Pride Month continued in the Bronx on June 17 when the community joined together for the annual Bronx LGBT Expo, which brought attention to a wide range of LGBTQ issues, from HIV/AIDS to substance use and mental health.
The borough-wide expo, held at 2134 Barnes Avenue in the Bronx, followed the death of Bronx LGBT Expo and White Shirt Project founder Jose Ramon, who passed away earlier this year after a battle with ALS. His long-time best friend, Connie Pacheco, was tapped to continue the advocate’s work through the Bronx LGBT Expo, and this year’s event helped raise awareness about that cause.
Pacheco, who donned a rainbow jumpsuit and colorful eyeliner, organized this year’s event and said she is honored to keep Ramon’s mission alive.
“I’m doing this in memory and tribute to his life and legacy and to the work that he did,” Pacheco told Gay City News. “I loved Joey. Who didn’t love Joey? He took people from different walks of life, different socio-economic backgrounds, different involvements within the community, and created a whole family of individuals.”
Dozens upon dozens of Bronx residents, including several community agencies and queer businesses, were in attendance during the evening portion of a two-part LGBT Expo that started in the afternoon. The event space was transformed within minutes from a stage for panelists to a dance floor and a ballroom runway. The event was hosted by HIV/AIDS advocate Jomil Luna of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and legendary “comedy queen” Harmonica Sunbeam.
Ramon started the Bronx LGBT Expo in 2019 following the White Shirt Project, which called attention to mental health issues and stigma. The Bronx LGBT Expo helps connect LGBTQ individuals to community organizations and provides them a safe space to gather during Pride Month. However, Pacheco had said Bronx LGBTQ residents are not always in the know about the local resources for mental health.
Sean Coleman, the founder and executive director of the Bronx LGBTQ center Destination Tomorrow, which sponsored the event space, said LGBTQ individuals are still struggling to access mental health services because of the pandemic.
“Mental health is not prioritized within Black and Brown communities, and COVID exacerbated that problem,” Coleman said. “We need more mental health providers that understand transgender, gender-non-conforming, and non-binary folk.”
Tenecia Williams, a 38-year-old transgender man of the Bronx who attended the Bronx LGBT Expo, knows this issue all too well. Since the pandemic started, he has faced several backlogged mental health clinics.
“I started my transition and needed therapy for that, and the process was extremely excruciating to even connect with anyone,” he said. “It was a lot of back and forth phone tag. I know it’s not deliberate. It’s just an overwhelming sea of a need for mental health right now, and it’s not a lot of hands-on.”
Even as he made efforts to connect to care, barriers stood in the way.
“It took me two to three months to find the right mental health assistance for me,” he said. “Due to the pandemic, not going in-person, the Zoom, the Wifi messing up, the phone calls back and forth, the cry for more help, and the understaffing.”
Despite these challenges, Williams said coming to the Bronx LGBT Expo gave him hope.
“I felt connected, and I felt a source of family…it’s a beautiful thing when you know you’re not alone,” Williams said. “We got together to do this — there are so many things in the future. Let me press forward — I have something to look forward to.”
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