During the COVID-19 crisis, J. Tebias Perry, founder of Spotlight on the Community, (left) and Demarcus Austin(inset)have decided to spotlight persons who are on the front lines and are essential workers to keep our neighborhoods, hospitals and communities safe. We would like to shine a light on these individuals to show recognition and appreciation for their sacrifices.
I am Christopher Gonzalez. This is my story.
Originally from Orlando, Florida, Christopher has lived in Atlanta for the past year and has been an active member of the LGBTQ community, working at both Woofs and Heretic, as well as volunteering and being active in both the bear and leather scenes in Orlando and Atlanta. He is the current World Cub 2019 and former GNI (Gay Naturist International) Bare Bear. Christopher promotes the platform of body positivity, empowerment, and physicality within the bear community, blurring lines of what someone with a bit of extra weight is capable of. With a diverse background in performance and education, he brings these skills to the forefront when educating various demographics on the benefits of movement and yoga practice.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, he has tried to provide his “Bear Yoga” classes to the masses and has been active in promoting the hospitality and nightlife industry’s efforts to keep their customers engaged. After catching pneumonia during the first week of Atlanta’s initial lockdown order and receiving a presumptive diagnosis for the coronavirus, Christopher was featured on NPR, Georgia Voice, and other publications for his openness and commentary on the lack of testing and resources available for the general population. While bars and restaurants are closed for dine-in service, thus putting him out of regular income (like much of the hospitality and service industry), he has continued to teach his theater/voice and yoga students virtually.
With the cancellation and postponement of events all around the world, it is up to the leaders in our communities to find new and engaging ways to bring us together. Christopher is determined to keep people active and engaged in the community while social distancing remains the norm.
This pandemic is the first worldwide occurrence that has genuinely crossed all demographic, and cultural lines. It is time to realize that we as humans are more alike than we are different. We have to realize that we are all going through a trying time in our lives and remember to practice compassion even after our lives return to “normal” … whatever that may look like.
My name is Charles Kollock, aka Princess Charles. This is my story.
I’ve been working in the scene for about 25 years. I started off as a gymnastics coach and dancer, which led me to be on the first all-male gay cheerleading team. This team won the Nationals competition. I’ve hosted drag shows and a variety shows. These shows have allowed me to cross paths with many people, and I have come to love and adore them.
Who would have thought a kid from Statesboro, Georgia (by way of New Jersey and Philadelphia) would have done so well within the gay community? I’m so grateful for the love I have received over the years. Going through this pandemic has taught me how strong we are if we stick together. I pray every day that we will overcome this battle with very few deaths! Isolation has brought me back to focusing on myself and my needs. Hopefully, when this is over, I will be more of a well-rounded person.
I can’t wait to spread love to my friends and family when I see them. The human touch is healing.
My name is Gabriel Knous. This is my story.
I have been in health care as a registered nurse (RN) for six years—specifically, in a cardiovascular intensive care unit (CVICU). It’s been about three weeks since our unit was converted into a COVID-19 unit in order to facilitate the burgeoning number of patients afflicted with the novel coronavirus.
While I am extremely proud of my profession as a nurse, it has been an abrupt change both professionally and personally to break the routine of daily life and quickly adapt to such a confining and restrictive way of life.
Professionally, we, as nurses, are at the front lines of the battle against an unknown pandemic, and we risk our own safety to care for and help treat these critically ill patients. Subconsciously, fear of becoming sick ourselves drives the acute attention to detail in donning and doffing our limited PPE, some of which we reuse throughout the day. It’s an emotionally, physically, and mentally challenging 12 hour shift; however, we still hope that through it all, we help make a difference in our patients’ lives and the lives of our community.
Personally, it has been challenging to lose face to face social contact with friends and family for fear of becoming a vector of transmission; in some cases, it feels like being labeled with a scarlet letter as we go into the front lines of patient care and advocacy day in and day out.
It is also challenging to be creative with only marginally useful home equipment for working out; I miss the gym. If any company were going to give anything to health care workers to support us, I’d much rather have gym equipment than a free Whopper from Burger King. It’s important to keep up our own health and wellness during this crisis.
It’s also a challenge to make it to the grocery or pet store to get needed items, if available, since there are limited hours and some places have limited quantities and restrictions on the number of customers who can access the stores.
Above all, I am thankful for my health and well-being during this time; not one day passes that I forget I am healthy, have food on the table for me (and my dogs), and that I have a warm place to sleep. I am taking this time to reflect on my own life, reevaluate my professional and personal goals for the year, and get back to some of those hobbies, like woodworking, that have taken a backseat to what was once a fast-paced way of living before COVID-19.
My name is Vince Shifflett. This is my story.
I am a critical care registered nurse and author. I am very passionate about both vocations, and grateful to be able to inspire, educate and motivate through the avenues of nursing and writing. Being a nurse has caused me to reflect on how COVID-19 has changed me. COVID-19 has brought me a greater awareness of the gift of life. It has taken me back to my childhood in many ways.
I grew up very poor. We learned to create our own entertainment. There was no eating out, no going to movies, no going to gyms or anywhere else. We went to school and church. That was it. COVID-19 has taken me back to that time, and caused me to realize that most of us have way more than we need while others have nothing. Now I have two bathrooms. I grew up with no indoor bathrooms. We had an outhouse. The coronavirus has awakened me in many ways.
Material things do not produce happiness. Each individual can create their own happiness. Every time I think about complaining, I think of those who have lived with basically nothing their entire lives. No vacations. No eating out. No going to movies, live concerts or shows. And guess what? They are fine. The pandemic has helped me learn to be alone and to look at myself. No one else to look at, right? It has also created a greater sense of gratitude for my friends. I miss them and the positive contributions they make to my life each time we’re together.
In summary, this crisis has led me to the awareness that we need each other. Humans were meant to coexist. We need each other’s love. We need each other’s feedback. We need each other’s touch. We need each other’s support. Life cannot be lived alone. At some point in your life, you will definitely need others. I am grateful for all the others in my life.
My name is Jim Poteete. This is my story.
Since August of 2010 I’ve been blessed to be part of the small but close Atlanta Eagle staff family. Many of you probably remember me holding court for several years behind the massive blackjack table in the game room. We had some amazing fun and great times. In the fall of 2015 I made the move from the game room to behind the bar and have been in love with it ever since.
Working in any gay bar in Atlanta is hard work and long hours, but it is so rewarding. Leather & Lace, Southeast Black & Blue, Atlanta Leather Pride, Black Pride, and Pride are just a few of the amazing events that I’ve been blessed to be a part of over the years. Any Saturday night you can find me on the front bar with Kirby, slinging drinks and having a great time. It’s all thanks to members of the community—like you—who come in and support us from week to week.
March 18, 2020: a day I won’t forget any time soon. I picked up the bar shift that night, karaoke night at the Eagle. I didn’t realize it would be my last bar shift for a good long while. In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, we had decided on some best practices changes, such as wearing gloves, washing hands between customers, eliminating cut fruit, etc. At that time Mayor Bottoms had not restricted businesses or bars from regular hours. We knew such an order was coming, but it came much sooner than expected—the next day.
That was the last bar shift for which the Atlanta Eagle has been open. A Jack & Coke was the last drink I poured. I have a little thing where, when I close down the bar and get ready to leave, I always look around one last time and say a small prayer of thanks for the thousands of gay men and women who came before me and paved the way for me to live my life openly and unafraid. That night I turned off the music, turned off the lights, said my prayer, told the bar goodnight and locked the doors. I never imagined that would be the last time for what is turning out to be quite a long while.
In my day job I am (or I should say was) the Assistant Director of IT for one of the restaurant companies at the Atlanta airport. As of March 27, all 19 restaurants have closed due to lack of business. That was also the last day I worked. My company decided on permanent terminations instead of furloughs, so it meant an immediate end to all benefits, including medical insurance. Losing three-fourths of our income in the span of a week has been a tough pill to swallow, but things are going to be OK.
I worry about the other 650 employees who worked in our restaurants and were also let go that day. Many of them held tipped positions and were living paycheck to paycheck. I believe things are going to be OK and that businesses will come back and thrive.
COVID-19 has also impacted Aaron (my husband) and me in another very close-to-home way. Someone who holds a piece of our heart works in a hospital on the front line in the fight against this virus right here in Atlanta. He works exhaustingly long days and comes “home” to a hotel and into isolation each night to protect his amazing and loving partner and us, his family. That is a constant worry on my mind these days. It’s also a worry on the minds of many people in this country. These selfless individuals deserve every bit of praise and prayer people are sending their way.
I want everyone to know that when businesses and bars reopen, the Atlanta Eagle is going to be there—a staple in the leather and gay communities of Atlanta—to serve you and give you a place to just come and be you. In the meantime, take care of yourselves, love on each other a little more and keep washing those hands!
You can choose to identify yourself or remain anonymous, but we do ask that you let everyone know at least the general area of where you live in the city. Photos are very welcomed. Don’t worry about grammar—we will fix it if it needs it.