Jeremy Scott Hobbs is the Executive Director of the Chattahoochee Valley Better Way Foundation, a support and advocacy organization for HIV-positive people in Columbus, GA and the Chattahoochee Valley. Hobbs has also been an activist for LGBT rights in this region and has worked with the Mayor and City Council on issues regarding LGBT and AIDS/HIV demographics in the city. I sent him interview questions by email, and separated many of his verbatim responses into paragraphs; whole Q&A paragraphs have been rearranged for narrative clarity, and another portion will be available in another post. Here is Part 1.
- Pink Peach News: Can you give some personal background about yourself? Such as, where you were born or raised, where you went to school or college, your occupations, your hobbies?
Jeremy Hobbs: I was Born and raised here in Columbus Georgia. I attended Calvary Christian School till grade 7 then went to Richards Middle School and then Jordan High School till 1993 where I then transferred to Columbus High School in order to receive an Academic Scholarship instead of technical. I was awarded an Academic Scholarship to CVCC where I graduated with an Associate’s Degree in Business Management in 1994. I have been in Theater Management, Restaurant Management and Retail Management for combined over 18 years. My hobbies are simple…Political and Community Activism, Gaming, and an AVID Movie Lover. I lived in Poughkeepsie New York at age 20 and Atlanta Georgia at the age of 24-26.
- PPN: What organizations and campaigns have you worked with?
JH: George W. Bush 2004 Campaign; Mark Cantrell School Board Columbus 2010 & 2014; Muscogee County Schools Special Local Option Sales Tax 2015; Columbus Georgia Local Option Sales Tax 2009; Redevelopment District Tax Allocation 2014; Mayor Teresa Tomlinson 2010 & 2014; John Darr for Sheriff 2012; Jeremy Hobbs City Council 2004 & 2012; Worked with Muscogee Young Republicans and Muscogee County Democrats; Red McDaniel City Council 2008; Jason Carter for Governor 2014; Bob Poydasheff Mayor 2006; Member of Chamber of Commerce Young Professionals 2006-2008; Public Safety Advisory Board Columbus Georgia 2009-2010; MPO Transportation Citizens Advisory Committee 2009 to Current and Chairman of Committee from 2012-2015; Executive Board Member Mayor’s Committee for Persons with Disabilities 2008-2010; LGBT Liaison and Member of Mayor’s Committee for Unity Diversity & Prosperity 2014 to Current; Georgia Unites/ColGay Pride/Georgia Equality/HRC 2015 RFRA Opposition; COLGAY Pride’s We Serve All Establishments 2014 to Current.
- PPN: Can you provide some background on these organizations and campaigns, and why you joined them?
JH: ALWAYS ANSWERED THE CALL TO DUTY. Anytime a leader asks of me to help with something I am there if I believe in the cause or the candidate. It is my civic responsibility to ensure the security, integrity and growth of our city, our state and our nation. Furthermore defend our constitution to ensure Equality is for All people…Not just some. Work to protect the civil liberties of all citizens and ensure discrimination isn’t practiced in the workplace or businesses in our nation.
- PPN: Who are your inspirations? Who are your living legends and role models, and why?
JH: Compassion & Love for one another are my biggest inspirations. To see people come together from all walks of life to help their fellow man warms my heart the most. My favorite living legends would be Betty White whom I adore for making me laugh all these years; Hillary Clinton for her dedication to change the oval office into more than a man’s position; Leonard Nimoy who isn’t living any longer but who gave me LOGICAL inspiration and great words to live by and of course President Obama for being the first African American president and the man who finally started charting the territory for LGBT Equality in America and started saying the words Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender in their speeches and policies. It’s a great time to be an American because so much has happened in just the past decade to move our country forward and serve ALL Americans and not just some.
- PPN: Can you describe your spiritual, ethical or moral path? How has it evolved over your lifetime? How does it influence you in your work?
JH: I’m a Christian first and foremost. So I believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ, not the perverted religious views from centers of faith that constantly judge and promote hatred of one person or another. All are Created Equal. Judge Not. He who is without sin, cast the first stone. Love thy neighbor. Those fundamental teachings in my mind cannot be perverted thus gives me a clear and decisive path in my work to create and pave a better way for all mankind.
- PPN: Are you HIV-positive? When did you first contract HIV? How has it impacted your life?
JH: On April 13th 2003 I was diagnosed with Stage 3 AIDS. My CD4 was 16 and Viral load was over a million. I was told to go home and make final preparations and I was given 6 months to live. I decided after that point sometime after I can either get busy dying or I can get busy living. I chose to not got quietly into the night. I chose to survive and push forward with the beauty of life. I realized then Life is precious and something that must never be taken for granted. I from that point have lived my life to the fullest working every day to make a better way of life for all our citizens. I just recently celebrated 12 years of living with AIDS. I celebrate simply because I was lucky enough to survive, to beat the odds, to beat death and start living a more meaningful, purposeful and fulfilled life.
- PPN: At which point did you start getting involved with HIV activism? How did your current organization, the Chattahoochee Valley Better Way Foundation, come into being?
JH: After living a few years on the brink with no information, no support and nothing in general to help me survive I realized a major deficiency here in Columbus Georgia. There was NO support agency for people living with AIDS. So in 2006 I began working on the Chattahoochee Valley Better Way Foundation, Inc. It first started off as providing support for people living with HIV/AIDS but then everywhere I turned I saw the numbers of AIDS diagnosis growing rapidly so I knew Action had to be taken to lower these infection rates and then began my city wide advocacy to educate people about HIV and provide HIV Testing events to promote Awareness of Status and work to Reduce the Stigma Associated with the disease.
Since the beginning we have helped lower Stage 3 AIDS Diagnosis by 70%. More people are getting tested in Columbus and surrounding areas than ever before in our history. And our Awareness/Education events have tripled attendance since the beginning. Every year we put together an AIDS Candlelight Memorial to honor our fallen in May; a National HIV Testing Day event in June; An AIDS 5k in September and a World AIDS Day BBQ in December. Our groups that were once closed and private are now open to Friends and Families and the public. An informed community is a more passionate and proactive community.
- PPN: For those who have come to your Living with Hope program, what are the sorts of life stories and struggles which are told?
JH: The stories come from folks of all walks of life. Male & Female; White & Black; Gay & Straight; Young & Old. HIV affects EVERYONE. HIV Does Not Discriminate. I hear the stories of Fear of Disclosure; the Associated Stigma that prevails in family members, friends and the workplace; The sadness of never finding meaningful relationships because of their status; the overwhelming and gripping fear of their meds not working or getting sick and dying. But once they come in and share their stories, even though not one is the same; they begin to see the similarities in their struggles for acceptance and to be treated like everyone else. They leave with a sense of Hope. A sense that a better tomorrow is coming. And they believe now more than ever a cure is on the horizon. We give people Hope and that is why we are Living with Hope.
- PPN: What do you think is the current state of the LGBT community in the Chattahoochee Valley region?
JH: The current state of the LGBT community in the Chattahoochee Valley is very much divided racially and mentally. The community itself does not have a strong hold anywhere. It’s very broken up with no LGBT bar which seems to be the only thing that matters to a lot of the citizens but also they refuse to support the services they already have like the CV Pride Community center which is struggling every day to keep their doors open. It takes money, a lot of it, to ensure the stability and growth of organization’s that are working to help LGBT citizens do well and provide them with services. The mental state of a lot of our citizens is they simply don’t care unless a drag show or alcohol is involved. Those factors do absolutely nothing to ensure Equality is in the workplace and Marriage Equality is for all.
In order for our community and its organizations to survive, our community must regroup and change its mental perception from things that don’t matter and are for only entertainment purposes only that last only a few hours to things that will benefit the entire community for a lifetime as a whole and work towards things that matter and will provide a more meaningful life in the workplace and within our community and for generations to come.
- PPN: In Columbus, we don’t have a nondiscrimination ordinance which includes sexual orientation and gender identity. Have you encountered residents who have experienced discrimination? How do you think that the Columbus community can change that?
JH: Being in the political process for years now I can understand this, because all too often leaders wait for someone else to activate these measures and then follow suit. Our leaders need to be just that. Leaders. Not Followers. As we have seen all around our nation, Mayors take action and create policies that serve all and ensure their citizens & city employees receive the same benefits as others. I have ran into some who have discussed this issue regarding insurance and so forth but again most of our LGBT citizens have become complacent with the status quo and willing to accept tolerance of their “lifestyle” instead of full-fledged equality in benefits, protections and treatment from our consolidated government.
- PPN: Have you been following the court case Inniss v. Aderhold, regarding marriage equality here in Georgia? In your view, why has the case taken so long to get its day in court?
JH: My view, Because it’s Georgia. It’s the South. And we have a long way to go to change the perception of LGBT Marriage Equality in our state. The Supreme Court will be making its decision soon that will blanket all 50 states regarding this issue. In my mind I believe as said before they are waiting for others to follow the leader instead of being proactive in their leadership and upholding their oath when they swore to protect all citizens right and uphold the constitution of our great country. Another issue is our Attorney General Sam Olens who blatantly ignored the pleas of our citizens regarding marriage equality and chose party over people which seems to be the trend that we see happening all across our country.
- PPN: Can you describe your position as “LGBT Liaison” to the Mayor? What does it consist of?
JH: The Voice of Issues, Concerns and Policy regarding LGBT Citizens here in Columbus Georgia. I work closely with the Mayor on raising our HRC Index score and working on the Mayors Committee for Unity Diversity and Prosperity.
- PPN: In your work with Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, what changes have you been able to accomplish?
JH: The creation of an LGBT Liaison officer to the Mayor and the Mayors Committee for Unity, Diversity & Prosperity and for our city to recognize and proclaim the month of June as LGBT Pride Month. Two huge and historic firsts here in our city. Also we have an open dialogue when it comes to issues dealing with Marriage Equality and Non Discrimination practices here in Columbus Georgia.
- PPN: What do you see as the problems within the LGBT community in the local area, and in what ways do you think they can be fixed?
JH: Total lack of care and participation for issues that should matter most to them. We often hold rallies and meetings in our city, but it dumbfounds me the lack of participation from our own LGBT community. I see more Straight allies working for us than I do our own LGBT community. It’s time for our LGBT citizens to become activated and start doing more. Perhaps create an LGBT Advocacy Commission and office within our city that focusses on the LGBT Citizens, the youth and their needs and fights discrimination and bullying in schools.
- PPN: Ten years from now, what do you think will be the state of LGBT lives and the community in the Columbus, Georgia area? What do you think will change by then?
JH: In Ten years I see Marriage Equality in the State of Georgia. I see full equality in insurance practices within city government to include coverage of spouses and children. I see more adoption for Gay couples in Georgia being allowed. And my hope, my dream is to truly see a DIVERSE GEORGIA. Because only then will all be able to succeed and our state become a leader in education and the business sector.
- PPN: Politically, how do you describe yourself?
JH: The best description of myself politically would have to go to a favorite Richard Pryor movie “Brewster’s Millions” when he ran on NONE OF THE ABOVE. Being a Southern boy and raised up in a Southern Baptist home I was pulled toward the Republican Party because of Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, and Teddy Roosevelt whom happen to be three of my favorite Presidents. However after realizing who I was and that I was indeed a gay man, I started seeing our nation of R Leaders basically saying I was not part of “We the People”. In fact I felt marginalized and therefore started pulling for leadership that was working for me instead of against me.
However, let this be said the two party system in our country in the root of all that is bad in America. We should be one united party…the American Party. The two party system is broken and does not work unless it is working for special interests which have hindered the growth of America and left 98% of all Americans struggling today as a result. So do I claim a Party? No. I vote from my heart. It’s not about R’s and D’s…It’s about you and me.
- PPN: Can you describe your first run for political office? How well do you think you did, and what did it teach you in the aftermath?
JH: In 2004, I was in a hurdle to the finish line of my life. I realized that so many of my life long dreams were probably not going to happen because of my status which I found out about one year before. In panic mode I had to do it all. So I entered my candidacy for City Council District 8 against Red McDaniel who at that time served 32 years as a city councilor. I received 844 votes and only 29% of the popular vote. Many people told me that was a great achievement to receive that many votes from a Veteran City Councilor. I hid my status as that time when I ran because I knew the overall attitude towards people living with AIDS was not a good one. It taught me the in’s and out’s of running and what I needed to do for my next run which I did in 2012 again for the same office which was still held by 36 year incumbent Red McDaniel.
I really thought I was going to win that election but the funds were not there to ensure the proper marketing I needed. But as Red said; “Jeremy worked hard….No one can say he didn’t work hard to win this race.” This time I got 42% of the popular vote and 948 votes. So I did a lot better than I did in 2004, but with the election date of July and only 26% of registered voters voting, it is much more difficult to have good results than it would be in a General November election. But I was very pleased with how well I did especially against a 36 year incumbent. Not to mention during this election everyone knew I was HIV Positive and Gay. So I could definitely see times were changing here in Columbus Georgia.
- PPN: Do you plan to run for political office again? What are your options, and which ones are most viable for you as a potential candidate?
JH: 100% YES I AM. I am currently gearing up for a 2016 run for office. I am currently deciding whether to run for the same seat once more which will not be any current incumbent opposition due to Red McDaniel who passed away in 2014 or, to run for State Senate District 29 currently held by the Georgia RFRA Author Senator Josh McKoon. Both have their obstacles but running for a State Senate seat and beating the current incumbent will take raising over half a million dollars and I don’t foresee that happening. So as of right now I currently leaning towards continuing my leadership here in Columbus Georgia and serving the people I know and love and ensuring we do what right for our citizens here now. But I will make my official decision at our COLGAY pride event on June 6th publicly.
- PPN: As an openly-LGBT and HIV-positive resident of Columbus, do you think you have a good chance or a long shot for elected office?
JH: I believe I have an excellent chance of winning today for city council. State Senate not so sure because of the demographic and registered voters. The attitude’s here have changed dramatically and I believe that’s because of the great work we have been doing with the Chattahoochee Valley Better Way Foundation, Inc and COLGAY Pride. We are changing the perception and the views regarding people living with HIV/AIDS and LGBT Citizens.
- PPN: When it comes to religion and the religious freedom movement by the far-right in Georgia, how does your moral path motivate you against the most anti-LGBT factions in Georgia politics?
JH: Because RFRA bills no matter what they say are nothing more than an OPEN SEASON attack on persons whom you hate. Nothing more. To give people the right to pick and choose their own laws based upon their religious beliefs will result in total anarchy. When Jesus fed the 500 did He check people’s sins before He fed them…NO? He served all. Not once in the teachings of Jesus Christ did he ever say anything that marriage was to be between a man and a woman. And furthermore our country was founded on the principals of Separation of Church and State and I will therefore uphold those principals and serve all equally not on the preface of religion but on the preface of our founding fathers and the constitution of our great country that begins WE THE PEOPLE. I will work to ensure every person is entitled to Life, Liberty, and their Pursuit of Happiness.
- PPN: What are the changes that you seek in Columbus and/or Georgia? What are the problems which you have seen persist? What would you change or fight for in elected office?
JH: FULL ACCESS & EQUALITY FOR ALL INDIVIDUALS, insurance coverage for all married individuals gay or straight; Marriage Equality in Georgia and all 50 States; Fight any legislation that allows open discrimination; Fight to work to ensure LGBT Citizens are a Protected class in the State of Georgia. Work to ensure all Businesses here in Columbus Georgia are put on the Recycling Program. Also create a three prong measure to establish mandatory recycling in our city. Eliminate one Asst. City Manager and reduce City Managers Budget/Salary; END Locking up people for Drug charges which has done nothing but put an immeasurable strain on our jail and court system; Work to ensure Columbus Passenger Rail is Ready to Go by 2025; Promote and Improve Columbus Public Transportation methods; And work to promote new business and job growth here in Columbus; Work with State Leadership to Re-Enact Medicaid Expansion to over 600,000 citizens in need; Also work to Create Property Tax Exemption for Retired Military so to create incentive for those retiring from Ft. Benning to stay in Columbus Georgia.
Part 2 will be linked here soon.