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New web series spotlights activism of queer youth of color

"Kikis with Louie" will offer frank conversations on sexual health and HIV prevention.

Kikis with LouieĀ features interviews with queer young people from six different cities across the country as well as celebrities creating groundbreaking visibility in sports and the arts. (PHOTO CREDIT: Kikis with Louie)
Kikis with LouieĀ features interviews with queer young people from six different cities across the country as well as celebrities creating groundbreaking visibility in sports and the arts. (PHOTO CREDIT: Kikis with Louie)

A revolutionary new webseries premiering Thursday will highlight the activism of queer youth of color and elevate honest conversations about sexual health, consent, and HIV.

Kikis with Louie features interviews with queer young people from six different cities across the country as well as celebrities creating groundbreaking visibility in sports and the arts.

A collaboration of Advocates for Youth, the CDC Foundation, and MAC Aids Fund, the video series is designed to normalize conversations around sexual health, self-image, and relationships that are typically stigmatized.

The goal in creating the series, director Lincoln Mondy told ThinkProgress, is “to make sure young people of color knew there was a space where they could come to ask questions and learn.” Sex education programs across the country are often heteronormative and sometimes even legally constrained in terms of what they can teach about LGBTQ people. The show is designed to create “a low pressure environment to learn and grow.”

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Host Louis Ortiz-Fonseca, who started his career as an HIV peer educator, creates a relaxed atmosphere for those conversations to take place and approached the project from a personal perspective. “I was a queer young brown man looking for any kind of direction in the 90s,” he told ThinkProgress. “There was very little representation and HIV was still at its peak.”

Such representation in the media is still a problem, and Ortiz-Fonseca hopes the series can compensate by showing young viewers guests who look like them and have similar experiences.

“It’s an important thing for people who don’t get to experience that in real life,” he said. “I can remember clearly that isolation I felt in looking for any kind of connection to get me through the next day of school.”

The first episode of Kikis with Louie, for instance, features trans actress Mj Rodriguez, star of the hit FX series Pose. In a discussion about the importance of shows like Pose that both feature queer actors of color and tell real stories about queer people of color, Rodriguez says she wants young people to feel “that they can actually have a space to feel like they can be anything they want to be”

Each video will include links to resources as well as action steps that viewers can take to engage with the content discussed in the episode. This week’s episode coincides with HIV Awareness Week and the launch of ECHO (Engaging Communities around HIV Organizing), a first-of-its-kind council for youth activists living with HIV. After watching Rodriguez discuss the AIDS crisis and trans erasure, viewers will find a link in the description to join with ECHO and pledge their support to eradicate stigma surrounding HIV.

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The series will also feature kikis with celebrities like queer musician Shamir, YouTuber Brendan Jordan, trans model Laith Ashley, and NBA player Reggie Bullock, whose transgender sister was murdered in 2014. Those episodes will be complemented with how-to guides on topics of sexual health (like how to insert an internal condom), relationships, and even personal safety, such as navigating interactions with the police.

The true highlight of the show, however, is the direct conversations with queer youth organizers from around the country. In each different city, Kikis with Louie highlights the work of local organizations serving queer youth of color, such as Philadelphia’s Galalei, Los Angeles’ REACH LA, New York City’s FIERCE, and Orlando’s The Dru Project, which was created in response to the Pulse nightclub shooting.

Ortiz-Fonseca explained that these conversations have shown him “young people are still looking for a platform to be heard and tell their stories.” The activists he interviewed for the series have an “unapologetic approach to telling their stories and claiming their space,” he said, and he hopes adults will see a model for how to more comfortably have conversations that can be awkward or challenging.

“I definitely left the last episode feeling more hopeful that the current climate we live in will not last — not because of adults, but because young people will not allow this to continue.”

Mondy was likewise impressed by the teenagers featured in the series. “We’re seeing people from the age of 14 talking about how they want their community to be known for more than just their struggles,” he said. “To see them thrive has been really incredible.”

The initial response to Kikis with Louie has likewise been very positive. Not only are young people clamoring for this kind of content after seeing the trailer, but early screenings have shown audiences are receptive to it.

New episodes will be released on YouTube every other Thursday through next September, and Mondy says they may decide to record a new season of episodes to continue the conversations. “If we don’t start incorporating all people into sex ed,” he said, “we’re going to continue losing folks and continue to have these high rates of suicidal ideation.”

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Ortiz-Fonseca, who was nervous about being in front of the camera, hopes the series shows young people the importance of documenting their own experiences. “You want to let people know that you are here!” he cheered. “Twenty years from now, LGBTQ youth will read about what’s going on from other LGBTQ youth, not adults who put a bow and ribbon on these stories.”