"I want queer Black people in San Diego, and around the world, to one day know that San Diego has a space where you can go and get what you need. I came here lost and had to search high and low to find my space. I do not want anyone else to have to go through that. There is no reason anyone should ever feel alone or like they are an outsider"
Ronald Epps is vice president of the San Diego Black LGBTQ Coalition, a nonprofit serving as a refuge for the Black LGBTQ community in San Diego by providing access to resources and services, organizing mixers and other events for connection between members, and financial assistance through scholarships and a Black Trans Emergency Fund
BY LISA DEADERICK JULY 17, 2021 6 AM PT
For Ronald Epps, the decision to join the San Diego Black LGBTQ Coalition was one that aligned with part of the organization’s purpose: to be a refuge for anyone whose intersecting identities included Black and LGBTQ.
“I joined the coalition because I was having a hard time finding a safe space for myself here in San Diego. I have always been in search of finding my tribe, my people,” he says. “I also have worked in nonprofits all of my career, so once I learned of the coalition and the great work it does, I saw so much potential, and I wanted to be of use.”
The organization “was founded in 2015 to strengthen the Black LGBTQ community in San Diego,” according to its website. Their work includes connecting members to resources and services, social mixers and events, and financial assistance that allows the community to connect with each other and to thrive. There’s a working list of social organizations, mental health specialists, and other resources for members to access, along with their Black Trans Emergency Fund, which supports access to emergency housing, food, clothing, transportation, and securing necessary medications. As a result of its ongoing community work, the coalition was recently recognized by San Diego Pride with the Stonewall Service Award.
Epps, 28, serves as vice president of the coalition’s cabinet and lives in Normal Heights. He took some time to talk about the work of the organization, why having a dedicated and safe space for the Black LGBTQ community in San Diego is important, and his commitment to make sure that all Black LGBTQ people feel loved and seen in their community. Q: Can you talk a bit about having a dedicated organization and space specifically for Black people in the LGBTQ community? What kind of difference does it make to have this kind of dedicated space? A: Having a space that is run by Black people and for Black people is so critical to feeling like you belong, especially in a city like San Diego, where a lot of people who live here didn’t grow up here. In most organizations, there may be one or two people of color, and even fewer who are both of color and identify as LGBTQ. Those individuals are then tasked with speaking for everyone in their community. That is a huge and diverse group of people to be responsible with speaking for. Our organization includes many Black queer people who identify and experience life in different ways. That gives us a unique advantage to connect with and understand our constituents and our community. We don’t have to constantly defend our point of view or remind people to be inclusive or diverse because we already are.
Q: What kind of effect has the coalition and its work had on you, personally? A: The coalition has reminded me that I am not alone, and they validate my emotions and my feelings. I am surrounded by people who have gone through something very similar. Growing up, I had no LGBTQ, Black male friends. Now, I have the chance to make a difference, even if it is small, and be surrounded by people who share my values. I feel very lucky to have found the coalition. Q: In your statement on the coalition’s web page for cabinet members, you say, “I want my Black LGBTQ family to feel loved and seen within our community!” What does that look like for you, in practice? To feel loved and seen with the community? A: Our community is often forgotten about, or we are tokenized and used as props to illustrate diversity. I want queer Black people in San Diego, and around the world, to one day know that San Diego has a space where you can go and get what you need. I came here lost and had to search high and low to find my space. I do not want anyone else to have to go through that. There is no reason anyone should ever feel alone or like they are an outsider. San Diego is such a beautiful city and, many times, Black queer people arrive and then leave because they did not feel like they had a place here. What I love about Normal Heights ...
Normal Heights is the perfect mixture of quaint and lively that I love. I can sleep peacefully and be surrounded by great neighbors, and then I can walk to Adams Avenue and see a busy street and the bustling of a small city any time of day.
Q: What does it mean to the San Diego Black LGBTQ Coalition to be recognized by San Diego Pride this year, with the Stonewall Service Award? A: The award recognizes those who have contributed significantly to the LGBTQ community, and a person or organization has to be nominated by the community. We are honored to be receiving such recognition within our own community. We have worked really hard to get to where we are today, and the award shows us that people respect us as a relatively new organization. Sometimes, when you are in the trenches doing this work, it is hard to see if you have made an impact and if people trust you. Being recognized validates us while also telling us that we have much more to do.
Q: There’s been some significant social movement taking place over the past year. When you think about Pride this year, what comes to mind for you? A: Pride for me this year just means life! It means freedom to just be out and to be seen. My people are murdered every day, so I live for them and I celebrate for them. I want to honor the lives of the members of my community who so unjustly lost their lives or who live in fear. I pray for them and I have wept for them, and I will stand up for them and make sure that we do not always live in a world of fear.
Q: What do you think is important to know/understand, for people who want to support the Black LGBTQ community in San Diego? A: It is important to understand that our community is diverse and complex. We live in many intersections. Some people — and many of those in the overall LGBTQ community — don’t believe in Black Lives Matter. To support us, you have to believe in supporting our intersecting identities as queer Black people.
Q: What’s been challenging about your work with the San Diego Black LGBTQ Coalition? A: As a new organization, we have zero staff. We rely on the availability and capability of our board members. We have been really lucky this year and have cultivated a great team of people who are dedicated to the mission, but our capacity is very limited and many of us have full-time jobs outside of our work in the coalition. We are constantly having to juggle our priorities. Also, not having a physical space that is ours makes it much harder for us to create that sense of community and forces us to rely on others whenever we want to throw an event.
Q: What’s been rewarding about this work? A: Knowing that we are not only helping people in need, but we’re also creating a space for people to feel joy! It’s the duality for me. It has given my life meaning and a sense of purpose.
Q: What has this work taught you about yourself? A: As young professionals, many of us look to our careers and status to give us validation. I have felt underqualified and have had to deal with impostor syndrome many times. The coalition has shown me that I am much more valuable than I had ever realized.
Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received? A: In high school, I was told that “it is not what you know, but who you know, who knows you, and how you treat them.” I never fully grasped that until I graduated from college and started to try and make my way in this world. It is all about the connections you make and the impressions you make.
Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you? A: I think people would be surprised that I don’t identify as mixed/biracial. I identify wholly as Black. While I acknowledge my European ancestry, I do not identify as any type of White.
Q: Please describe your ideal San Diego weekend. A: My ideal weekend in San Diego is to be outside, surrounded by friends, with a cocktail in my hands.