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‘In the Life’ paved way for generation of black gay men

I first learned that I had the power to become, to define myself beyond the circumstance of my birth, through the cultural pride my parents instilled in me and my brother. Our home was enriched with artifacts of black genius. There were books and albums of art titans such as Lorraine Hansberry, James Baldwin, the Temptations, Coltrane and Labelle. There was the framed “Free Angela Davis” portrait posted so high her regal afro nearly touched our living room ceiling.

Through the acknowledgment of record, this little black boy was shown his past and thus felt assured a place in the world. “When I speak of home, I mean not only the familial constellation from which I grew, but the entire black community: the black press, the black church, black academicians, the black literati, and the black left.”

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ATL gay promoters and activists honor legacy of MLK

Atlanta HIV / AIDS activst Craig Washington

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. noted that the gulf between different groups of people was widened not only by outright racism, but also by the unspoken acceptance of the status quo. Although the white and black gay populations in King’s hometown have gained tremendous vibrancy and clout since his era, modern Atlanta’s gay social scene can sometimes feel as segregated as 1950s lunch counters and water fountains.

“We’re creatures of habit, and we tend to stick to things and people that we are accustomed to,” says Gregory Allen, CEO of Xtreme Entertainment, which hosts “The Lion’s Den” parties. “We tend to stay in our own neighborhoods, we tend to party in our own circles.

“There are so many subsets of the LGBT community, and without actually taking the initiative or making the effort to really bring the cultures together, everyone just goes to their own corner — African-Americans partying in their own circle, Caucasians partying in their own circle, Hispanics partying in their own circle,” he adds.

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Craig Washington believes he’s on a ‘sacred’ journey to educate and save lives

Craig Washington, left, and the 2009 Atlanta AIDS Walk

Craig Washington, 50, says being a face of the 20th annual AIDS Walk Atlanta is “poetic.”

“I think there’s something very poetic … there’s an arc of growth and change to come from 25 years ago in the summer of ’85, being terrified and somewhat ashamed,” he says.

“And just operating on faith but not a lot of evidence and not wanting or willing to have anyone know that I was positive, to lending my name and my image as being openly HIV positive,” he adds. “It speaks a lot of how, not so much how much I’ve grown or changed, but also how the society I’m a part of has changed. … That to a certain extent has made room for me to do that.”