By Michelle Zipkin
Philly’s QTBIPOC radical social justice organization GALAEI has undergone some personnel, program and mission changes. The organization recently welcomed Ashley L. Coleman as permanent executive director and longtime volunteer Olga Ramos as the newest member of the board of directors.
“I knew a strong person with marginalized intersectional identities was needed to best support galaei,” Operations Manager Mikah Thomas said in a press release. “Someone deeply rooted in striving to break down barriers for QTBIPOC, who would continue fighting for our community both behind the scenes and on the frontline.”
Coleman’s excitement mirrors that of GALAEI staff members.
“I am in month three here at GALAEI, and it has been one of the best experiences of my life,” she said. “I am so proud of this incredible staff and all the hard work they’ve been doing. Since the moment I got here they’ve been running at breakneck speed, and they just don’t stop.”
Ramos joined the board around the time that Coleman began her new position. “It’s exciting to have someone that was there in the beginning and really knows what the foundation was of GALAEI,” Coleman said.
The GALAEI team is planning a virtual reintroduction day on Saturday, May 15 consisting of a day of workshops via Zoom, with more info coming soon. They plan to reopen their doors to the public the following Monday, May 17. “We have workshops that will be covering all of our programs, and then we have specific workshops that each individual [program] we’ll be doing in partnership with [the biopharmaceutical company] Gilead,” Thomas said.
GALAEI’s new programs are Prioritizing Our People (POP), Student Power Leadership and Activism Together (SPLAT) and Transgender Intersex Nonbinary Gender-nonconforming Services (TINGS), which is a new iteration of Trans Equity Project. At this point, all programs are a mix of virtual and in-person based on individual comfort level and vaccination status.
“I’m most excited about our new initiatives because throughout the pandemic we’ve had to navigate so much change,” SPLAT Program Lead Corem Coreano said in an email. “We’ve dealt with social separation from our community and the thing I’m most excited about is being able to safely hold space for folks in our community again. Galaei has truly shown it’s resilience.”
The GALAEI leadership team takes a collaborative approach to their work.
“Everything we do, we talk about,” Coleman said. “It takes a little bit longer, but that’s Okay. It’s absolutely worth it to have everyone’s voices in the space and make sure we’re really taking care of each other and the community.”
STI/HIV screening and queer sex education are the two main components of the POP program, said POP Program Lead Jorian Veintidos Rivera. He also plans to roll out four workshops: “We are Living,” where QTBIPOC will discuss the truths about living with HIV; “Riding the Elephant,” which will manifest in typically off-limits conversations in safe spaces; “Raw Talk,” which consists of “talking about the birds and the bees at the dinner table – what does penetration look like in same-sex couples, HIV and non-HIV people having sex together,” Rivera said; and a breakdown of what is involved in HIV testing called “B.A.G.”
SPLAT, formerly known as Supporting Our Youth, rides on the same mission of sexual health education for youth ages 14-24. This manifests in healthy sexuality classes with the local partner school El Centro De Estudiantes, one-on-one youth coaching sessions and art and music as means of healing.
“Through the transition, I’m really trying to integrate the arts through a trauma-informed lens at GALAEI,” Coreano said. “I think it’s important especially after this whole pandemic — I think COVID hit a lot of youth, everyone. I just believe through art and music people have the power to heal and live better lives through that.”
GALAEI also recently partnered with Students Run Philly Style, an organization that “transforms students’ lives through running and mentorship,” by participating in its LGBTQ-centric OUTpace program. “They want to highlight QTBIPOC organizations in Philly and create a safe space for queer youth to engage in running activies,” Coreano added.
The TINGS program serves as a one-stop shop for trans, intersex, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming folks, providing one-on-one and group coaching; needle exchange; an essentials closest that staff hope to stock more with newer items than used; trans competency training for external organizations and schools; and community town halls.
It’s tough questions, responsible answers, said TINGS Program Lead Valentina Rosario. “We’re pulling in community members and holding them accountable for things that are going on in the community. For example, the bar scene — how can we be more inclusive of QTBIPOC individuals, creating a less violent space for [them].”
Rosario also spoke of Tea and Roses, GALAEI’s annual recognition of trans folks who are still alive. “We give 12 beautiful individuals their roses and acknowledge them in their everyday life,” she said. “As a trans person, just walking outside your door is a form of advocacy, is a form of resilience.”
Another part of the GALAEI team’s organizational makeover is the expansion of their mission to embrace all of their queer and trans BIPOC Philadelphia community members.
“We are not letting go of our Latinx history,” Coleman said. “Instead we are extending to all of the folks of color. For all of us in this generation, we’ve really come to realize that white supremacy is the reason why our movement has been segregated. It is important that we come together and strengthen each other so we can move forward and make active change.”
As part of efforts to provide vaccines to QTBIPOC Philadelphians, GALAEI will be part of the Office of LGBT Affairs’ plans to host vaccination clinics by holding its own pop-up vaccination site. Coleman and the GALAEI program leads have already been vaccinated, so they hope to assuage community members’ reservations about getting the vaccine.
“We had trepidations, we talked about it as a team,” Coleman said. “We want to be a resource to folks who might be scared and be able to have that one-on-one conversation and say, ‘I went through it.’ I think it’s really special for us to be able to hold each other in community and make sure that we’re taking care of our people because that’s what we’re here for. We’re QTBIPOC for QTBIPOC.”