Photo by Josiah Mannion/Bible Name Photo
UPDATED: Woods organized Houston's vigil last night, to honor those murdered in an Orlando, Florida, LGBT nightclub this weekend.
Houston-based activist and blogger Ashton P. Woods is gay, atheist, HIV-positive and "unapologetically black." While none of these things completely define Woods, they highlight his multiple identities and, hopefully, remind others that being black is not monolithic. In Woods' view, justice must be intersectional and nowhere is this walk the talk more evident than his involvement in the Black Lives Matter movement. We caught up with the busy activist for some meaningful talk.
Where do you fall in the #blacklivesmatter movement and how does your involvement dovetail with your other advocacy work?
I fall into the movement as a leader in my own right. This is a movement that is leaderful…meaning we all lead with our individual talents and traits. We are all leaders and do not have one leader; it is a collective. As an individual activist, the movement for black lives is about a holistic approach to the decriminalization of blackness. This not just about police brutality, this is about total systemic change — change that improves lives through education about health, physical and mental, the education system, and recognition of the intersections of gender identity and sexual orientation in our black identity. One way I build on this movement to propel my own voice is via my blog, Strength In Numbers.
Why is HIV such an important piece of the platform? This movement has and always will be lead by women and queer-identified folks. These two groups are most affected by HIV and lack of access to sexual education, mental healthcare, and legal protections. The decriminalization of blackness means that we must also decriminalize HIV. We can see evidence that black and brown folks are disproportionately affected by HIV.
What's life been like since joining #BlackLivesMatter?
My experiences are always in flux. I feel as though I am always dealing with a wide range of emotions in every single moment that I live: shock, reflection, as well as constructing a positive and constructive way to respond. There are particulars, of course, including the homophobia and transphobia leveled toward my friends; and ever present are racism, sexism, and a host of other issues to overcome. I relish calling out folks in power when they aren't doing what they are supposed to be doing.
Your blog essay about your rape experience was very powerful. Did that experience impact your advocacy?
The rape has made me protective of LGBT homeless youth, for every other reason I mentioned. It is especially black and non-black people of color who are most at risk for homelessness, rape, and possibly HIV exposure. One of the bigger realizations is that it has helped me in checking my own male privilege when women are sharing their rape stories and helped me understand how to be supportive. There is nothing worse than being marginalized and trying to get someone to believe that you have had harm inflicted on our bodies. I hate injustice. Period.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
I see myself continuing the work and expanding on it. There is always work to be done as long as oppression is being taught. I see myself doing "the work" until the day I die. There is always more to learn and more to teach when it comes to making sure the rights of others are not being violated. Through it all I will be vigilant and unapologetic about my blackness, gayness, and all of my other otherness [Laughs].