That name came from a very personal place because I was a client that was diagnosed with HIV at a very young age,” says Jorian Rivera Beintidos, who heads up the POP program at galaei, the Philly organization that is run by and for folks who are “Queer and Trans, Black, Indigenous and People of Color,” according to its mission.
Rivera Beintidos found that when he attended conferences or other HIV-related events that he felt like he was just a number. Now, as a program lead at a radical social justice organization, he can make other folks feel more valued than he did.
“We have to prioritize the people that come into our space, instead of making them feel a target. Our number one job is to take care of them. They are our number one priority when they come into the space and also when they’re not in the space – they’re our community, our brothers, our sisters,” he says.
Founded in 1989 by David Acosta, who also served as executive director for a decade, galaei was first built for gay and lesbian AIDS activism and education for the Latin community. Despite cultural stigma and battles for funding, it has survived and expanded over the decades, widening its focus as a queer Latin@ social justice organization.
Now, under the leadership of a new executive director, Ashley Coleman, the organization enters a new phase, complete with a new location. Coleman says galaei “must be consistently evolving and growing to further meet the needs of the community.” She says that the “uptick in much-needed protest” in the last few years demonstrates the severity of what people are facing.
Being a trans folk automatically makes you an activist, even if you don’t call yourself that. Waking up in the morning, walking outside your door – as a trans person – it’s advocacy, it’s resilience. It’s powerful.
The crew at galaei has spent most of the pandemic in strategic planning to rise to the occasion. “These folks have been doing this work since they were actual children,” says Coleman of her squad of program leaders.
“They have been working so hard. To get to work with these folks – our people – is the greatest gift of my life.
“We decided to create three main pillars of the organization: Queer educational services, healing historical harm and community wellness,” she says, adding that they’ll “do major community assessments at the end of the year to see what we need to add or tweak.”
One example of the programs is the aforementioned POP, which focus on HIV and STI testing, HIV medications, PreP care, queer sexuality education, and even COVID vaccines.
“We are trying to set a mission where we lead with no myths, no stereotypes, no race war, nothing. HIV is a virus that we are combating; we are trying to fight an epidemic,” says Rivera Beintidos.
He is joined on the team of young program leaders by Corem Coreano. He is head of the youth program, delightfully named SPLAT, which stands for Student Power Leadership Activism Together.
“We cover anything around sexual health education. A lot of the time I’m doing healthy sexuality workshops in schools,” says Coreano. His program also works on mentorship, helping kids finish school, getting physical activity and even art and music, with an aim to heal from trauma. He adds, “I’m a creative. I’m an artist. I found a lot of my own personal healing through art, so I definitely want to enable and uplift other folks through art as well.”
We are trying to set a mission where we lead with no myths, no stereotypes, no race war, nothing.
Valentina Rosario Jesus leads up the TINGS program, a “first stop hub” for Transgender, Intersex, Non-Binary, and Gender non-conforming Services. In addition to being an acronym for the population she serves, Rosario Jesus points out that “TINGS also a slang word in the Caribbean for ‘beautiful woman.’”
The TINGS program provides a variety of assistance, everything from helping find a trans-friendly dentist, learning makeup skills, even college prep and paid internships.
“Our life skills building is tailored to trans folks and the things they are looking for and need to live whatever they feel their best life is,” she says.
One of Rosario Jesus’ tasks is working with organizations and businesses to gather new items for their Essentials Closet, a collection of clothing, shoes and other necessities.
“Our folks deserve new items,” says Coleman, adding “it is really our mission to make sure we’re ethically buying things – that we’re buying QTBIPOC if at all possible.”
TINGS also conducts educational training for companies and schools to teach trans competency and “basic human decency,” runs an initiative of community support and accountability, and a campaign called Tea & Roses, which celebrates the lives of trans people.
“We have grown accustomed to always mourning the loss of trans folks and never highlighting their lives,” says Rosario Jesus, “being a trans folk automatically makes you an activist, even if you don’t call yourself that. Waking up in the morning, walking outside your door – as a trans person – it’s advocacy, it’s resilience. It’s powerful.”
The walls of the new galaei space are covered with portraits of such community members.
“When you walk into galaei, you actually see yourself,” says Coleman, “You know the people on our walls. You’re home. You’re welcome here.”
To reintroduce galaei to the community, an all-day virtual event is being held Saturday, May 15, according to operations manager Mikah Thomas, who says it’ll feature workshops, meet and greets, and the debut of their brand spanking new website, social media and scheduling app.
“It’s about what we are doing and what we plan to do,” Thomas says.
“We’ve been prioritizing our people.”