Let’s Kiki: Project seeks to lessen stereotypes, raise visibility of gay black men

Lorenzo Robertson, the manager of the Kiki Project. Right: Ederick Johnson is the coordinator of the project. He has a background as a church musician, which differs from previous coordinators. Photo courtesy The Pride Center.

It’s not a secret that African Americans in 2018 still face a particular scrutiny, oppression and racism that other minorities don’t see as often. Among black men it is particularly the case – whether police brutality, an uneven (to be kind) prison and judicial system, or simply the many institutionalized disadvantages – all are debilitating by their nature. But what if you add being gay to the mix?

The Pride Center at Equality Park has sought to address the issues faced by gay black men in a program it has run for about four years – The Kiki Project. Kiki is a word that developed out of black and Latino gay social culture. Put simply, it’s a time when friends get together to chit-chat.

We asked Lorenzo Robertson who manages the project with Jakari Roundtree (program specialist) and Ederick Johnson (project coordinator) about some of the issues gay black men face.


How did the Kiki Project come about?

From several conversations with the Florida Department of Health in Broward County. The Pride Center was approached to implement a program specifically for black gay men in Broward County. That was the catalyst. We wanted a program that would appeal to black, same-gender loving men, implemented by black, same-gender loving men.


What’s the project’s value?

It gives voice to many men that have felt voiceless in the past, through our community conversations and Kiki sessions. [It] provides a forum [and] safe space to be homosexual, black, vulnerable, HIV positive, HIV negative, effeminate, masculine, top, bottom, safe or raw. The value is [also] education on a variety of topics around HIV prevention in a non-threatening environment from people that look like the audience. Another value is that the community at large has an opportunity to see black, same-gender loving men who are unapologetically same-gender loving men.


Has it been easy to recruit participants?

It has never been a huge struggle to get men to host. When we initially started we partnered with the BrothasSpeak group – a network of black, same-gender loving men that meet weekly at the Pride Center. However, that source was exhausted within a few months. So, the recruitment effort to find hosts is ongoing and we are continuously reinventing ourselves to appeal to community members that we do not come in contact with frequently. [We] are always networking to assure that we are meeting new people and seeking hosts for our Kiki sessions and participants for our community conversations.


What are the issues and challenges for gay black men?

Black, same-gender loving men face a myriad of contradictions within the black community. We face the issues about being the angry black man when we voice opposing opinions; we are labeled lazy, criminals, and other negative stereotypes depicting black people – and black men, more importantly.

In the black community it is already determined that HIV is a gay disease, therefore we are destined to get it – or [it’s] God’s punishment for being gay. HIV is a disease, but the issues of racism are abundant toward men that are gay and black. We get the discrimination and disrespect from the gay community and from our own black community. Many black, same-gender loving men do not have adequate access to health care and/or are fearful of being outed from community members, both in the gay and black communities.

We face many concerns that we are a disgrace to our people because of our sexual orientation and doubly if we are HIV positive. Other challenges and issues are [that] we are a fetish for many white men and not [someone] they would want in a relationship – outside of sex in the wee hours of the morning away from their friends.

We also have the issue of internalized homophobia and self-hatred which impact our desire to seek treatment if we know our HIV status. But one of the greatest issues is living in a racist society that does not value black men or black people.

Another is one of acceptance in all areas of life, where we work, play, live and worship. Another challenge is that when people, including blacks, think about gay people, they think white. Black, same-gender loving men are not at the table and are not a part of the conversation when it comes to issues in the LGBTQ-plus community. It is as though we do not exist.


The project works with high school kids?

Our work within the school system, our Kiki Culture project for Adolescent Sexual Minority Males, has gone well – but the challenge has been gaining participation from that population because of transportation, and just the interest level of youth. However, for the ones that have participated, they have gained knowledge about HIV prevention, safer sex practices, and other valuable information about being black, same-gender loving men who live their lives authentically [and] openly. We have concluded work for this school term and we anticipate working with the Broward County Public Schools beginning this fall.


How does the project dovetail with the Get Your Life program?

[It] is a collaborative with Advocates for Youth out of D.C. The intervention is an adaptation of the Many Men, Many Voices intervention designed for black gay men to address social determinants surrounding being black and gay. The social determinants are religion, homophobia, internalized homophobia, racism, identity, acceptance, HIV, incarceration, poverty, institutional racism, systemic racism and violence that occur simply because you are a black man living in a racist society. We wanted there to be a great deal of dovetailing from the Kiki Project into Get Your Life, but the reverse has occurred on occasion.


For more, go to PrideCenterFlorida.org.

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