CNN explores LGBT equality with Atlanta panel


CNN Dialogues
Dec. 14, 7 p.m. -8:30 p.m.
Grady High School Theater
929 Charles Allen Drive, Atlanta, GA 30309
Tickets $25,

Soledad O’Brien was originally tapped by CNN to host the discussion.  She told GA Voice the discussion would launch with exploring emerging and historical statistics and then base the conversation around CNN’s data.

“We’ll go through the numbers and look at the schools that have a GSA, and do people believe that has lead to greater acceptance,” O’Brien told GA Voice. “I think that is a really great question and one that I want to explore…

“I look at my kids’ school for example, where they have a Gay Straight Alliance, that there is so much more discussion about it, and I wonder if that discussion has led to greater acceptance,” O’Brien says.

The forum isn’t shaped around a question of right or wrong, or political issues. There won’t be any self-styled pro-family activists on the panel and the discussion is intended to be for and by the LGBT community.

“We’re not arguing do people who are gay have a right to exist,” O’Brien says. “The focus is people who are out in the community, do you see more acceptance?”

This is the third “Dialogue” event put on by CNN, Emory and the civil rights center. The collaboration plans an open-ended series of events, each focusing on a different issue, but LGBT topics rose to the top.

“We were thinking about issues that were involved in our community at large,” Emory’s Dr. Calinda Lee says.

Lee is an associate director of the James Weldon Johnson Institute, which is co-sponsoring the talks.

“It became apparent very quickly… that there is a lot of movement, a lot of growth and change in LGBT communities… both within and around the community about what is happening right now,”  Lee says.

The panelists are a mix between celebrities and political activists, and Center CEO Doug Shipman notes organizers wanted to bring national personalities to a local discussion.

“I think it might have happened 10 or 20 years ago. but I don’t think it would have been on a stage where a lot of people who weren’t involved in LGBT activism would have come,” Shipman says.

Although all three organizations reserve the right to use part or all of the dialogue at a later date, there are no plans to broadcast the forum. O’Brien said CNN routinely participates in forums like this not because the cable news outlet is looking for on-air material, but because the conversations are worth having.

“I think the reason CNN has always been very much behind these kinds of conversations is that the company believes that the only way to educate people about issues is to have conversations,” O’Brien says.

The talk will be made available for free as part of iTunes U. Organizers expect 400 people to attend, and note that the $25 fee will be split between the Center and Institute.

While Weir’s costumes and flamboyant, sometimes effeminate style drew as much attention as his skating, he says coming out hasn’t changed his life.

“Being publicly out hasn’t really changed my life in any way. It’s basically just my inner monster that people wanted to put a label on in it,” Weir says. “I’m not someone who wants to put on a label. I want to be someone who makes a name for [myself] and not define myself by a label.”

Weir has been criticized by members of the skating community and gay activists.

“When you are in the public eye there are so many thing things that are thrown at you,” he says. “From the straight community saying that I was so gay and so out there, and the gay community was not happy with me because I wasn’t publicly out.”

Weir came out this January and has since appeared in Pride parades and his own reality show, “Be Good Johnny Weir.” But he hasn’t talked at length about gay issues, and says his story isn’t tragic or dramatic.

“The only thing that I want to get across is to be a cheerleader for people who didn’t come from bad families and haven’t had a super difficult time. While that might not be super interesting that’s who I am,” Weir says. “My family has always supported me.”

Still, elements of the figure skating community haven’t, Weir acknowledges. He wonders if he was marked down at the Winter Olympics because of his personality, and said figure skating can be “surprisingly homophobic.”

“Even though I didn’t win a medal, perhaps because of my flamboyance, I wouldn’t trade it all for one day of not being Johnny Weir,” he says.

Weir finds love in Atlanta

Johnny Weir is getting married to an Atlanta boy. Weir, who rarely discusses his private life, told GA Voice that he has been coming to Atlanta regularly to court his boyfriend.

“My boyfriend, fiancé now, has only recently come out and he’s 28 years old and it’s been an uncomfortable, rocky road for him,” Weir says.

Although Weir is widely known for his flamboyant style, he’s rather reserved in the rest of his life. Weir announced his engagement on Twitter in late October to an Atlanta based lawyer of Russian descent. The Russian connection isn’t surprising considering that Weir is a self-described Russophile.

“We’re a typical relationship that you would see on a sit com, only we’re two gay men,” Weir says.

While he’s been coming to Atlanta regularly for a while, the New Jersey based skater hasn’t been seen in any of the city’s clubs, and there’s a reason for that.

“I can’t remember the last time I saw the inside of a night club for fun,” Weir says. “We don’t go out at all.”

They do however hit other iconic spots in Atlanta, and the fashion diva has developed a respect for Atlanta’s sense of style.

“I do love how the Atlanta queens will wear high heels all day. I see them in Phipps and Lenox, and I just admire them for that,” he says.


Top photo: Johnny Weir will be one of several panelists at the CNN Dialogues forum on Dec. 14. Video – Moderator for the panel is CNN anchor Jane Valez-Mitchell, who tells Joy Behar about coming out as a lesbian. (publicity photo)