Welcome to Moziac, a new wellness center for transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary people of color that offers classes, clothing, community, and HIV testing.
Ohio is the home to many historical “firsts” for communities of color and the LGBTQ community. That list just got a little longer with the opening of Mozaic, a new drop-in wellness center for transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary people of color, ages 13-29. Moziac is the first space of its kind in Ohio, and one of just a handful in the country.
Operated by Equitas Health, Mozaic’s goal is to reduce the rates of HIV and STIs among this population, which is known to be challenging to reach with traditional health services. “A transgender person of color is dealing with transphobia, they’re dealing with racism… they’re dealing with lots of different ‘isms’ within the world,” said Dwayne Steward, Director of Prevention at Equitas Health. “That makes it difficult in many situations to access health care.”
The lack of access to healthcare matters: transgender people are infected with HIV at disproportionately high rates. The Center for Disease Control, which provided the funding for Moziac, estimates that about 25 percent of transgender women are living with HIV.
That estimate more than doubles for Black and African American transgender women.
Many of Moziac’s staff members identify as transgender or gender non-conforming people of color themselves, and therefore can connect with clients on a personal level. “This space is created by us, run by us, to take care of us. So therefore us need to be the people that are staffing it,” Outreach Coordinator LuSter Singleton said.
While testing and HIV/STI prevention may be Moziac’s primary stated purpose, the center offers much more than healthcare, recognizing that a “free testing” sign might not be enough on its own to draw people inside. Instead, staff considered the how they could fill many needs for the community, with testing being part of that. “Every Tuesday we have Trans Resource Tuesday,” Singleton said, during which they set up a free thrift shop so that people who are transitioning can get gender-affirming clothes. Moziac will also offer classes, including yoga-mindfulness, cooking, and “Salsa Merengue Boot Camp Twerkout,” (rumored to be so funky, it’s drawn in passers-by off of the street), as well as name and gender-change clinics. There’s also a resource center with books, videos and laptops that visitors can use. And if folks want to just kick-back with members of their community, Moziac has a karaoke machine and an XBox.
“We can’t just go about it looking at HIV or looking at sexual health, because those issues are completely intersectioned to every other issue that trans people, people of color are facing,” Program Specialist Sarah Mamo said. “The need to serve transgender, gender non-conforming, gender non-binary people of color was brought forth to Equitas Health by a group of Black trans women, who non-coincidentally, are all activists in the city, and they’re activists because of the disparate forms of oppression and repression that they face.”
With that history, it’s no surprise that encouraging civic engagement and leadership is part of what Moziac aims to do. Young people will have opportunities to get involved as Peer Advocates or as members of the Youth Advisory Committee, providing their voices on the direction of Moziac’s programming. Staff also hope the resource center may be a starting point for future academic research on issues pertaining to the transgender community, as information is currently limited.
“We’re a very diverse community that is coming together around this program… We’re not just for Black or African-American people, we are for all people that identify, self-identify, and are seen by society as people of color.” — Cory Frederick, program manager.
The staff are careful to explain that Moziac is a space for everyone who wants to be part of it. “We’re a very diverse community that is coming together around this program… We’re not just for Black or African-American people, we are for all people that identify, self-identify, and are seen by society as people of color,” Program Manager Cory Frederick said. This includes partners, friends, and family members of Moziac’s target demographic.
Staff hope that people who visit Moziac will take something positive away, and help grow the community by returning with friends. Every new person who visits will have access to all that Moziac has to offer, including testing. “HIV could give a hoot; STI’s could give a hoot about who you are,” Singleton said. Only with knowledge, resources, and treatment can the infection rates turn around. We’re fortunate that Moziac is here to provide people in Columbus with all of the above.
Moziac, located at 2228 Summit St., offers free HIV testing every weekday. Please visit mozaicohio.org for a full calendar and for more information.