In the wake of the Pulse shooting in 2016, five individuals gathered at the Hispanic Federation with a box of Publix fried chicken to discuss how to move forward from an unforgettable tragedy.
They would go on to form QLatinx, a group focused on the advancement of the LGBTQ+ Latinx community.
Gabriella Rodríguez, Interim Executive Director, said that QLatinx was created as a healing space after other interest groups were making decisions on the Latinx community’s healing process. She said they wanted to create a space for Latinxs, by Latinxs.
“I’ve talked to so many individuals and survivors – at the end of the day they are the ones that have paved the way for us to be where we’re at, and we’re paving the way for someone else to be in our spaces,” Rodríguez said, “maybe it’s just a little chip off the larger block, but I think we have power.”
Over the past five years, they have expanded to include six different departments including Community Cocina, social justice, climate and healing justice, immigrant justice and HIV justice – the group’s leading program.
The HIV justice program is headed by Carlos X. Díaz Rodríguez, a community organizer and local artist. Rodríguez got involved with QLatinx after his cousin was shot in the Pulse shooting.
“The organization was actually really embracive, and they helped me a lot and provided a safe space when I needed it at the beginning,” Rodríguez said.
Rodríguez began at QLatinx as an HIV tester five years ago and worked his way up to lead the HIV initiative three years ago.
The initiative is dedicated to fighting against the HIV epidemic in the Latinx community, but the group has opened its doors to everyone in the Central Florida community.
“Something that I always tell people about Latinxs is we really welcome everybody, because this is a learning journey. Yeah, we focus on queer, trans, non-gender or non-binary, but our members are from the whole spectrum of gender,” Rodríguez said. “We’ve been able to find a middle point where everybody is actually sharing the space and understanding each other – creating a conversation between each other, which is so important.”
The biggest challenge the organization faces is education and unlearning ideas that stigmatize sexual health, Díaz Rodríguez says.
“The stigma that we live within our own community is reflected in every single aspect of life. When it comes to HIV awareness, talking about sex in our community is always a challenge,” Rodríguez said.
According to a report released by the CDC, Florida leads the nation in new HIV diagnoses with 4,378 cases.
QLatinx began a year-long contract with the Department of Health in July to receive zip code data on HIV trends, and they’re hoping to fill the gaps of communities with higher rates.
Rodríguez said that’s not to say that the organization hasn’t faced its own challenges with reaching the community.
They try to have engaging activities like concert raffles that’ll motivate the community to get tested, but she said that the most important thing is to make sure that those seeking information on HIV feel comfortable. She said this is why there tends to be overlaps between the programs.
“We’re taking on a holistic approach, where we see an individual who may have other needs. You can’t just force people to go into a room and get tested and then like divulge all their sexual information. It doesn’t work like that,” Rodríguez said.
Ultimately, Díaz Rodríguez said it all goes to back to accessibility. He said QLatinx is trying to level the playing field.
“It’s all about access. When discussing any disease, rates can be linked to access to healthcare and disparities. It’s not a secret that white folks have more access to health care and money” Díaz Rodríguez said. “We still have a lot of work to do.”