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 Nicole Lopez!
1. What do you do in the field of sexuality?
Currently I work at an organization in Philadelphia called GALAEI which stands for the Gay and Lesbian Latino Aids Education Initiative. GALAEI is a non-profit organization devoted to creating an awareness of the issues that affect Philadelphia’s Latino lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities. GALAEI’s work focuses on improving the quality of life for all Latinos and LGBT people, especially in the area of HIV/AIDS and other health-related issues and seeks to demand accountability from all systems that serve them through prevention, education, care, and community collaboration. At GALAEI I serve as the MPACT Youth Coordinator providing sexual health counseling for youth ages 13-24 and serve as the OUTLET Project Coordinator which is a multi- tiered project that seeks to unite, empower and address the needs specifically for LGBTQ Latino youth in Philadelphia.
2. Where are you based out of?
3. What is your focus? What do you do?
While my specific job description states that I primarily do “counseling” I always cringe a little when I hear that word. I think it creates an assumption that young people have something “wrong” with them and they need to fix it. Which in the encounters with the youth I work with is the complete opposite. Rather, I like to say I am here to offer support and coaching when asked. Too many times are youth disproportionately overlooked, and stripped of their agency when it comes to their sexual health. The young people I work with daily have a diverse breadth of life experience and I like to consider that the work we do together is figuring out how to channel their experiences, their knowledge and their emotions into decision making that leads to the healthy life for them. As they see fit for themselves. We do so by one on one sessions, group activities and discussions, and creative art projects.
4. What are your particular goals and passions in the field?
That’s a tough question to ask- as there are fifty million things I would like to do ☺
Simple answer is, completing my ph.d-eventually. And writing that best-selling book-eventually ☺ But ultimately continuing to work in avenues that make me happy, and whole.
5. Why did you choose to work in this field?
I don’t think it was a major conscious decision to work in this field but just came naturally. I’ve always viewed my life, and my work as constantly intersecting. I involved myself in work while in college that centered around issues of race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality. This carried over into my professional life. I constantly see the examples of which the decisions of which a young queer person makes about their sexual health, is directly informed by race, class and other parts of their identity- and vice versa. I chose specifically this organization because it was one that takes into account all of the intersections that makes a person who they are and from there seeks to provide a space that is encompassing of all.
6. Where did you go for school/training?
Bryn Mawr College
7. Do you have any literature out (websites, articles)?
Currently no, but I am attempting to take a stab at online blogging.
8. What would you recommend to future professionals attempting to get into the field?
I think there’s a misunderstanding that you won’t find work in the field of sexuality, or that there is only one time of work available in the field of sexuality- I think folks will be surprised at the number of opportunities available, and how diverse that work really is. Keep an open mind, challenge yourself, be creative.
9. What is the most challenging aspect for you working in this career?
Staying true in taking time out for yourself, and truly practicing self- care. Doing any type of social work can be exhausting, can leave you burnt out- because there is the notion that one wants to give all they can all the time. It’s ok to press the pause button to breathe. Also, in this type of work you learn to measure one’s idea of success differently. In my case it came at evaluating for myself that perhaps maybe that young person hasn’t completed all of the goals they wanted to accomplish, however the very act alone of them coming up with goals for a healthier life is a success in it of itself.
10. One must read-what would you recommend? Why?
Borderlands by Gloria Anzaldua- What words are left to describe this phenomenal writer that hasn’t already been said. Her writing, her work, her life consistently showcases and reflects what it means to live in the intersections. To consistently examine one’s life in the lenses that make us who we are; brown, immigrant, poor, woman, queer.