She’s been in office for nearly 16 months and is already making leaps and bounds to make Atlanta a city for all, including the LGBTQ community. Growing up in Atlanta, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, knew her hometown had all the makings of a safe haven for those looking for a better way of life, so she fought hard through her ranks as an Atlanta City Council member and now as the 60th mayor of the city of Atlanta. She took some time out of her busy schedule to catch up with us about the consistent fight for LGBTQ rights.
What are your plans and goals as Mayor to get HIV numbers down throughout the city?
The face of HIV/AIDS is really reflective of Atlanta in so many ways. Unlike San Francisco, we’re not just dealing with gay white men who are infected at larger rates. We’re also dealing with a number of African-American women and men. So much of it is about addressing stigma and the education piece.
It’s my hope that, obviously, I am an African-American woman, that by my even talking about HIV/AIDS in Atlanta, that it resonates with communities that otherwise may not openly have this conversation. We know that San Francisco has been able to address HIV/AIDS in a very comprehensive and productive way. I don’t know why Atlanta can’t do the same.
This ‘down low’ aspect of gay men in Atlanta who don’t disclose their sexual orientation and promiscuity, is that a problem that we’re facing as well?
It certainly is. A lot of the conversation in the African-American community deals with men who may have been incarcerated for a number of years. Whether it’s true or not, or the root cause, or if it’s something else and men just don’t choose to disclose their sexual lifestyle that may have put them at risk.
When communities openly have this conversation, when people use precaution and find out if they’re already infected, they can receive early diagnosis and treatment, you can go on to have a very long and productive life. For the African-American community, Magic Johnson is a prime example. People look at him living this openly healthy life but they don’t recognize there are layers to how he’s able to do that. He’s receiving top-notch medical treatment, he’s taking medication appropriately, he was diagnosed early. All of these have allowed him to stay healthy nearly 30 years later. In so many ways, it creates a false narrative in the African-American community. Get diagnosed with HIV and suddenly you’re healthy.
Why is PrEP so important not only men but women, and what are you trying to do to make sure everyone has access to it?
We discussed the need to have funding in Atlanta towards PrEP. By virtue of how we’re organized, it really is Fulton County’s responsibility for public health. We put $100,000 aside in last year’s budget for the first time to address HIV/AIDS in the city. As we continued to examine how the city could use that funding, we determined that expansion of PrEP would be the best use of those dollars. We’re going to be working with the Fulton County Board of Health to help increase the scope of PrEP. We have to make sure access to appropriate medical care and medicines is available to all communities. For so many in Atlanta, that community that is not spoken of involves African-American women.
If someone in Atlanta is diagnosed with HIV, how does your team make sure they have not only the appropriate access to physical care but also mental care after diagnoses?
I think that has to be part of our conversation. What we are looking to do in the next few months, we will be onboarding a chief health officer. One of our foundation partners is going to help provide that position for us. When you are getting into testing and diagnoses of HIV/AIDs, that’s just a layer of it. There are other things we have to do to make sure people are prepared for that diagnoses. That chief health officer will help create services that will help outline those needs.
As Mayor, what does it mean to be a voice for the LGBTQ community to speak up and lay down new policies to protect our rights as a community?
I think it really is who we are as a city. It’s who we’ve really been created to be. Atlanta was this shining beacon for the civil rights movement. It attracted African-Americans to the city because it was a welcoming place unlike many other places in the South. I think in 2019, our commitment to human rights is still just the same. I think when you look at the LGBTQ, it’s such an important part of our city. I think it’s only appropriate to continue to lead the way and show the world that we can be a welcoming city.
Your administration just introduced legislation to end conversion therapy. It unanimously passed through the city council. Why is this one of your priorities not only for the city but across the state?
When you have the LGBTQ community, so often you hear people talk about struggling and coming out as children and teenagers. If we’re continuing to foster this secretly, I think what ends up happening is you have a number of issues: people who aren’t free to be who they were created to be, you have people hiding their lifestyles from their partners which creates risk factors. I think that we have to lead the state, and even the nation and the world with appropriate behavior because of who we are as a city. Our administration introduced this legislation so that it could be very clear that we don’t support conversion therapy and then it begins the public conversation so that people can call on the state to do the same.
Morehouse College recently announced they’d consider trans men for enrollment in 2020. As an African-American female mayor, how do you think this puts the rights of minorities at the forefront throughout the city?
I think, most importantly, for African-Americans, Morehouse is such a long-standing institution very much immersed in tradition, so for them to look at this policy and to say there are changes that need to be made, speaks volumes. It’s something that will be liberating for other African-American institutions to re-examine their policies as well.
What do you think you can do as Mayor and even after you leave office, to keep Atlanta one of the top LGBTQ-friendly destinations in the country and the world?
I think that as long as we continue to reflect our diversity in the city, it’s always in the representation of the city. Even where we took the cover picture for the Georgia Voice at 10th and Piedmont, it’s how we present ourselves and how we put together policies. It’s my hope that people will continue to come to Atlanta to see that we are truly a welcoming place.
As we apply data and metrics to measure our progress with what we’re doing in the city to move the scene on HIV/AIDS, I think that speaks volumes, and it also shows that we’re welcoming to people of all lifestyles.