story and photos by Dana Cooper
Inside a charming Cooper-Young bungalow, the offices of OUTMemphis are teeming with pride and hope. Jessie Claudio, the organization’s men’s sexual health specialist, is a walking embodiment of both sentiments. His infectious smile and warm, engaging persona help him easily connect with all who visit OUTMemphis’ facility. As a proud member of the Latinx community, Claudio has committed himself to exploring ways to champion the causes nearest his heart.
A native of Santa Ana, California, Claudio has lived in Memphis for more than 10 years and claims the city as his home. He is a 2016 graduate of the University of Memphis, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Foreign Languages with an emphasis in Spanish and Portuguese. Claudio’s tenure at OUTMemphis began in 2011– first as a volunteer, then as a certified HIV tester and counselor before moving into his current role.
Tell me a bit about your role at OUTMemphis.
I am the men’s sexual health specialist. I conduct PrEP/PEP navigation services with interested clients, manage Tú Ppl (a supportive social group for LGBTQ+ Latinx people), run FU;BU
(a supportive social group for gay and bisexual men of color), and provide program support for the Sexual Health Program.
Besides your role at OUTMemphis, how else do you stay connected to the local LGBT+ community?
I am part of different committees that work closely with the LGBT+ community, such as The Headliners, which consists of LGBTQ community members empowering and entertaining the Memphis community. Our mantra is “party with a purpose.” Then there is Tri-State Black Pride. Their goal is to showcase unity and pride by promoting equality and inclusion in the Mid-South’s LGBTQ community and allies. Being part of those two committees allows me to not only stay connected, but also to use my skills to give insight and help my community.
What experiences have made you the person you are today?
I think my identity is the biggest factor that has shaped my life and experiences. Being a Latino gay man in the South who is also a first-generation American has definitely molded me into the man that I am today.
Tell me about an influential person in your life.
My mother. She is such a strong woman. She is the fuel that gives me the energy to keep going when I feel like I can no longer continue. Seeing how she has sacrificed for me and my family, I could never thank her enough. Everything I am is thanks to her.
What other issues are important to you?
Education is really important to me. Before working at OUTMemphis, I worked for another organization called City Year. City Year helps to close gaps in high-need schools by supporting students’ academic and social-emotional development. While working at City Year, I gained a better understanding of how complex our school system is, and how the students are negatively affected by adversities, such as the school-to-prison pipeline. Unfortunately, black and brown students are disproportionately affected by this system. That is why education is so vital. It gives us the tools we need to make a better living environment for ourselves and break this cycle.
What advice can you give to other young adults looking to get involved in LGBT+ (or other) activism?
Live your life, live your truth, because when you do, it allows others to do the same. I feel like most people think of activism as joining an organization or being on the front-line protesting, but we forget that the act of being ourselves is in itself an act of activism.