Victory Empowerment Fellow Eric Paulk
I was probably in a coffee shop like this when I got the email about the fellowship. I applied to the fellowship because I felt it was a good continuation to my work in public service. I thought it would be a good addition to the work I was doing – to learn about advocacy in a more formal way.
How did it feel?
I was very excited. I was also little bit nervous. I consider myself a public servant, but not a politician, so I definitely had some hesitation about what the process would look like, what the expectations would be. But af-
I think growing up in a working-class family, there’s an understanding of what everyday people are dealing with and facing. Going to law school and bridging that understanding of how legislation and policy work, and how it effects communities, it provides a unique perspective. So maybe at some point, but the jury’s still out.
Why prioritize electing people from the LGBT community to office?
There are qualified LGBT folks and we need to make sure that those voices are being elevated. The people with solutions are often the ones that have the most intimate relationship to them.
“Intersectional” is the word that comes to mind to describe your advocacy. Could you elaborate?
Yes, a lot of my work is about intersectionality of race, gender and class. Beyond a buzzword, I think intersectionality is about coalition building.
Working on HIV criminalization is one of the areas that I’m particularly passionate about. We bring in people who are directly impacted by these laws and then we bring in people who are suburban moms who have never heard of those laws. Those conversations aren’t always pretty and neat, but they’re conversations that need to be had. It’s about hearing different voices and trying to find some middle ground.
What has your experience been like in Atlanta’s LGBT community?
It’s been a really welcoming community. I think it’s really important to have that to go to. I grew up in a very small town in South Georgia, so being able to have the community that embraces you and cares about you, and that you can work with has really been important for me.
Your advocacy also includes education, correct?
The school-to-prison pipeline is a huge, huge issue for me. The focus in that conversation has largely been on black, heterosexual men in school settings. So my focus has been on how does the school-to-prison pipeline impact black, queer youth.
If we look at the stats on bullying, we know that it’s affecting LGBT students more than it is their straight counterparts. We also know from the school-to-prison pipeline that [bullying] is something that’s impacting black youth.
I also know New York City recently strongly suggested there be GSAs [gay-straight alliances] in all public middle and high schools. I think that’d be a wonderful policy for the Atlanta City Council to consider, in terms of addressing the school-to-prison pipeline.
Any other goals?
I’d like to see more conversations between the LGBTQ movement and the racial justice movement, so how do we start? We talked about police shootings earlier, but some of these people being shot by the police officers are queer folks.
In the case of the HB 1523, which is the “religious freedom” law that’s in Mississippi, how do we bring more communities of color into that conversation to strengthen the advocacy efforts? I don’t think people have been focused on that. How will this impact communities of color? How will it impact HIV services? People need to consider these things to succeed.
I have to ask, are you as busy as it sounds?
[Laughs] I really am that busy, but it’s good. I feel like I’m doing the work that I’m supposed to be doing.
October 13, 2017
Eric Paulk is focused on a number of issues surrounding LGBT discrimination and racism, but he says the school-to-prison pipeline is one of the most pressing to him. (Photo by Johnnie Ray Kornegay III)