When Joval Valdivia joined Borinquen Medical Centers of Miami-Dade four months ago, he knew right away the first thing he wanted to implement in his role as an outreach specialist was a support group for transgender individuals.
“Transgender [people] are the most discriminated in the LGBTQ community,” said Valdivia, who is known throughout Miami and Fort Lauderdale for his fliers and promotions of clubs and events from South Beach to Wilton Manors. “After my friend, sister and mother in the scene, legendary trans woman Jackie Wilson, passed away, I was so hurt I knew I needed to do something to help this community that suffer from depression, suicide, drug use or get into abusive relationships.”
When other trans friends such as Paloma de Laurenti, Monica Cooper and Bianca Brinski — “the list goes on,” Valdivia says — died too soon, Valdivia made it his mission to make a difference in the trans community. So he started working at the Borinquen office at 100 NE 38th St. in November, referred by Angel Infiniti Camacho, who works the tests and treatment program at Borinquen. The trans support group launched in January. Meetings are held bi-weekly on Tuesday evenings.
“This is a cause that is near and dear to my heart,” Valdivia said. “I remember one of my best friends, entertainer Barbra Brice, lived here on South Beach. Not even drag could help her survive. She is a smart trans woman. No one would hire her at a regular daytime job, so she had to leave Miami and move in with her parents because the struggle in Miami was too much.”
Valdivia said support groups like this accomplish a lot for those who attend.
“We talk about substance abuse, discrimination, depression and other topics that the trans community deals with on a daily basis,” Valdivia said. “They learn something new in every group meeting. We create different topics every week.”
Transgender activist, author and actress Rajee Narinesingh was recently a guest speaker at one of the group meetings. Valdivia says he hopes to have more transgender members of the community attend and share stories of their journey, including Taina Norell, Aryah Lester and Morgan Mayfaire.
For now, Valdivia says the support group is trans focused because “there is not enough support out there for [transgenders].” He adds Borinquen also offers a recovery skills group on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2 p.m. and a Spanish version of that group on Fridays at 10 a.m. Valdivia says it is an open space for everyone.
“This group wouldn't be possible without Carmen Pineiro, program coordinator, and Waleska Perez, substance abuse counselor,” Valdivia said.
Pineiro runs the Substance Abuse Treatment Outpatient & Prevention Program (STOPP), which provides substance abuse treatment and services to LGBT individuals, minorities and others facing these issues.
Services include outreach; individual substance abuse counseling; groups counseling; early recovery skills; relapse prevention; family education; prevention and risk reduction education and counseling; HIV and Hepatitis testing, counseling and treatment; referral and linkage to residential treatment facilities; access and linkage to psychiatric services and specialty medical services; Ryan White case management; and additional community support services, such as housing and employment assistance.
For the last 10 years, STOPP has been successful in reducing substance use among African Americans and Hispanics and providing access to HIV care. With rising crystal meth use within the gay community and new HIV infections, Pineiro says STOPP maximizes its focus on engaging the LGBT community in efforts to increase awareness.
“Borinquen is committed to decreasing substance use and increasing healthier lifestyles in our Miami-Dade community,” Pineiro said. “This funding gives us the opportunity to offer more services, increase access to these services and to make a lasting, positive impact on our community.”
Pineiro said addiction “destroys all aspects of a person’s life, confiscating the mind and body and leading to loss of employment, financial instability, loss of family support and homelessness.” She added individuals who need treatment often have limited resources, don’t know where to turn to or ashamed to ask for help if it’s available.
“Experienced STOPP counselors provide an atmosphere conducive to recovery and assist clients throughout their personal recovery journeys,” Pineiro said. “If you know anyone who admits to using drugs or alcohol or has depression or anxiety and you believe they will benefit from speaking to a counselor, do not hesitate to refer them to STOPP.”
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 305-576-1599, ext. 3117.