Local LGBTQ organization celebrates success, looks ahead

COLOURS continues its outreach to some of the most vulnerable members of the Philadelphia LGBTQ community. The organization’s most recent event was a success, and the group hopes its upcoming Soulful Friday event on Feb. 7 will be equally effective.

On Dec. 21, COLOURS held a Winter Necessities Drive at William Way LGBT Community Center. Abraham Tomo, Jr., an HIV prevention specialist at COLOURS who organized the drive, which was sponsored by Subaru, said it was a huge success, far exceeding his expectations. 

“We collected nearly 1,000 items through all our efforts,” Tomo said. The event was a donation and exchange, where people could come and take what they needed or donate clothes, coats and toiletries — or both. “Many of the coats we received were brand new, tags still on them,” Tomo said.

Attic Youth Center participated, providing toiletry kits. The local Shoprite supermarket chain, which is known for its philanthropy, donated the food for the drive “which everyone loved,” Tomo said. Shoprite also provided space for storing donated goods. Free HIV testing was also offered.  

“All in all,” Tomo said, “I’m so proud of how everything turned out.”

COLOURS’ next event will be held at the Mazzoni Center in honor of Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. said Tomo.

He said the event “is centered on queer Black youth, with storytelling, dancing and other performances that focus on the experiences of queer Black youth.”

Philadelphia is majority Black and, according to the U.S. Census, 28 percent of Philadelphians live at or below the poverty level. The national average is 13 percent.

Tomo said Soulful Friday is dedicated to “engendering an urgent need for compassion and connection for a marginalized group of people encumbered by socioeconomic barriers like lack of access to food, housing, healthcare, education and more than most people could ever imagine.”

Tomo is focused on expanding the work of COLOURS beyond HIV prevention to address the poverty and homelessness among LGBTQ people of color, particularly young people and trans people. Resume building toward job acquisition is something Tomo wants to tackle next, and he is planning a new drive for clothing people can wear for job interviews. Dress clothes and shoes are integral to finding a job.

But Tomo said the issues that need addressing are not just for LGBTQ people, but cishet job purveyors as well.

He explained that there is “not much cultural competence” in hiring practices in the city, and he would like to hold seminars both for people who need jobs and for business owners to discuss how they can best include LGBTQ people when making hires. 

Tomo said this is particularly important for trans people who are frequently discriminated against by both fellow employees and the public. Statistics from HRC show that trans and gender-nonconforming people face the highest rates of poverty and joblessness.

“A lot has to happen in this area,” Tomo said, explaining how the confluence of sexual orientation, gender identity, racism and sexism all blend to make it difficult and sometimes impossible for LGBTQ people to get out of homelessness and poverty.

He said that this is a cycle that is hard to break, and it can lead to substance abuse and survival sex, which in turn can lead to HIV infection. Tomo said he is always shocked at how many LGBTQ people are “virtually homeless. They may not be on the actual street, but they do not have a place of their own to live. They are sleeping on other people’s sofas and floors. It’s no way to live.”

COLOURS is a social justice organization established in 1991 by and for Black LGBTQ people. 

Tomo said the organization’s stated mission is to “positively affect the decision-making process of LGBTQ people of color through the development of activities, trainings, programs and reading materials aimed at attacking the underpinnings of disempowerment in our community.”

Soulfoul Friday will be Friday, Feb. 7 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Mazzoni Center, 1348 Bainbridge St in Center City.

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Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.