At­lanta may­oral can­di­dates par­tic­i­pate in LGBT fo­rum

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Out Front The­atre is no stranger to play­ing host to plays or mu­si­cals rife with po­lit­i­cal con­tro­versy, but in late Au­gust it was po­lit­i­cal the­ater to take the stage.

Nine of At­lanta’s can­di­dates par­tic­i­pated in the At­lanta LGBTQIA Youth May­oral Fo­rum on Aug. 29, spon­sored by Lost-nFound Youth, Join­ing Hearts, Rain­bros., Point Foun­da­tion, Pride Al­liance, Cre­ative Ap­proach, Ge­or­gia State Univer­sity Al­liance for Sex­ual and Gen­der Di­ver­sity and the Emory LGBT Alumni. No­tably ab­sent was At­lanta City Coun­cil­man Kwanza Hall, and City Coun­cil­woman Mary Nor­wood missed a large por­tion due to an­other en­gage­ment.

James Brian Yancey, founder of Rain­bros., mod­er­ated the dis­cus­sion, and kicked things off with a ques­tion about the rain­bow cross­walks re­cently in­stalled at the in­ter­sec­tion of 10th Street and Pied­mont Av­enue. Most of the can­di­dates agreed it was an ap­pro­pri­ate use of funds — though Michael Ster­ling said he would have rather used pri­vate funds.

“I think that it is im­por­tant that we openly say who we are, and I think that al­though it’s a sym­bolic ges­ture, I think that it’s ex­tremely im­por­tant, es­pe­cially in the heart of our city, for peo­ple to know that as a city, we are in­clu­sive and we re­spect a di­ver­sity of peo­ple,” At­lanta City Coun­cil­woman Keisha Lance Bot­toms said.

For­mer At­lanta Chief Op­er­at­ing Of­fi­cer Peter Aman echoed her sen­ti­ments, say­ing the city needs both ser­vices and “tan­gi­ble sym­bols” to share its mes­sage of stand­ing up for its LGBT com­mu­nity.

One of the ar­eas of high­est con­cern to LGBT youth in the au­di­ence was that of youth home­less­ness. It’s an area that for­mer At­lanta City Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Cathy Woolard, one of two openly LGBT mayor- al can­di­dates, knows per­son­ally, hav­ing run away from home at age 15.

“We failed to pre­pare hous­ing for an ar­ray of sit­u­a­tions for peo­ple — home­less youth, peo­ple who live in poverty, se­niors,” she said. “I set out on a pe­riod of self-de­struc­tion that I think a lot of you have prob­a­bly ex­pe­ri­enced … We have to find safe places for kids un­til they can fig­ure their way out of there.”

Other is­sues brought up dur­ing the dis­cus­sion in­cluded trans­gen­der “bath­room bills,” how can­di­dates felt about the pres­i­dent’s tweeted trans­gen­der mil­i­tary ban — all nine present said they did not sup­port it — and HIV is­sues.

‘Ex­ag­ger­ated ig­no­rance’

Ster­ling called Ge­or­gia’s HIV crim­i­nal­iza­tion laws “ex­ag­ger­ated ig­no­rance” based on a “fun­da­men­tal lack of un­der­stand­ing of how HIV and AIDS are spread.”

For­mer State Sen. Vin­cent Fort called the laws ho­mo­pho­bic, and ref­er­enced a res­o­lu­tion he in­tro­duced in the state Leg­is­la­ture to form a study com­mit­tee on the topic.

“I am hop­ing that some­one will take that up in the Leg­is­la­ture now that I’m gone, but here in the city of At­lanta any mayor is go­ing to have to ed­u­cate the pub­lic and use the bully pul­pit to make sure the pub­lic at large knows how HIV is crim­i­nal­ized in this state and how we can work against it,” he said.

Lance Bot­toms had a dif­fer­ent take on the laws — though she too called them ho­mo­pho­bic and said they un­fairly tar­geted the LGBT com­mu­nity, she said it was im­por­tant that all in­di­vid­u­als dis­close their sex­ual health to their part­ners, whether it’s HIV, Ch­lamy­dia or gon­or­rhea.

With At­lanta’s sky­rock­et­ing HIV rate, Yancey made note that th­ese were some of the most im­por­tant ques­tions the can­di­dates would be asked dur­ing the fo­rum. On the sub­ject of the city’s role in pro­vid­ing re­sources and ed­u­ca­tion about pre-ex­po­sure pro­phy­laxis, or PrEP, can­di­dates broke into a thought­ful dis­cus­sion.

“I un­der­stand that many times in gov­ern­ment, we think we are reach­ing out to the com­mu­nity and we have ef­fec­tively com­mu­ni­cated and we have not,” Nor­wood said. “I want to be the mayor to make sure that when we launch in­for­ma­tion, we are do­ing it in a way that it truly gets to the peo­ple that we are try­ing to get to.”

Aman said “full stop,” PrEP needs to be avail­able to any­one who needs it. Ster­ling and Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Ceasar Mitchell dis­cussed dif­fer­ent part­ner­ship op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able, in­clud­ing with Ge­or­gia Equal­ity, other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in the At­lanta area and the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion. Lance Bot­toms added that if elected, she plans to ap­point a city di­rec­tor of pub­lic health to help ad­dress the sit­u­a­tion.

Fort said it was “un­for­giv­able” and “im­moral” that City Hall has not pre­vi­ously ad­dressed the epi­demic, and for­mer Ful­ton County Com­mis­sion Chair­man John Eaves made a point to dis­cuss the com­mis­sion’s HIV/AIDS task force, which is now in tran­si­tion to be­come a full-fledged per­ma­nent com­mit­tee.

Woolard said it’s vi­tal that the com­mu­nity ac­knowl­edge the prob­lem, for starters.

“You just have to name it. Young black men who have sex with men. There are other peo­ple who get HIV too, but the point of the epi­demic in this com­mu­nity is that. We’ve got to talk about it. We’ve got to put peo­ple out in front,” she said.

La­ban King, also a LGBT can­di­date, made a point that pills don’t mat­ter if LGBT youth feel they don’t mat­ter.

“If you don’t give me a rea­son to live, then why should I take a pill?” he said. “Th­ese peo­ple need hope. … We need to let them know that their lives mean some­thing, that they have value and once they mat­ter, then they’ll start to take care of them­selves. But un­til then, you can have as many clin­ics as you want, you can write as many pa­pers or what­ever you’re say­ing you’re do­ing, but it’s not gonna work.”

By DAL­LAS ANNE DUN­CAN

Septem­ber 1, 2017

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