Visibili-T is dedicated to transgender members of our community in Central Florida and Tampa Bay, some you know and many you don’t. It is designed to amplify their voices and detail their experiences in life.
In this issue we check in with Jiyah Bolden, a Lakeland resident with a background in cosmetology, healthcare services and more who’s no stranger to helping her community. Among other accomplishments, she became the first openly transgender person to open a hair salon in Lakeland.
While the space closed in April, she used her entrepreneurial skills to launch a new nonprofit in September. Bolden is the founder of Be Diverse Network, which is committed to empowering transgender, gender non-conforming and non-binary individuals in a myriad of ways.
“Our mission is clear: to break the barriers that hinder individuals from realizing their potential,” BDN’s website reads. “We’re here to provide equal access to employment opportunities, offer entrepreneurship guidance, and educate our community on HIV and AIDS, all while reducing the stigma associated with these issues.
“We envision a world where everyone, regardless of their background, can thrive, succeed and celebrate their uniqueness,” it continues. “Through advocacy, education and practical support, we are striving to build a more equitable and accepting society.”
Bolden’s personal experiences in the workforce are a key part of what led her to create the organization.
“Being trans, I’ve dealt with several jobs that don’t typically work out and I’ve been discriminated against,” she explains. “I’m currently going through a lawsuit, actually — because once I closed the salon down, I got a job that didn’t work out well at all.”
Bolden says she was terminated from a position in healthcare recruitment after disclosing she was trans on an unrelated matter. The company cited her attendance.
“I had never been written up and had no corrective actions on file,” she explains. “None of that. They want to settle because they know they did something wrong.”
A recent experience in Puerto Rico also led Bolden to found BDN. She works as a fellow for the Human Rights Campaign’s GenHERate program, which “was created to empower Black women in sexual and reproductive health topics and other health disparities that disproportionately impact them.”
It was through that partnership that she attended the 2023 State of Black Health Conference earlier this year. The gathering welcomes “hundreds of community leaders and equity advocates from every background … to address themes and find solutions for the social and economic injustices that have marginalized Black communities and led to deep health disparities.”
“It opened my eyes to a lot of things that I just I wasn’t privy to,” Bolden says. “I see health disparities as a Black, trans woman around HIV and AIDS, but this was large scale. There are so many other things, like fibroids, cancer and more that people are not awarded the same treatment for. It opened my mind to something completely new and is exactly what inspired me to launch the network.”
The nonprofit’s programs include educational resources surrounding HIV/AIDS and much more, with services that provide mentorship, job readiness training and other essential support for entrepreneurs. BDN offers resume building, interview preparation, job assessments and business counseling.
“I feel like there’s a huge stigma around entrepreneurship not just for trans people, but people who are not white,” Bolden notes. “I hate to say it like that, but I feel like there’s a stigma that entrepreneurship should be one way, and that’s not how it works.
“We want to help foster entrepreneurship, we want to help you find employment opportunities that are going to be tailored to your lifestyle, we don’t want people to go to jobs where they’re going to feel uncomfortable,” she continues. “Guidance is huge for us, because a lot of times you have to create your own lane.”
Services are offered at no charge to those in Tampa Bay and Central Florida, but also well beyond. Bolden says she and BDN’s board of directors — five additional community leaders and subject matter experts — are prepared to serve the community however possible. Their work is detailed at length at BDNetwork.org.
“We’re ready,” Bolden notes. “Truly, we’ve been working hard to get this created and we’re finally launching, and we’re finally getting sponsors to help start the process so we can provide resources and just do what we can.”
Interested in being featured in Visibili-T? Email Editor-in-Chief Jeremy Williams in Central Florida or Managing Editor Ryan Williams-Jent in Tampa Bay.