“It gives us great pleasure to announce, ‘We got the keys!’”
This was posted on the Facebook page of Transforming HIV Resentment Into Victories Everlasting Support Services (THRIVE SS) on December 1, nearly a year after Daniel Driffin, Dwain Bridges and Larry Walker founded the 501c3 nonprofit organization.
Acquiring a house to serve as a temporary home for gay men living with HIV was one of the goals that motivated the trio to start the Atlanta-based organization.
“THRIVE House allows Black gay men living with HIV to worry about one less thing as they obtain their ultimate health equity,” Driffin told NBC Out. “When we think of housing, you have to think about HIV adherence. Many studies show that there is a direct relationship with housing and better health outcomes.”
Driffin describes the house as a cozy, two bedroom, one bath, single-family home located in the heart of East Point, Georgia, a city just southwest of Atlanta and easily accessible by public transportation. THRIVE House is expected to start accepting residents on January 15.
The co-founders of THRIVE SS wanted to make a lasting and noticeable change within the HIV landscape, according Driffin. Their greatest motivation was to assist Black men and other men of color living with HIV to achieve “health equity.”
“This equity can be in the form of viral suppression, linking to housing opportunities or mental health services. From working more than 30 years collectively, we have seen how all of these interactions can place someone at risk for not staying in care,” Driffin said. “The mission of the THRIVE SS is to help HIV-positive people to not only achieve viral suppression, but also to aid them in building a local network that is self-sustaining, uplifting and mutually beneficial.”
THRIVE SS's efforts to a create brick-and-mortar space and a welcoming atmosphere for LGBTQ people of color in the South are not isolated.
Daroneshia Duncan, a transgender woman of color, has been working since October 2016 to raise the funds needed to establish a resource center for transgender women of color in Birmingham, Alabama. The resource center will be called TAKE Resource Home, taking its name from the peer support group Duncan founded in April 2013 named TAKE (Transgender Advocates Knowledgeable Empowering).
Duncan expects the resource center will help trans women of color (TWOC) navigate the Greater Birmingham area and provide them with other personal and professional services.
“The goal is to connect TWOC with culturally competent service providers, job readiness training, GED prep, general and transition-related health information and re-entry programs for sex workers and trans people aging out of the Department of Human Services or the judicial system,” she told NBC Out via email. “There are LGBTQ+ centers here in Birmingham, but none are founded and lead by trans people of color. There are no specific places here that are only for TWOC.”
Duncan’s goal for TAKE Resource Home is to purchase a commercially zoned house with a kitchen, living space and community showers. The second phase of the TAKE house will include a shelter component, according to Duncan.
The Alabama chapter of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has worked closely with Duncan and TAKE. Tori Wolfe-Sisson, an HRC Alabama field organizer, told NBC Out in a statement that Alabama’s future depends on the work of TAKE.
“TAKE is unique, because it is the only organization in Alabama that is led by trans women of color,” Wolfe-Sisson said. “Daroneshia's work with TAKE is unique to the area, and its increased success does more to unify the LGBTQ community and spread awareness to alleviate the problems the trans community faces.”
But the work has not been easy, Duncan admits.
“The oppression we face as people of color is hard and then to add trans woman of color makes it more complicated,” she said. “The barriers we face as TWOC are greater than any other identity.”
Driffin of THRIVE SS notes that some of the barriers gay men of color living with HIV face are similar to the struggles of TWOC.
“I cannot count the number of times I hear young, Black, gay men living with HIV say, ‘Agency X turned me away because I couldn't pass a drug screening or a background check,’” he said, adding that some of these barriers are not disqualifiers on the federal level. “We truly see the house as our ‘opportunity house’ that will allow men of color living with HIV a chance.”
Stacey Long Simmons, director of Public Policy and Government Affairs at the National LGBTQ Task Force, admits there are very few brick-and-mortar spaces like THRIVE SS and –- hopefully –- the future TAKE Resource Home, which cater specifically to LGBTQ people of color.
“Funding for social services and safety net programs are limited across the board, and for LGBTQ of color, the disparities are even direr because of the persistent wealth gap that exists between white and non-white communities,” she said.
Simmons added that her own experiences as a black woman have revealed firsthand the inequities prevalent for communities of color.
“Everything from housing policies, public education and health care as well as job opportunities and career ascendance are not based on a colorblind society or level playing field,” she added.
Both THRIVE SS and TAKE are in the midst of aggressive fundraising for their efforts to level the playing field for LGBTQ people of color.
“Fundraising can always be more,” Driffin said. “We have a small group of supporters providing reoccurring donations, but we need many more to achieve what we want to accomplish with our housing program.”
“A small group of individuals giving upwards of $50 to $100 a month would truly be agents of change,” Driffin said. “This would further assist us with securing THRIVE House #2.”
As of mid-December, TAKE is more than $12,000 shy of their $15,000 fundraising goal. Duncan projects it will take them at least another year to reach this goal.