Vic­tory Em­pow­er­ment Fel­low Eric Paulk

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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)

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