Moving the Needle 

Campaign for Southern Equality awards $5,000 grant to Nationz Foundation for efforts in HIV prevention and focus on transgender women of color

In 2016, people thought Zakia McKensey was crazy to quit her job and start one of Richmond’s first black and trans-led nonprofits. But in the past three years, the founder of Nationz Foundation has seen her mission to educate on HIV prevention and provide support to LGBTQ individuals make its mark.

And so has the Campaign for Southern Equality, which provided a $5,000 grant to Nationz Aug. 7. McKensey says the grant will go toward Nationz’s Aim to Inspire, a program designed to aid LGBTQ individuals experiencing housing instability.

Every year, 10% of CSE’s annual budget goes toward helping fund community and medical care organizations. When deliberating this year’s grant recipients, executive director and founder Jasmine Beach-Ferrara says Nationz was an immediate fit.

“They’re really on the leading edge of creative and effective ways to help LGBTQ southerners access the health care they need,” Beach-Ferrara says. “The work around the mobile HIV testing unit and food pantry? That’s the definition of meeting people where they are.”

She refers to the foundation’s program that provides HIV testing and food to lower-income communities in Richmond. To her, Nationz meets those intersectional needs that provide barriers to medical care.

The Report of the 2018 Southern Trans Health Focus Group Project states in the South — home to almost 35 percent of LGBTQ Americans — factors pertaining to living in rural communities and the lack of access to basic services contribute to negative health experiences.

Beach-Ferrara says it’s a major component for why CSE pushes for training and familiarizing more providers on the fundamentals of inclusive healthcare in southern states. There are underlying circumstances that lead to facing structural barriers, she says, which include living with poverty or in a state without Medicaid expansion.

“This is a part of the country where discrimination continues to be enshrined in the laws,” she explains, referencing HB142 in North Carolina, which bans local governments from implementing legal protections to LGBTQ individuals until 2020. “That shows up in healthcare settings as well, whether it be that a practitioner will tell someone they’re not going to treat them [because of religious beliefs] or no, you can’t get treated here.”

She remains hopeful because of organizations like Nationz, which she says is “moving the needle in the south” alongside other organizations and local doctors testing new ideas. She’s also seeing states launch their first ever LGBTQ community groups, pride festivals and support groups for LGBTQ students.

“There’s love in the community and CSE working closely with us and helping us build capacity and seeing us grow,” she says, noting that the initial grant years ago was $250. “It’s like, yes. Progress.”

This grant allows the foundation to continue providing programs that encourage healthier lifestyle practices and raising awareness on violence against trans women of color. But what it means for McKensey personally, is simple. “It means that ideas that I had weren’t crazy,” she says.


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