He moved to New York City and continued working an unfulfilling job in retail. Then, after languishing in late-capitalist malaise for a time, he did what most unsatisfied millenials can only dream of: He transitioned out of a dead-end service job and began pursuing queer activism full time. He was able to use his selling skills to gain entree into the non-profit fundraising world, for in welfare-state averse 21st cetury America even charity and philanthropy are a kind of selling
For three years he was a donation development coordinator at Housing Works, a healing community of people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS whose mission is to end the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS through relentless advocacy. The provision of lifesaving services, and entrepreneurial businesses that sustain their efforts. At Housing Work his proudest achievement was taking part in the successful effort to pass HASA for ALL. This law expands housing assistance and other government services to 7000+ HIV positive residents in New York City.
Antonio Lopez continues advocating for the LGBT community and doing work and research on HIV related issues. He’s also an MPA candidate at CUNY. I was able to speak with him recently and gain insight into his activism
As an activist, you emphasize the importance of changing policy to enable real change in the LGBT community. What kind of policy work did you do at Housing Works?
A big part of my job was going to Albany and doing direct advocacy to help spread the simple message about how important it is to fund and pass programs like HASA For All. It was so important to me to be physically close to decision makers and the actual halls of power. Our physically present queer bodies made us impossible to ignore.
Why are laws like this so important?
Before this you literally had to be dying to get affordable housing. So many people living with HIV were not taking their meds in order to qualify for housing assistance. I’m so glad we could expand equitable access to housing to a community that so desperately needs it.
In addition to this kind of brass tacks policy activism at Housing Works I know you were involved in connecting the fashion world with your organization. Tell me about that?
The experience that always stands out to me was being part of a project called The Vault. My coworker, Coco, had been collecting and organizing all of our high end and designer donations for years. So we had tons and tons of YSL, Chanel, and actual couture pieces. With that ‘vault’ of inventory we were able to throw a huge party and raise tons of money from the sale of the items. It was a huge success, and I’m proud to have been a part of it.
So, I know you recently moved on from Housing Works after 3 years there. Where are kind of non-profit work are you currently doing?
I’m a major gift officer for Carter Burden Network. We address issues facing aging issues in New York. We offer meal service and activities to people 60 and above. And we have an art gallery in Chelsea that represents artists 60 and above. Basically, we help established artists maintain and resurrect their careers in the digital age; Instagram, artsy.net, etc
So, are you able to directly work with LGBT elders at Carter Burden Network?
Unfortunately not directly. However, working with aging populations is allowing me to acquire key skills and experience that connect with my long term goals as a queer activist.
How are you connecting it?
Well, long term survivors of HIV are now coming into their 60s and 70s. There’s still a big knowledge gap regarding how the medications that people were given in the 80s before the development of the ‘cocktail’ affect health long term. There’s a little bit of research being done, but not enough. So, I want to be fluent with aging populations, so I can advocate for that. Also, from a cultural standpoint I want to be able to connect generations through storytelling so our queer history and knowledge is not lost.
Why do you feel this aspect of storytelling and connecting the generations is so important?
I think my main concern is how do we get the population who lived through the epidemic to tell their story so the story never repeats itself again. People younger than you and me are coming of age into a world with PrEP, which is a great tool, and without a real conception of the past tragedy. I want them to have access to the memories of the past, so they can take avoiding and ending HIV transmission very seriously
You’re also a masters of public administration candidate at CUNY. What kind of research and activism are you focusing on there?
I want to focus on helping New York pass safe injection centers, which will help push the needle to stopping HIV transmission in new York by 2020.
Why is this aspect of your advocacy so important?
The opioid crisis is huge. This is my way of making sure the LGBT community’s needs are seen and addressed as American society tackles this public health crisis.
These organizations can always, always use more help and assistance than they currently have. Taking that first, initial step of connecting with community is so important.
And obviously, not everyone can transition into activism full time like you have. What advice do you have for people who want to get involved?
I strongly encourage everyone to volunteer with a local LGBT organization in their area, even if it’s just for an hour a week. These organizations can always, always use more help and assistance than they currently have. Taking that first, initial step of connecting with community is so important.
Finally, how do you avoid the ever-present creep of activist burnout?
Honestly, it’s really difficult at times. There are so many deadly serious issues facing the LGBT community, and there’s so much work to be done. But then, I remind myself to sit back and enjoy something with levity and humor like RuPaul’s Drag Race. I love to see queer people being able to express queer joy and excitement on a highly rated TV show. It reminds me to continue fighting so that queer people can live happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives.
Nick Peña recently interviewed Antonio Lopez for Aptly. He lives in Austin, TX with his boyfriend Dakoda, he is passionate about fashion and design.