Jalenzski Brown, center, with James Lester, left, and J.P. Cano at the recent grand opening of the new space for the empowerment programs.

Tammye Nash | Managing Editor

A new location housing three Resource Center programs for young LGBTQ people is creating a “space for empowerment” and has already “done great things for race relations” among the their various target groups, according to Jalenzski Brown, empowerment programs manager for Resource Center. Other staff include Lava Brown and Devin Hulsey.

Because United Black Ellument, Fuse and Gender Brave, each designed to serve a different segment of the LGBTQ youth population, were all looking for new homes at the same time, Brown said, they decided to find one space large enough to accommodate all three.

UBE is for black gay and bisexual men ages 18-29, while Fuse serves gay and bisexual men ages 18-29 of all races. GenderBrave is for transgender and gender-non-conforming individuals ages 18-29. While each group needed it’s own space, Brown said, the new location — at 2600 North Stemmons Freeway near the AIN offices — is large enough to give each program its own separate private space, while at the same time providing shared spaces that are letting the different groups interact in positive new ways.

“This new space has multiple rooms, allowing us to cater to different segments of each of the three demographics we serve,” Brown said. “For instance, on a UBE night, we might have folks watching RuPaul’s Drag Race in one room, a book club meeting in another room and a resume writing workshop going on in a third room.

“At the same time, we have common spaces that all the programs can use, and that means that we are able to bring people together in a magical way,” he said.

In addition to the private spaces set aside for each of the three programs, the new space includes multiple shows, a laundry room, a snack room, internet service, TVs, a game room and access to computers and printers.

“A lot of the participants in our programs are transient, so having access to things like showers and a place to do laundry or access the internet is vital to them,” Brown said.

Brown explained that Gender Brave is “an extension” of the Fuse program, created as a separate sub-program in 2017 when it became clear that it was “no longer appropriate to combine trans programming with programming for men who have sex with men.”

There is, he said, “a lot of transphobia in the gay community,” which is one reason it was important to provide a separate and safe space for young trans people.

Each program, Brown continued, serves a distinct demographic. And these distinct demographics have their own cultures. It is important, he added, for group members to have those private safe spaces where they can find support and understanding from others who share their culture.

But at the same time, having the common spaces for all three programs “has given us a lot of opportunities for cultural cross-pollination and for these young people to find additional peer support,” he added. That cultural cross-pollination, he said, is what is creating more understanding and less tension between races and more.

Aiming for prevention
The underlying goal for all three programs — UBE, Fuse and Gender Brave — is HIV prevention, Brown said, noting that CDC research has shown the effectiveness of empowering individuals in lowering HIV transmission rates in gay and bisexual men ages 18-29. Fuse and UBE use the MPowerment model, a CDC approved, evidence-based HIV prevention intervention developed by the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of California at San Francisco. Program coordinators have adapted that program for the trans youth demographic.

Each of the programs has a core group of leaders who work with Resource Center staffers — Jalenzski Brown, Tres Brown and Dylan Shurts — to customize and implement the programming. And all of it, Brown said, has an HIV prevention component.

“We have information and resources related to testing, PrEP, condoms and more,” Brown said. “There is information posted through-out the space, and we have safer sex ‘shops’ set up around the space where they can get condoms and things. We offer HIV testing regularly and help connect people with treatment or PrEP.

“That is the real goal here, to connect them with the resources they need and to provide them with a welcoming space for empowerment with good energy that can be their second home.”

United Black Ellument meets Tuesdays-Fridays, from 3-9 p.m. Fuse is open Mondays from 4-10 p.m. and Tuesdays-Fridays 3-10 p.m. Gender Brave meets Mondays from 6-9 p.m.