My civic journey has been a very difficult one. When I lived in Venezuela, I was working with the British Council on a programme called ‘Find your place’. The aim was to provide activities to young people in areas where there wasn’t much provision. I was an artist, working with the LGBTQ+ community and young people, creating events, performances, dance classes and more. The British Council then gave me the opportunity to come to the UK to further my learning and share my experience.

Shortly after moving here, I discovered I was HIV positive. I knew I couldn’t go back home after that. Being a gay man in Venezuela is a huge challenge, but being a gay man who is HIV positive is considerably more challenging as there is a lack of medical provision. Unfortunately, many have lost their lives due to this, including three of my friends. I therefore became an asylum-seeker.

This process was difficult and long; it took three years. This meant I couldn’t work which made it harder for me to interact with my local community. My weekly allowance of £30 was hard to live on. I struggled to afford a coat for the British winters. Then of course Covid meant that I was further isolated. During this time, I felt I was treated like a criminal. The NHS and doctors were really supportive, but I found the immigration process really difficult.

I always try to see the brighter side, so I’m now using my experiences of being in a new country, a new system, to see how I can help other people facing similar challenges. I am grateful that I am now able to work and support my community. By this, I don’t only mean the queer community but also my neighbours, the city, local people. I am able to learn more about LGBTQ rights in Birmingham and take those learnings to Venezuela.

From what I hear from young people, money and tech are things that really affect them. They want to learn about bitcoin, crypto – and they all want to be a millionaire. There seems to be a lot of ‘I need’, and largely for materialistic things, for them to feel part of society. I think people need to be better educated about what is available to them. For instance, establishments might be able to better-support young people to increase their opportunities by considering non-traditional routes to education, or think outside the box about what they can bring to the world. Communities can also help as a place where people can connect, discover new skills and share.

These past years have shown that the unpredictable can happen. I would love to see young people be themselves – be whoever you want to be – and enjoy life as you only have one.

Eric is involved in organising an international dance championship at B side Hip hop Festival, 17, 18 and 19 June, and Queerside Festival, 6 August.


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