Georgia’s 2013 LGBT agenda
From workplace fairness to lessening HIV stigma, how you can help ‘create change’ here at home
As Creating Change, the national LGBT equality conference, comes to Atlanta, GA Voice surveyed 15 local organizations to provide a snapshot of what it will take to “create change” for LGBT people here in our state.
The answers? Education, outreach, more volunteers, and, yes, more money.
The nine organizations that responded to the survey include the Southeast’s largest Pride festival, the Southeast’s largest AIDS service provider and our state’s largest LGBT political group.
Our questions included their top three priorities for 2013, the top three things individuals can do to help them achieve those priorities, the biggest misconception about their organization, and the single most important thing that would help them achieve their mission.
We also asked about the size of their staffs and budgets to offer perspective on the resources they currently have, as well as what might be needed.
While marriage equality has become the highest-profile issue for our community nationally — thanks to pending Supreme Court cases and major victories in other states — you won’t find it on these lists.
Instead, what emerged was an LGBT agenda for Georgia that might appear on first glance to be more modest than what activists are pushing for in other states, but that could actually mean profound changes in many of our lives and pave the way for even bigger changes to come.
(see story, Page 6)
Despite Georgia’s large LGBT community and extensive gay social scene, most of the organizations surveyed said that a key way supporters can help them achieve their goals is by countering misconceptions about their missions.
For Atlanta Pride and Savannah Pride, that means moving past the idea that they only exist to produce a festival one weekend each year — and that the festival’s impact begins and ends there.
“We work year-round on the festival and all of our other undertakings to support and engage our community,” said Buck Cooke, Atlanta Pride executive director.
The Health Initiative, which focuses on LGBT wellness, wants to refute the misconception that they only care about Atlanta or women — both of which have roots in their founding as the Atlanta Lesbian Cancer Initiative, and later the Atlanta Lesbian Health Initiative.
Positive Impact wants to change the myth that you have to already be HIV positive to access their many mental health, education and support services, while AID Atlanta strives to counter the idea that the agency, the largest HIV agency in the Southeast, is only an HIV testing clinic and producers of the AIDS Walk.
Organizations cited misconceptions not only about their scope, but also about the overall state of LGBT and HIV awareness in Georgia.
“We need people to reach out and educate elected officials at all levels of government on the realities of our lives here in Georgia,” noted Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, the state’s largest LGBT political group.
“We know that we have LGBT people in all parts of the state, yet there is still a misperception that we all live in Midtown or Decatur. “
AID Atlanta also worries about misinformation, and asks supporters to work hard to challenge those ideas.
“Many people don’t realize that HIV rates are continuing to rise here in metro Atlanta, especially among young people and women of color,” said Cathy Woolard, interim executive director, advocating for HIV to become “part of everyday conversation in Atlanta. “
Atlanta Pride’s Cooke stresses how his organization, as well as the community as a whole, “still struggles for equal rights for LGBTQ citizens everyday.”
“Until that battle is won, it is imperative that we stand up, en masse, and make a statement that we’re here, we’re queer, and we’re not just going to sit by and accept second-class citizenship,” he said.
For our activism survey, we chose to focus on LGBT organizations whose missions include at least some advocacy, as opposed to those who focus more exclusively on providing services or social activities (like PALS, which supplies pet supplies to those with critical illnesses or the elderly, or any of our numerous LGBT sports, social or spiritual organizations).
In the case of health organizations, we also chose to focus on those whose missions are specifically focused on LGBT issues — like the Health Initiative or Someone Cares, which serves African-American and Latino LGBT people.
We also included two of Atlanta’s largest HIV agencies, AID Atlanta and Positive Impact, both of which feature LGBT leadership and a large client base of men who have sex with men.
Finally, we reached out to three national organizations that either have headquarters in Atlanta or an Atlanta office.
Participants include Georgia Equality, Atlanta Pride, Savannah Pride, the Health Initiative, Lost-n-Found Youth, AID Atlanta, Positive Impact, Someone Cares and Ben Cohen’s StandUp Foundation.
Surveys were not returned by YouthPride, MEGA Family Project, In the Life Atlanta (organizers of Atlanta Black Gay Pride), Augusta Pride, South Georgia Pride, Lambda LegalSouthern Regional Office and National AIDS Education & Services for Minorities.
Positive Impact and the Ric Crawford Clinic joined forces to administer HIV tests in Piedmont Park during Pride 2012. In 2013, Positive Impact wants to change the myth that you must be HIV positive to access their mental health, education and support services. (Photo by Bo Shell)