Mike returned to New Orleans more than five years after moving out of our Covenant House location there in 2015. It was during the COVID-19 pandemic so, as with everywhere else around the globe, the city was experiencing change, but not the type of change Mike had hoped to see.
Specifically, when we're talking about LGBT, Black, queer identities, I just wasn't seeing the representation that I thought I should be seeing, he said.
That’s when his idea for BLACK&GAY was formed, an organization Mike founded in Oregon that he calls “an aspiring nonprofit,” fiscally sponsored by another local nonprofit organization.
“Our mission is to create spaces where Black queer people can come and feel safe to create, and just be who they are,” said Mike. “I decided to create a space and through creating that space, gave a shout-out to Covenant House for them propelling me when I first went to New Orleans and I dealt with homelessness.”
During an interview at the founding of BLACK&GAY, he was asked about what prompted his desire to start the organization and he acknowledged the role Covenant House played because being there helped him when he was “down and out.”
I would say if it wasn't for Covenant House, God knows where I would be
Upon leaving our New Orleans campus around age 19, Mike was able to secure a job, as well as scholarships and grants to attend college in San Diego.
“I would say if it wasn't for Covenant House, God knows where I would be,” he said. That’s why a big part of the BLACK&GAY space is meant to mirror Covenant House, “a place where you can get free in-house education, free in-house health care; you're getting all of these things that are within this environment, and you don't really have to go out for it on your own.”
“[Covenant House makes] you go out and find a job or do what's important to you,” Mike recalled, “and that's what our goal is as well. But we're just focused on Black queer people. We want to create spaces where these people can come in, and then feel safe enough to go out and create as well.”
BLACK&GAY started as an art market in New Orleans.
Local creators would bring their work to sell. Over the course of only two months, the Instagram profile gained more than 16,000 followers, resulting in a tight-knit online community. That community moved over to a central communication hub on its own website, and to Discord, a voiceover and instant-messaging social platform where users communicate with voice calls, video calls, text messaging, and media-sharing as part of communities called "servers."
Mike then decided to convert the online space to a physical one “where people can just feel free and feel safe.”
The space is called an “eco-sanctuary,” which Mike describes as a spiritually-conscious, free, fun-loving environment. The 26-acre site, complete with gardens and farmlands, also boasts a media studio and a drag room where community members “can get dressed up, feel safe enough to be who they are and create and love,” Mike said.
The land hasn’t been purchased yet; Mike is still raising money, and the current owners are still there, but BLACK&GAY has been allowed to “basically take over the space. So it's a beautiful, symbiotic relationship that we have with the owners.”
Mike, who is originally from Texas but spent much of his youth in New Orleans, still considers himself “country.” He enjoys spending time farming out in the fields while working closely with his “city” counterparts who grew up in large metropolitan areas. Mike said he “believes that caring for each other includes caring for the earth.”
“I would say that it wasn't until I left New Orleans and started traveling… I went to India and I started traveling the world; I traveled for like four years, backpacking, and that's when I got introduced to a lot of this kind of stuff [farming, eco sanctuaries].”
The space features three farming plots and tiny homes. Mike says he welcomes "anyone who is a good person and wants to be in community with other good people."For now, members must be at least 18 years of age and current members tend to be males ages 26 to 45.
BLACK&GAY hosts events, workshops, and tours. But the ultimate goal is to buy the space and provide transitional housing.
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