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‘We Must Look at Ourselves as Necessary and Potential Leaders’

Walter Rucker, an HIV advocate and public health leader, is making a difference in the lives of his community. He is the associate director of program operations at Pridelines, an organization that works to support, educate and empower LGBTQ youth and communities in South Florida.

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.

“Black GBQ/SGL men are often overlooked for the positions in which we can influence our communities,” Rucker said. “We must look at ourselves as potential and necessary leaders, and proactively provide the tools and care to bring this hope into fruition.”

We caught up with 
Rucker to learn more about his story and how he works to mobilize his community to 
stop HIV together.

How did you get into this field?

I initially became an HIV testing counselor as a segue into the counseling and mental health field. Shortly after becoming involved in the HIV 
part of public health, I began noticing the many needs for services outside of testing and linkage to care and expanded my knowledge and skills to assist in addressing them.

What are some of the barriers that prevent Black GBQ/SGL 
men from accessing care?

Three of the larger barriers I've identified throughout my time working in public health are: 
1. Black GBQ/SGL men being hesitant to access care services due to the stigma associated with mentalemotional and sexual health.
2. A lack of knowledge about how to navigate available resources along with a lack of appropriate support for doing so.
3. A lack of culturally relevant, dedicated support for developing an infrastructure that is created for and delivered by Black GBQ/SGL men to increase access to care services within existing organizations in South Florida.

How do we start to reduce those barriers? 

I believe that addressing and reducing these barriers requires comprehension of our
 history  specifically the history of Black GBQ/SGL men in South Florida  and the challenges in facing us in a culturally competent manner.

Addressing these barriers effectively would encompass:
1. Broadband messaging to counteract stigma associated with seeking care services andproviding education about the importance of mental and emotional health, HIV care, PrEP and other health issues.
2. A commitment from community organizations to engage passionate staff from Black GBQ/SGL communities and invest in their development at every level.
3. Community partnerships between existing organizations and Black GBQ/SGL men that support the development of area-specific strategies.
4. Ensuring that holistic approaches (whole body and spiritual wellness) are taken at every step of service provision.

What are some of the challenges preventing Black GBQ/SGL 
men from being in executive leadership roles? What are some of the solutions to addressing those challenges?

Black GBQ/SGL men experience systematic and institutional barriers in accessing leadership opportunities. There are far too many missed opportunities to develop us for these positions, including a lack 
of opportunities for us to expand our professional experience, a lack of managerial feedback that is deliberately aimed at developing us as leaders and a lack of training opportunities to broaden our knowledge about the work we do.

On a broader scale, our 
Black intersection is just as prominent and impeding as that of our heterosexual counterparts; meanwhile, even within Black groups our GBQ/SGL identities further obstruct our opportunities for growth. The racist and homophobic views of leading institutions are the sources of subsequent challenges we as Black GBQ/SGL men face in our personal and professional lives.

We also experience a sense of hopelessness that must be acknowledged
. We must address and dismantle the lack of confidence in our ability to make changes and fill these executive leadership roles. Overall, we must be intentional about changing this.

Posted By: Helen Parshall - Thursday, March 05, 2020

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