Every Wednesday The CSPH highlights a Sexuality Professional you should keep your eye on. Their backgrounds are very diverse in order to bring attention to the wide variety of amazing people working in the field. This week we bring you Elicia Gonzalez!
1. What do you do in the field of sexuality?
I am the Executive Director of the Gay and Lesbian Latino AIDS Education Initiative (GALAEI) in Philadelphia. Since 1989, GALAEI has worked to improve the quality of life for Philadelphia’s Latino lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities, especially in the area of HIV/AIDS and other health-related issues, through education, prevention, care, and community collaboration.
2. Where are you based out of?
3. What is your focus? What do you do?
When I was 19, I realized that I wanted to be the next Dr. Ruth. I set out on a path to become a sex therapist and ultimately went to graduate school to obtain Masters degrees in Human Sexuality Education and Social Work. I said that I would never work in prevention or HIV. Now I work in the field of HIV prevention. Imagine that! When I entered this field, I vowed to “bring the sexy back” to HIV prevention. I utilize a sex-positive approach in my work and aim to help people recognize that sex is something to be celebrated, rather than something of which to be ashamed or afraid.
4. What are your particular goals and passions in the field?
My goal is to continue to lead a team of dedicated and hard-working individuals who have a commitment to improving the lives of LGBT communities of color. I hope to move away from the deficit-based, pathologizing, medicalized model of HIV-prevention and, instead, utilize a strengths-based, holistic, sex-positive approach in all aspects of our work.
Specifically, I hope to get our new project, Pleasure Rush, off the ground. Pleasure Rush was created to promote sex-positive sexuality education. Pleasure Rush focuses on reducing risk, creating communication, and building community through multi-media education and ongoing sex-positive events. It is LGBTQ-focused and works to build bridges across a diverse range of communities. It acknowledges the necessary connection between pleasure and health, and supports an understanding of sex and sexuality as healthy, natural, and an integral part of everyone’s life. Pleasure Rush is volunteer-run and funded by private individuals. Learn more about it at: http://pleasurerush.blogspot.com
5. Why did you choose to work in this field?
I got into this field to help dispel myths that exist about sexuality, particularly women’s sexuality. I feel that women are fed lies about our bodies and sexuality and, as a result, we have internalized feelings of shame and fear. We are bombarded with ads about “down there” being dirty and ugly. We are told repeatedly that we are too fat, too old, too flat-chested – just not enough. We are taught that we are the gatekeepers to sexual behavior (i.e. we have to be the responsible ones because “boys will be boys” and do not know how to be responsible) yet we are rarely given permission to enjoy sex or given knowledge about our bodies (very few sex ed classes talked about the clitoris). So, I initially got into this field to help empower women to value themselves and their bodies and to have a healthy and satisfying sex life. Today, that goal still holds true but it has expanded to help all people celebrate their sexuality.
6. Where did you go for school/training?
I completed a BA in Psychology from University of Colorado at Boulder and completed Masters in Social Work and Masters in Human Sexuality Education from Widener University in Chester, PA.
7. Do you have any literature out (websites, articles)?
No – I used to have a blog but haven’t updated it for a very long time: http://she-talk.blogspot.com/
8. What would you recommend to future professionals attempting to get into the field?
I would say to network network, network. This is a tough field and you are going to need people to lean on for support and guidance. We need to build a solid network of sexuality folks so that we can refer clients to one another and collaborate on different projects. It’s always “who you know” that get you by in this world.
9. What is the most challenging aspect for you working in this career?
For me, working in the HIV field has been challenging because it is so deficit-based. Providers often forget that HIV is often transmitted sexually – yet we are not comfortable talking about sex in any real way. Introducing the Pleasure Rush project has been met with mixed responses. Some people “get it” and praise us for being so bold; while other people condemn us and cannot understand why we are promoting sex. Being sex-positive in a sea of deficit-based HIV providers can be challenging.
10. One must read-what would you recommend? Why?
Ethical Slut. Although this book is designed for people who want to know about polyamory, it really can be used as a tool for enhancing any relationship. It deals with issues of trust, jealousy and communication – issues that all people deal with at some point or other, regardless if they are in a monogamous relationship. I also loved Jane Sexes It Up: True Confessions of Feminist Desire – it provided me with a framework from which I currently operate and I have sited the book quite often when talking about desire, masturbation, and media’s influence on female sexuality.