HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- In observation of LGBTQ+ History Month, ABC13 spoke with three BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) community leaders about their experiences as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender non-conforming and/or queer people. This is the first in a three-part series.
Ian Haddock says there weren't too many expectations on his shoulders as he grew up in a close-knit family in rural Texas City.
The self-proclaimed boy from the country, who would one day become executive director of The Normal Anomaly Initiative in Houston, was reared by his mother and his grandparents, and found himself in church sometimes five days a week.
Under the steeple of his Baptist congregation, Haddock said he flourished in the choir and in church plays.
"But I was not expected to be gay," Haddock said. "(My family were) not what people would consider homophobic, but, 'you better not bring that into this house, or we are going to pray it out of you.'"
Haddock said he instinctively knew who he was at eight, nine and even 10 years old.
He remembers a picture of him on his bike, holding his hand to his hip, a clear sign of his reality, he said, even if he didn't have the language to describe himself just yet.
"There was no denying I was gay," he laughed. "If any of my family ever denied the fact that they knew I was gay, they are absolutely lying."
Before fully realizing his sexuality, Haddock said he endured a struggle as he tried to reconcile his Blackness and his sexual identity.
"I am already Black, I come from an impoverished family and impoverished community," Haddock said. "I already have lots of burdens in society walking into it... and with all of that, you add the 'problem' of being gay. It wasn't a problem, but that is what they used to say."
Through high school, Haddock remained in the closet at home while living openly among his peers. He graduated from his school as salutatorian, and moved to Houston that same evening. He soon found himself struggling to survive out on his own.
For a time, Haddock said he turned to sex work to stay afloat, and that is when he met Nathan Maxey, an angel in disguise who would help change the trajectory of his life.
"Meeting him was really like the shift that I needed," Haddock said.
Maxey invited Haddock to move in with him, and it was there that Haddock watched his new mentor ride the bus every day, juggling school and working in the community. Maxey became a role model, teaching Haddock how to navigate life as a queer person.
When Maxey admitted he was HIV positive, Haddock set out to learn more, spurring his interest in eradicating the disease in Houston's LGBTQ+ community.
Today, Haddock oversees the Black Queer Plus: Center for Liberation, a resource center in southwest Houston, providing programming, events and opportunities for Black LGBTQ+ people to help stem the HIV epidemic.
Alongside his BQ+ leaders Jordan Edwards and Joelle Bayaa-Uzuri Espeut, Haddock said he's intentional about fighting for representation for the Black and brown queer community, sharing his own story as a way to help others seeking their own path forward.
What he once saw as a liability is now a gift.
"My queerness has been my saving grace," Haddock said. "The queer community has been a place of refuge and (a) sanctuary. It's a really sacred space for me."