To mark National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, which takes place annually on April 10, Bebashi Transition to Hope collaborated with a handful of other local queer-embracing health organizations to produce two events for LGBTQ+ youth. On April 8, Bebashi teamed up with GALAEI to host the Breaking the Silence Rally, a youth-centric demonstration with a goal of “uniting youth people who identify as LGBTQ to stand up and stand against oppression and discrimination that the young people may face in schools,” said Nafisah Houston, Bebashi’s event organizer and director of programs.
Located at the GALAEI space on Fontain Street, the Breaking the Silence Rally manifested as an afternoon for youth to unite, be in community, avail themselves of HIV and STI testing, and enjoy food, drink, music provided by GALAEI staff, a raffle and performances by artists including Tiffany Uma Mascara and Dalyla Mizani Cristal. A Bebashi staffer led the group, which consisted of roughly 20-30 youth, in a moment of silence and then a breaking of that silence where attendees shouted and used plastic noisemakers.
Trinitee Wilson, prevention education navigator at Bebashi, said that for them, the event is for “the people who are always silent and feel like their voices can never be heard or feel like their sexuality isn’t respected. We make noise to break the silence so that way we are celebrating them and being visible for them.”
Brian Kennedy, who also works as a prevention education navigator at Bebashi, said that he feels that the rally is also “for people who are afraid to stand up and are kind of pushed to the back burner and aren’t really paid attention to.”
Jasir, a youth in the community, told PGN that they attended the Breaking the Silence Rally “to support my community. There’s a lot of kids who go through a lot of different things, especially the queer youth. [Discrimination] affects so many people in so many different age groups, not even just high school – grown people, people who are in college. It’s a relevant issue.”
Fellow youth Jamyilaah said she came to the rally, “not just to show support for my community but also for myself. Being basically one of the only queer people in my family, I don’t feel the support that I feel I should from them. Coming to events like this really helps me connect with other people and build that bond. I feel like everyone here is so accepting, so nice and so generous. No matter what you’re going through, no matter what you look like, no matter where you come from, they’re just very open.”
Jadee, who goes to the Girard Academic Music Program in Philly, attended the event as part of an after school program. She said she came to show her support. “It feels like a really safe space, everyone’s having fun and it’s a nice place to be. I think it’s important to accept everyone.”
For the second Youth HIV Awareness Day event, which took place on April 9, Bebashi invited health professionals from local health organizations to facilitate workshops on LGBTQ health and wellness. Ollie Cherington, community health worker at Mazzoni Center, Bevin Gwiazdowski, MSW, clinical research coordinator at the Roberts Center for Pediatric Research at CHOP and Nhakia Outland, founder and president of Prevention Meets Fashion, led workshops for queer youth. Lakeesha Dawson, prevention education navigator at Bebashi, was set to run a workshop that got cut short due to low attendance.
“Although it was a smaller audience, we were able to have a more intimate and meaningful breakout discussion afterwards, so all was not lost,” said Keisha Gabbidon-Howell, event organizer and prevention education supervisor at Bebashi.
Outland led a workshop on queer menstruation. She covered topics including basic anatomy, what it means to menstruate and not to menstruate, the menstruation products that are available and the advantages and disadvantages of using certain ones as a queer person. She also discussed gender dysphoria, anxiety and depression.
“It went well,” Outland said. “There’s a lot of people throughout Philadelphia who are doing [work in] period poverty, menstruation talks, but we are one of the few that really incorporate queer menstruation. How do they manage periods? What are their attitudes about menstruation? We started off the talk with [the idea] that menstruation is really for all bodies.”
Outland said that she was surprised to see that most of the workshop attendees were male-identified. They were engaged and asked questions, Outland said. She added that most of the research and educational material related to menstruation focuses on women’s health and includes mostly gendered language.
“It was really hard to answer the more detailed questions because there hasn’t been a lot of research on menstruation in the queer community,” Outland said. “The research that is out there tends to only look at trans men; they don’t look at the umbrella — nonbinary folks, folks who choose not to have an identification or label.”
Mazzoni’s Cherington led a workshop on access to trans care for youth. They covered what it means to be well as a trans person and the uniqueness of wellness for trans bodies, as well as where to access trans-affirming healthcare including Mazzoni, CHOP’s gender and sexuality program, Bebashi and GALAEI. Cherington also touched on accessing medications related to HIV and STI awareness, including utilizing the Advancing ACCESS Patient Assistance/Medication Assistance Program available through the pharmaceutical company Gilead.
“We get people signed up through Advancing Access for either copay coverage, or they’ll cover the medication outright if you don’t have insurance,” Cherington said.
Cherington told PGN when they were in their teens and early 20s in the 2000s, trans health education and trans healthcare in general was practically nonexistent.
“If those services had been available to me I would have 100% accessed them,” Cherington said. “I think about that in the context of youth and the adults that we see – how many people would actually access these things if they just knew about them? For the most part, it’s a lot more than I think anybody gives youth credit for. Especially the kids that we see at drop-in [at Mazzoni], they’re there, they’re ready, they want to engage with healthcare, they want to get PrEP, they want to practice safe sex, they want to get birth control. It’s just a matter of whether or not they know where or how to get it.”
In addition to Bebashi’s Gabbidon-Howell and Houston, event organizers included Prevention Education Assistant Supervisor Michael Melvin, Executive Director Sebrina Tate and former Bebashi communications specialist Jude-Anne Spencer-Phillip.