Every June we celebrate Gay Pride and uplift the LGBTQ+ community in all its diversity, richness, and remarkable contributions to society at large. This year, more than ever, the reflection has more meaning for many of us. The life-altering converging issues such as COVID, social and political unrest, and the acknowledgement of the 40th anniversary of the HIV/AIDS pandemic are all inflection points for the community, the nation and the world. To be able to reflect and celebrate in this moment and time is incredibly important to me as a Black gay man living in this country.
My experience and perspective as someone who was very active in the HIV/AIDS community during the late 1980s throughout the early 2000s was as an activist, HIV educator, executive director of HIV/AIDS nonprofits, and in board leadership with LGBTQ+ and AIDS service organizations. It was during this time that I witnessed firsthand the incredible power and energy galvanizing communities and the tremendous impact the nonprofit sector played in activism, education, and community empowerment. Our sector was at the vanguard during one of the most devastating public health crises of our times. The response by the nonprofit sector to communities in need and the capacity to “take care of own” while the government was silent or stifled by politics and moral judgment was both painful (as a Black gay man) and incredibly empowering to be a part of within the nonprofit community. The ability of the nonprofit sector to be focused and mission driven and yet operate from a space that recognizes the value of “intersectionality” is what makes the sector so important in creating space for activism and movement building. I want to encourage people to really grasp the importance and meaning of intersectionality as a living framework uplifted and defined by Black women in this country.
Crisis of any kind, especially a public health crisis, not only moves people into action but also underscores the increasing inequities in our country around race, class, gender education, and access. I cannot help but compare some of these inequities being on full view during the past fifteen months of the COVID pandemic. The slow ineffectual response from a government bureaucracy steeped in political posturing as opposed to placing the health of the nation at front and center. The disparities of access to vaccines and the messaging of the need for vaccines as presented to Black and Brown people. The eventual stigma (judgment) attached to “mask wearer” vs “non-mask wearer” and vaccinated versus “non-vaccinated” resembles the stigma, in the early days and one could argue easily still in existence today, attached to those in the HIV community. In some ways our country has shown signs of progress toward social justice and equity. However, there is an incredible amount of work to be done and we are still fighting the injustices and equities that are a part of our country’s DNA and history.
My teaching allows me to infuse much of the important theory with my incredibly valuable lived experience.
My personal, political, and professional lives are intertwined. This is a direct result of living my life as a Black gay man in this country. Within my professional life I have discovered the importance of consulting with nonprofits and foundations on how to “do better,” I have also discovered the joy of teaching and being a part of the academic community as a part-time Lecturer in Columbia’s M.S. Nonprofit Management program. My teaching allows me to infuse much of the important theory with my incredibly valuable lived experience.
I feel strongly that academic programs that encourage life experiences and theory to sit next to one another are critical to engaging and preparing the next generation of nonprofit community leaders to take up the mantle for social justice, community empowerment, and activism.
So, as I say “Happy Pride!”--I must also say “Silence = Death,” “Black Lives Matter,” and acknowledge the incredible men and women and trans community folks who built and manage nonprofit organizations everywhere.
Mr. Mays is a part-time lecturer in the M.S. Nonprofit Management program at SPS. He is the Principal/Founder of Mays2 Consulting LLC, a consulting group which specializes in helping nonprofit organizations strengthen their business practices.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any other person or entity.