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D. Rashaan Gilmore is founder and executive director of BlaqOut, a grassroots organization and movement that provides education, support and community advocacy for Black and Latinx queer men in the Kansas City region. An entrepreneur, community connector and organizer, Gilmore developed BlaqOut to empower the Black LGBTQ community, tackle discrimination towards it, and to educate health providers and others about the particular health needs and stigma faced by these individuals in seeking health information and care.
Gilmore says that BlaqOut was born out of his experience working in a community health care setting with Black queer men who were tired of having their voices left out of discussions pertaining to their health and social-emotional well-being and their own agency in determining what they need to be nurtured and heard.
“The work of BlaqOut is about valuing all aspects of the lives of Black queer people and not defining our community through the lens of a single health concern,” said Gilmore. “It’s important that Black queer men get the experience of being part of a community where we are valued and can be recognized for our success.”
The concept for BlaqOut took shape when Gilmore was managing a $1.6 million Centers for Disease Control (CDC) prevention grant at Kansas City CARE Health Center. As part of the CDC grant, Gilmore partnered with other Black and Latino queer men on Project I Am, a peer health education and support group effort. Gilmore says that Project I Am helped mobilize Kansas City area Black and Latinx Men having Sex with Men (MSM), ultimately leading to a partnership with UMKC’s School of Medicine to undertake a comprehensive community health needs assessment focused on that particular population.
Gilmore said that instead of just bringing study subjects to the researchers, the effort was flipped to engage queer men in the training and execution of the study, which encompassed surveys of 200 individuals ages 18-34 years old. Gilmore said Project I Am and the subsequent research project provided a springboard to launch BlaqOut as a 501(c)3 organization. BlaqOut held two Empowerment Summits that expanded its outreach in the community and provided direction on several strategic areas of focus for the organization, including violence and criminality, HIV and sexual health, mental health, health care access, social determinants of health, substance use, and fitness, diet and nutrition.
BlaqOut provides education and support and serves as a connector to community health and mental health services for Black queer men. The organization has positioned itself to provide guidance on community research, provides free HIV testing and support groups, and conducts trainings for health providers on effective communications and support for individuals with HIV/AIDS.
Gilmore was recently named as the recipient of the 2020 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation – AIDS United Health Equity Award, given each year to community leaders who pioneer efforts to move the needle in improved healthcare outcomes and dismantle discrimination in health care.
The pandemic has interrupted public events, but Gilmore continues to share BlaqOut’s mission through television, radio and online programming and as a producer and host of a public affairs radio show, “Unbossed and Unbothered with D. Rashaan,” a franchise of 90.1 FM.
“One of the biggest challenges I face in growing my organization is that organizations led by Black queer men aren’t easily able to access philanthropic funds,” said Gilmore. “I’m excited about this project because of the chance to share our message and expand partnerships for groups like ours.”