February 17, 2021
In honor of Black History Month, we spoke to Ashley Innes, Resource Center Board member and Regional Director for HIV Community Operations at Gilead Sciences, Inc. to hear about her influences in the Black LGBTQIA+ community.
Ashley, what does Black History Month mean to you as someone who is Black and identifies as LGBTQIA+?
“Black History Month means acknowledging all the contributions that Black people have made to this country and the world as a whole. It’s recognizing that Black History is history, period. There is literally no America without us and that makes me humbled, proud, and angry at the same time. Angry at the legacy of slavery that built this country, yet humbled and proud of the resilience and greatness of my ancestors. And being LGBTQIA+ adds an extra layer of struggle and pride. Black queer people were at the forefront of the civil rights movement and the gay rights movement because we had to be. As some of the most historically de-valued communities, we have created a legacy of fighting for social justice and creating spaces for ourselves and everyone around us to thrive.
Black History month also means acknowledging how much Black people shaped and continue to shape pop culture. Black culture is pop culture, Black queer culture is pop culture, and I feel privileged to be who I am and continue the work of all those who came before me.”
Who are some Black LGBTQIA+ people who have influenced or inspired you?
“I am inspired by all of the Black LGBTQIA+ people in Dallas who chose public service. Those who do the work every day to improve the lives of our community. And more specifically I am deeply influenced by powerful people like Janelle Monae, James Baldwin, and Audre Lorde.”
How did they influence you or what was their impact on you?
“Whether through providing affirming healthcare services, advocacy work, or providing a safe place for folks to be themselves, everything they do matters. It helps improve someone’s life in some way and that is so important. I am inspired by their love and commitment to our community. It keeps me going every day.
The individuals I named specifically have impacted me by being their authentic selves and never being afraid to use their platform to speak the truth, even if it makes people uncomfortable. The discomfort is how we grow. It’s a whole vibe that I am so in tune with. And as I continue to live my life I am motivated to always show up as every part of myself. I’m inspired to be authentic and use my voice to hopefully inspire and influence others.”
Finally, how would you encourage others to celebrate Black History Month?
“I encourage Black people to celebrate all that they are. Your existence is Black history in motion and you should be proud of that. Celebrate your joy and keep finding it. We are amazing, inspiring, beautiful people. Black history and culture are history and culture.
I encourage everyone to learn the history of the world so they can understand how much impact Black people have had on every aspect of society as we know it. Learn the truth about America’s history and present, and teach your friends, families, and children that truth. And lastly, actively work to dismantle white supremacy and create an anti-racist society. The day we achieve that will be the biggest celebration of all.”