Tag Archives: gay

What’s His Story: From Atlanta to Uganda in the Fight Against AIDS

Erik Friedly, former spokesman for the Atlanta Opera and the Fulton County district attorney, has taken his communications skills as far from home as possible: to Africa. He moved to Uganda in January 2012 as a health communications specialist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the fight against AIDS. He’s also openly gay and married to a man from Kenya, in a country known around the globe for its homophobia. The images above are from his social media accounts.

1. Where are we in the story of HIV in Africa?

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Erik Friedly

The HIV epidemic in Africa is still real and still a terrible burden. But programs like PEPFAR (the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, for which I am privileged to work) have made a huge difference. AIDS was once a death sentence for millions here — simple as that. We have turned that tide. There remains much to be done in terms of expanding treatment access and in preventing new infections across this continent, but there is real hope that we could one day see the end of AIDS here.

Almost anyone you speak to in Uganda over a certain age can tell you about someone they lost to AIDS — family or friends or teachers or neighbors. AIDS has been a shared nightmare here, which is a bit different than it has been in other parts of the world.

2. How comfortable are you as a gay man there? What about for your husband?

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Erik Friedly with Festus in San Francisco for their wedding last fall.

Uganda prides itself on being a conservative, “traditional” society, yes. Homosexuality is not widely accepted here. But my position is probably not a good barometer, since I am a white man, an American and a diplomat. I do sometimes feel uncomfortable, of course, and one cannot be truly open. But for the most part, on a day-to-day basis, there really are no significant issues.

My husband is Kenyan and so lives with very different family and cultural pressures than I do. But he is remarkably comfortable in his own skin and with his own life, and I think he would agree with my characterization of our life here.

3. It’s a long way from Atlanta to Kampala. Tell me how you got there.

Erik Friedly, CDC, HIV, AIDS, Uganda, Atlanta

CDC fact box. Click to enlarge.

When I first came to CDC in 2006, I joined the communication team within the office of the director. From there, I moved into CDC’s tobacco control office, but then made the jump to CDC’s Division of Global HIV/AIDS. In July 2011, I accepted this assignment to CDC’s Uganda office and deployed here in January 2012. I have at least one more year here.

4. What’s the job about? What kind of communications are you doing?

The job is an interesting hybrid of public affairs, health diplomacy and health communication.  Part of CDC’s work in global HIV is, of course, to encourage and promote risk-reduction behaviors among targeted populations — things like condom use, male circumcision and so on.

But working in the environment of the U.S. Embassy also requires communicating back to U.S. stakeholders about the tremendous investments in health the American people are making, while also promoting that same commitment to the people of Uganda. I can also act as a resource for CDC Headquarters by helping them tell CDC’s global health story better.

5. What’s been the biggest shock, and the biggest joy, of living in Uganda?

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I wrote this article at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, when I covered the courts and Erik Friedly was the spokesman for Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard.

Prior to being permanently assigned here, I had worked brief assignments in Cameroon, Mali and Haiti, so I had some limited experience in the developing world. But I suppose the biggest shock here is the fact that so many things simply don’t work. Things like electricity. The ability to provide potable water even in the capital city. The roads, which are more pothole than pavement. There is such an overwhelming lack of the basic infrastructure and capacity to provide a basis for people to make the most of their lives.

The biggest joy (in addition to the amazing weather, the beauty of the landscape, etc.) might be the special way people live their lives. I don’t just mean the poverty or basic cultural differences. I mean the things people are prepared to accept, endure and make the most of. The ability to live a full and happy life without all of the things we come to expect are necessary. There is an abiding acceptance of life, which in turn breeds a quiet and abiding strength. There is a southern African concept of Ubuntu: “I am because you are.” It’s a wonderful concept of shared humanness, and it informs the spirit of sub-Saharan Africa.

social-icons-01Click here to tweet: “I am because you are.” — Southern African concept of Ubuntu

6. What are the big challenges of your communications job there?

Education levels tend to be relatively low, so one must try to keep messages simple and straightforward. This isn’t always easy when communicating complex scientific and health information. Ugandan media can sometimes lack professional acumen and that makes delivering a message difficult. Frank and open and fact-based discussions around sexual behaviors and realities can meet with resistance. This is not unlike the American attitude in the past, but in Uganda, with an HIV prevalence of around 7 percent, the stakes are higher and the need for honest discussion even more critical.

7. What are you reading these days? Print or digital?

I love books and magazines, always have. But day-to-day, digital is just easier. Bookshops here tend to be filled with religious or inspirational or self-help titles and magazines are imported and incredibly expensive. I am fortunate to be able to receive mail through the embassy, so I get magazines like The New Yorker and Vanity Fair with consistency — albeit a bit late.

For more on HIV/AIDS in Uganda, visit the Centers for Disease Control.

WHAT’S HIS STORY: Meet The Run Commuter, Who Gets to Work on Foot

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WHAT’S HER STORY: Carrying on the ‘Peanuts’ Legacy

Oscars Get Personal with Sweet Support from the Academy

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Jim Farmer’s passion for movies drives Atlanta’s Out on Film.

Like millions of movie fans, Jim Farmer will be glued to the tube for Sunday’s Academy Awards.

But this year, Farmer — a lifelong Oscar fanatic — has an extra reason to be excited. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences gave his Out on Film festival its first-ever national grant for its most recent event. And more than just the money came the acknowledgement and exposure that only Hollywood’s biggest guns can provide.

Out on Film is Atlanta’s annual gay film festival, which Farmer has programmed since 2008. It’s grown every year since then, to a record attendance of 8,000 in 2014. Over the course of a week right before the annual gay Pride celebration, Out on Film presents more than 100 movies at Landmark’s Midtown Art Cinema.

Farmer’s focus from the start was on branding Out on Film as a vital, independent celebration — with consistent scheduling (year-round events, but with the festival always the first week in October) and high-quality programming.

“When it comes to marketing and putting butts in seats, you could get a ‘naked guy’ movie and sell out every time,” says Farmer, who has worked in theater marketing and entertainment journalism.  “But we focus on quality films that otherwise might not make it to Atlanta, and also on the diversity within the LGBT community.”

The Oscar grant helped secure last fall’s opening night, with a red carpet and appearances by the makers and some cast members of “Blackbird,” which stars Mo’Nique and will be released widely in April.

“We try to focus on our festival as an event,” Farmer says. “It’s not just seeing a movie. You can watch a movie on your iPhone these days. But there’s nothing quite like seeing a film that is a story about us, for us, told by our filmmakers and experienced together.”

Alec Mapa, Out on Film, Atlanta, gay film festival, Oscars, Jim Farmer

Guests have included actors like Alec Mapa, on the right.

Grants don’t come easy, of course. At the same time the Academy shared its gift, the state of Georgia declined to support the festival, although it had for two previous years.

“It gives us a lot of momentum,” Farmer says about the Oscar grant. “We reached a lot of people last year that we had never reached. The Academy put us on their website. The Academy issued a press release… It was tremendous in terms of the exposure and awareness that we got.”

And more personally, it was a shot of confidence for Farmer, who grew up watching the Oscars and hangs on every development of awards season.

He’ll be at home with his partner Sunday night, not at a party where people might talk over the broadcast. “I don’t care if it lasts four hours. I don’t care if the speeches are long and rambling. I want to see every moment and hear every word.”

And maybe offer up his own version of “I’d like to thank the Academy…”

Jim Farmer’s Oscar predictions

Farmer says it’s easier to call many top categories nowadays, with so many pre-Oscar awards.

But he agrees that three top categories are a lock for Julianne Moore (Best Actress in “Still Alice”), Patricia Arquette (Best Supporting Actress for “Boyhood”) and J.K. Simmons (Best Supporting Actor for “Whiplash”).

After that, thing’s get a little more exciting He sees tight races between “Boyhood” and “Birdman” for Best Picture and Best Director, and expects “Birdman” star Michael Keaton to edge out Eddie Redmayne from “The Theory of Everything” for Best Actor.


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Santa Speedo Run is Playful Fun for a Good Cause

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Go, Santa.

Apologies to friends in Boston and other cold cities that have similar annual events, but today was beautiful and balmy for the Atlanta Santa Speedo Run.

The event is a fund-raiser for a different organization each year. This time, the money will go to Everybody Wins, a children’s literacy group. The goal was $70,000. I’m guessing the runners raised more, given the rockin’ turnout and the gorgeous weather. (Donate and check for updates here.)

It followed Sunday’s Toy Party, another charity event for kids supported primarily by Atlanta’s gay community.

I was expecting hunks in trunks, and there were plenty. But women and straight guys joined the group of mostly gay men. And there were non-running supporters, a brass band in goofy hats, and Atlanta police helping with traffic on the fun run’s 1.5 mile route on sunny Peachtree Street in Midtown.

When I checked the temp on my iPhone, it was 61.

Sorry, Boston.

(Click on a pic to make it bigger. Rollover to see the caption.)

‘The Normal Heart’ and How a Story Evolves

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Watch this Today interview with Larry Kramer from 1983. Fascinating and frightening.

It’s lucky for “The Normal Heart” that it took almost three decades for the play about early AIDS activism to get made into a movie.

That gift of time lets the movie present something Larry Kramer couldn’t have imagined when he wrote his fact-based play: This was the moment when everything changed – not only in the fight against AIDS, but in the emergence of gay power and visibility we know today.

From a storytelling point of view, it’s a fascinatingly meta mix of drama and journalism, history and activism. We can watch the thinly fictionalized version of how those changes were wrought – many by the unknowing characters in the play, which was written by one of them … as it was all unfolding.

There would be no gay marriage, no gays in the military, no gays in the NFL – none of it – without AIDS, Larry Kramer and what we see in “The Normal Heart.”

That adds a richness that was missing when I saw a stage production in 1986. It struck me then as a series of long, angry speeches more than a story, with lots of yelling and tantrums, even some milk throwing. Its power was oddly muted by the this-is-happening-to-me-right-now intensity of the time.

But I was curious to see the movie, which premiered on HBO this week. How would it be adapted? How would it hold up? How would my reactions be different now, since I’m not only older but also happily adjusted to being gay myself?

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Mark Ruffalo, as Larry Kramer’s alter ego Ned Weeks, tries to speak with the New York mayor in HBO’s “The Normal Heart.”

Watching Monday night, I was struck to see gay characters treated cruelly and indifferently, completely marginalized by society and the institutions of power. I shouldn’t have been, since I remember those days. But in the intervening decades, we’ve all become used to gays having a seat at the table that simply was not allowed before AIDS.

When horror entered the vacuum, grassroots groups like the one Kramer formed – as he depicts in “The Normal Heart” – fought to care for the sick, to demand government and media attention, and to educate their community amid its own turbulence. The infrastructure they invented out of despair and necessity virtually gave birth to gay American life as we know it.

The filmmakers turned down the hysterics and tightened the story somewhat. They effectively revived images not seen in ages of emaciated men covered in purple lesions and gasping for air. And of a hospital maintenance worker refusing to fix a TV in the room of a “contagious fairy;” and of the New York City mayor and U.S. president dodging the issue and any association with homosexuality; and of masses of closeted gay men cowering in fear of being “found out;” and of the news media, even The New York Times, shrugging it off as long as possible.

Hard to imagine? Important to remember.

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Mississippi Turning: Smart Businesses Say, “We Want Your Money, Even If You’re Gay”

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Another side of the story

Here’s a great example of seizing a narrative — and an opportunity to distinguish your values and drive your business.

Mississippi’s governor recently signed a bill into law allowing business owners to turn away gay people because of religious intolerance. It’s mean and stupid and not the least bit Christian, of course. And a group of Jackson entrepreneurs wants the country to know they’re not in support of the new law.

They’ve begun putting up stickers in store windows that say “We don’t discriminate. If you’re buying, we’re selling.”

It’s almost enough to make me want to drive to Mississippi and buy donuts at Campbell’s Bakery, pay for lessons at Whitfield-Smith Piano Studio and get my hair did at the Trim Salon. They’re among some 30 small businesses standing up to bigotry and idiocy that, sadly, has plenty of precedence in their state.

“A lot of us were trying to counter the negative stuff,” said Jesse Outlaw (!), owner of the William Wallace Salon and Fondren Barber Shop, in The Clarion Ledger.  “It doesn’t represent everybody here.”

Read more or show your support on the Equality Mississippi Facebook page.

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Gay Athletes — A Look Back Shows How Much the Story Has Changed in Just a Few Years

Billy Bean, Esera Tuaolo, Glenn Burke, Michael Sam, Jason Collins, gay, lgbt, gay athletes, NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB, major league baseball, national football league, national basketball association, super bowl, homosexuals, sports, athletes, gay men in sports

Billy Bean, former baseball player, and Esera Tuaolo, formerly of the NFL

UPDATE: Michael Sam signed with the Dallas Cowboys to join the practice team today, Sept. 9. This article was posted Feb.26.

Remember Esera Tuaolo? Billy Bean? Roy Simmons?

Maybe not. They all remained closeted during their professional sports careers and came out as gay only in retirement, to little fanfare. But they can remind us how much things have changed.

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Roy Simmons’ memoir of his life “in the NFL Closet”

Simmons, who spent four years in the NFL, died last week at 57. A few days later, the NBA’s Jason Collins played for the Nets in his first game since coming out last year; and openly gay prospect Michael Sam performed in the NFL Combine. (It’s worth noting that Sam and Collins each made the cover of Sports Illustrated after coming out; the other three, not even close.) Some people applaud, some shrug, some remain hostile.

Below is an edited version of a column I wrote for ajc.com, the website of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in 2002. I’m sharing it because of how it contrasts with what we’re seeing now. We used to wait for “the gay Jackie Robinson.” Was that too much to ask? Are we seeing that sometimes, heroic goals are accomplished by multiple individuals over time, building on the steps of the others? That history can come in trickles, and narratives unfold in lurches rather than bounds?

Gay Ex-Falcon Comes Out — But is He Famous Enough to Change Anything?

Bryant Gumbel let me down.

For at least a week, Gumbel has been promoting his HBO show’s “coming out” interview next Tuesday with a former NFL player. Speculation sprouted all over Internet chat rooms and even in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, where rumors had been whispered about a former Viking. Who would it be?

Gay folks are always hoping celebrities will come out of the closet publicly. We get downright giddy about a glamorous, male athlete doing so because — well, because it’s never really happened before. And because big-time sports appears so homophobic. And because it would break a lot of stereotypes about masculinity and homosexuality. And because, admit it, it’s sexy and empowering to think about.

On Thursday, we learned the player’s identity: Esera Tuaolo, a nine-year defensive lineman who played the Super Bowl season with the Falcons in 1998 and otherwise played outside the limelight.

Tuaolo, 34, said players routinely told gay jokes in the locker room. “They made me go further and further into depression, further and further into shame,” he said. He even considered suicide.

A former teammate, Shannon Sharpe, says on the show that Tuaolo would’ve been “eaten alive” and “hated” if he’d come out while playing.

Pro athletics remains one of the worst scenes for gay men, who still fight stereotypes about being effeminate, ineffectual and predatory.

But think about how great an athlete must be to make it to the NFL, regardless of how long he stays there or how successful he becomes. How manly? Clearly, Tuaolo had the right stuff. But he says he cut short his career largely because of the stress over staying hidden.

I was hoping Gumbel’s interview would describe a happy life in sports — the fun of being young and wealthy and sought after; a supportive, if discreet, group of other gay athletes and straight friends on the team and in management. Maybe even acknowledgement of deciding to stay closeted at work but being able to find happiness in spite of it.

I expect Tuaolo’s coming out will nudge everybody along just a little bit more.


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Michael Sam’s Coming Out: 10 Key Points of the Story

Missouri football star Michael Sam came out as gay yesterday, confirming for the world what friends, family and an ever-growing number of reporters already knew. Since he’s likely to be drafted into the NFL this year (or, at least, he was), Sam could soon become the first openly gay player ever in the NFL — or, really, even in any of the major American team sports. It’s a great story, for lots of reasons. Here are a few.

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Yep, he’s gay: Missouri football star Mike Sam

1. It broke online, at least it did for me. I found out about it on Twitter. I’d never heard of Sam. By the time I Googled him, the story had blown up, and I watched the ESPN interview at least an hour before it aired on TV.

2. He’s young, Part 1. A handful of former pro athletes in the Big Four (baseball, football, basketball, hockey) have come out – after their careers were over. Sam’s hasn’t even started yet.

3. He’s young, Part 2. Polls have shown for years that anti-gay bias persists largely along generational lines. To state it broadly, younger folks are far less likely to care if someone’s gay than their grandparents or even parents.

4. Team unity. When Sam came out to his University of Missouri teammates before the last season started, they all stood behind him throughout a wildly successful year. But some older folks inside the NFL fretted to si.com (which shamefully let them go unnamed) that the league still “isn’t ready.”

5. He’s a star, a top NFL draft prospect —  SEC defensive player of the year. ‘Nuff said.

6. He’s masculine — SEC defensive player of the year. ‘Nuff said

7. He seems like a nice kid. No one’s going to call him a thug, that’s for sure.

8. He clearly got some good media coaching but still came off authentic with ESPN’s Chris Connelly.

9. The Putin Factor. Nice that this happened during anti-gay Russia’s Olympics.

10. The “Duh” Factor. There have always been gays in sports, even the NFL. Some of them have started coming out recently, notably NBA journeyman Jason Collins last year, who wasn’t picked up for this season. Whatever happens next with Sam, he – and his great many supporters – have pushed the story forward, the only direction it can go. And so far, the reaction has been mostly supportive or muted.

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Gay Parents: A Short and (Very) Sweet Story

Here’s a story that proves two points: 1) good stories can be short; 2) Facebook and other social media sites can be great ways to share them.

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Doug Brooks, left, and Rusty Wolf with their children

Doug Brooks (left) and Rusty Wolf (right) of Atlanta have three young kids, including Sophie, who has a great way of stating things clearly and simply, in that genius way children have. Here’s a Facebook post from Doug the other day (shared here with his OK).

Me: “Sophie, I heard that girl, Isabella, at the pool asking why you had two Dads, but I didn’t hear your answer. What did you say?”

Sophie: “I said, ‘Because they’re gay.'”



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