/SGL men could do meaningful work in management but are instead pushed towards lower paid positions in community engagement, often at great mental and financial expense. On the one hand, this ensures that control of funding streams and the setting of institutional targets becomes the province of non-Black people, even as the communities most vulnerable and with greatest need are disproportionately Black. The consequence of this is that Black GBQ/SGL men are effectively de- or undervalued, which contributes to our being pushed out of organizations or finding work in places that better value our skills and approaches.
What are some of the solutions to addressing those challenges?
I believe Black GBQ/SGL men should be expected to serve for no more than one year in a testing/outreach capacity before receiving management experience and training. Barring that, I think organizations need to start thinking about themselves as structures that should be self-sustaining beyond individual talents and personalities. A structure that can work with someone who is well-learned and has degrees should also work if that person is replaced with a member of the community who perhaps doesn’t have those advantages or hasn’t had those privileges.