My name is Preston Branton. I am a 19-year-old African-American male and a college student at Rice University. I am majoring in architecture and pursuing a minor in environmental studies. My interest lies in sustainable design and changing humanity’s relationship with the environment.
I was born and raised in Chicago, completing high school at Jones College Preparatory, in downtown Chicago before coming to Houston. My experience in high school was very different from others. I was attending a high-performing, predominantly white school that was considered racially and socioeconomically diverse compared to other Chicago public schools. My school’s population was largely liberal, so I was always having discourse with both my peers and teachers about social justice and activism.
I have participated in multiple events such as the Chicago women’s march and Black Lives Matter events. I didn’t begin to get involved in the LGBTQ community in Chicago until my senior year of high school when I began to truly accept myself as a part of the community. It was all inspired by me getting my first tattoo. It kind of made me wake up. I consider myself homoflexible after finding that term online (lol).
In Chicago, I mainly participated in the queer art scene, absorbing as much poetry, music and visual arts as I possibly could. I am an artist myself, so I am extremely interested in queer art and media because of its great power to touch its audience, tell the untold, overlooked stories of the community’s past and present, and offer the community — especially queer people of color — some sort of representation.
I draw in my free time, mostly graphite portraits, and am currently exploring some of the same themes. Some examples of contemporary media and art that have done just that, that I really believe are powerful, include the “Art Aids America” art show and the contemporary TV series “Pose.” That is why this campaign is so important and has so much potential. So many black and brown youth do not have proper education on living healthy sexual lives, especially regarding safe sex and STD prevention.
This campaign has the potential to reach such a broad audience with just the information the Houston LGBTQ needs. PrEP as prevention is a new solution that I think can have a huge, positive impact in reducing the number of new HIV cases. When I hear the phrase, “Live Healthy, Live Longer,” I think of people taking preventative measures for their own health. Currently, I am a member of Rice Pride, the LGBTQ organization at my school that helps build a healthy, safe community on campus. That is what comes to my mind when I hear the phrase. “I am here. I exist. I matter.”
Building a healthy, warm, welcoming community is so important for mental health in the LGBTQ community on campus. And having a presence on campus as a marginalized community is just as important. Representation and making people feel seen is so powerful. In fact, making certain communities invisible has been the root of injustice historically — from the HIV/AIDS epidemic to the environmental justice that occurs every day around the world. That is what this campaign is about. I just want to help people, build green communities, make art and be happy.