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 some 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 2 of my interview with Jeremy Scott Hobbs.
- PPN: Can you describe Colgay Pride and its mission?
Our Mission is to:
- COLGAY PRIDE teaches In All Things…BE TRUE TO YOU!
- COLGAY PRIDE Started the PFLAG CHAPTER of Columbus Georgia.
- COLGAY PRIDE is the FIRST to PRESENT SPEAKERS Instead of a Drag Show at a PRIDE EVENT from the Entire LGBT Community
- COLGAY PRIDE Created the CDC Recommended TOWN HALL Series “Start Talking…Stop HIV”
- COLGAY PRIDE is the FIRST to Bring our Community Together and END DISCRIMINATION with the FREE “WE SERVE ALL ESTABLISHMENT” Program for Businesses
- COLGAY PRIDE is the FIRST to EVER get a City Wide Proclamation Declaring the Month of June as LGBT PRIDE MONTH in Columbus Georgia
- COLGAY PRIDE is the FIRST to Ever Get CITY LEADERS INVOLVED in our PRIDE Celebration including Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and Councilor Mimi Woodson
- COLGAY PRIDE is the FIRST OPEN BROADWAY PRIDE EVENT IN COLUMBUS GEORGIA HISTORY
- COLGAY PRIDE is part of the Award Winning 501c3 Agency CVBWF Inc. (The Chattahoochee Valley Better Way Foundation, Inc).
- Provide Support for LGBT Citizens & Families
- END DISCRIMINATION & BULLYING
- CREATE Awareness and Prevention of HIV.
- Preserve and Honor LGBT HISTORY
- ADVOCATE for EQUALITY IN ALL THINGS
- Educate EVERYONE about LGBT Pride, Culture and History
- WORK to Improve How LGBT Citizens Perceived
- PPN: On Colgay Pride, when did you first conceive of the idea of a Pride celebration downtown? Why the name “Colgay”?
JH: After the Marriage Equality Ruling from the Supreme Court in 2013, I felt it was time for our LGBT community pride event to be more than a Entertainment Drag Show. I felt it was time for us to stop hiding in back allies and in parks secluded from the public and be up front in everyones face and show our pride right in the Heart of Columbus Georgia and therefore be inviting and visible to all members of our great city. Pride isn’t something that is hidden. Pride is Robust and Must be Shown to Everyone. There can be NO FEAR in Showing our pride. I came up with the name COLGAY Pride as COL – Columbus; GA- Georgia and just added the Y to make the Ga become GAY and thus you have COLGAY PRIDE.
- PPN: How well did the first Colgay Pride go last year? How many people attended, and what do you think was accomplished?
In my opinion the Pride event was outstanding. Over 300 people came in and out of our area and listened to the speakers. The fact that we were in DOWNTOWN Columbus during the Market Days event we reached so many folks who were simply there to shop and look around. We made history of having City Councilor Mimi Woodson there, The Mayors Office who presented the FIRST EVER City Wide Proclamation declaring the Month of June LGBT Pride Month, Over 15 speakers Gay & Straight along with organizations who work with or are involved with LGBT Citizens. And instead of a DRAG performance which I felt feeds the negative perception about LGBT Citizens, we hosted a band who played live music between speakers.
Overall it was a Major Success and June 6th 2015 will be better than ever with the growing attention and participation from people all over the Southeast coming to join us this year including Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence from Atlanta, Orlando, Jacksonville, Savannah and Knoxville, Georgia Equality, The Mayor of Columbus Georgia Teresa Tomlinson in person, Lost N Found Atlanta Program for LGBT youth, Savannah Pride and many more.
Colgay Pride and CV Pride
- PPN: The CV Pride Festival has been running since 1999, although it took place at Flat Rock Park as late as September 2014. When you were organizing this new event downtown for June 2014, did anyone express that there was a bit of mission overlap? What are the similarities and differences between Colgay Pride and CV Pride, and do you think they have their own roles in the community?
In the beginning, CONFUSION was the word used most by CV Pride, however I never saw the confusion because the Colgay pride mission and our work is distinctively different than the work of CV Pride. Once our Pride event was seen, the confusion was over. True we are both working to provide services to the LGBT community, but CV Pride who opened their CV PRIDE Community Center last year, for all the years prior of their operation has been mostly entertainment oriented for our LGBT Citizens. Nothing about Advocacy or Political Activism. CV Pride mostly focused on Drag Shows and working with Local Gay bars of the time. The CV Pride show each year seemed to be the only major event the organization ever did at that time with main focus on Drag performances as the forefront of the event, not to mention they always held their pride hidden from the public in Flat Rock Park. This to me was not enough. I along with many others felt it did nothing but add a negative attitude and perception towards LGBT citizens. We needed more in Columbus Georgia. We needed to reach all our citizens and not just focus on LGBT citizens. We needed to be in their face so to speak not hidden but center stage. In order for a Diverse Columbus to exist we have to reach out to all our citizens and get folks on the same page when it comes to matters of Equality and Marriage Equality. These issues were not being addressed nor did CV Pride show any interest in pursuing that, so being a Leader and Not a Follower I took the bull by the horns and Said “WE MUST DO MORE…WE MUST DO BETTER!” and thus created Colgay Pride. Recently I spoke to Patricia Hutto General Manager of Starship Novelties who told me “THANK YOU for not making it a drag show…all that does is add to the negative perception regarding gays and we cannot expect to be taken serious if we continue to play into that stereotype.” Another concern that was the forefront issue to me was the negative attitude Gay men had towards HIV positive people. It was very sour and truly disturbing how they treated HIV Positive folks here in Columbus. With the National HIV infections majority belonging to GAY MEN with 78% of all HIV infections in the United States, we had to change that attitude and make sure we educate and promote HIV awareness and prevention to our gay male community. Gay men didn’t want to talk about HIV nor did they even participate in HIV events that the CVBWF Inc put together. It truly bothered me how a disease that was destroying our Gay Male citizens was totally being ignored and ostracized. CV PRIDE and COLGAY PRIDE ARE working together. Every event I go to I tell people the importance of the Community Center from CV Pride and ask them to help support it, but as I said before, the LGBT community here doesn’t do their part to ensure its success. In a recent discussion with Kevin Blackstock, CEO of CV Pride, told me in words the folks here in Columbus just don’t do enough to support the center. It takes work, leadership and commitment to seeing something through just as you have seen with our agency. It takes building true partnerships and working with others to succeed. When you’re working against people you cannot achieve much in today’s market. But I am proud of the partnership that we have built with CV Pride since we started which also includes our PFLAG Columbus Georgia meetings which was also created by COLGAY Pride now being held at the CV Pride center. COLGAY pride has done so much already with the creation of PFLAG Columbus Georgia, The We Serve All Establishment Program and not to mention our work and success here in Columbus to fight and oppose the RFRA Legislation that would allow discrimination in the workplace and businesses and furthermore historically getting JUNE which is National LGBT Pride Month to be recognized by our very own Columbus Consolidated Government which gave the first ever Proclamation declaring the month of June Columbus Georgia LGBT Pride Month. COLGAY Pride has helped put LGBT Advocacy back on the map in Columbus Georgia according to Rob Woods of Georgia Equality who also personally thanked me and our agency for making such a great impact in the state of Georgia and for ensuring Columbus was now part of the team. For years, because of no real activism, Columbus was always skipped over by HRC and Georgia Equality, but now we have an active role in the decision making of policies and activism here in our state and that’s because of the leadership of COLGAY Pride and its partners.
PPN: What do you see as the future of Colgay Pride?
The future of Colgay Pride is Simple…To continue educating, advocating and working to ensure all people are treated equally and work to promote and create true diversity with all our citizens. I foresee in the next year Colgay Pride splitting from CVBWF Inc and becoming its own entity. The 501c3 Organization CVBWF Inc under my leadership started Colgay Pride as one of our subsidiaries but I believe the time has come for it to have its own place here in Columbus and standalone from CVBWF Inc altogether. CVBWF Inc nurtured and birthed COLGAY Pride, but I believe Colgay Pride is now grown up enough and proven itself to be a leader within our community and therefore to be on its own and hold its own 501c3 beginning next year.
PFLAG Columbus, We Serve All, and other Colgay Pride initiatives
FOLLOW UP QUESTIONS:
- Who else serves with you or has served in leadership at the CVBWF? Can you describe their backgrounds, roles and occupations?
Tim Vance our Vice President who is HIV Positive and also a registered Group Counselor that has worked for many years with HIV prevention around our country; Juanita Hubbard our Women’s Director who is HIV Positive has worked to improve to our womens program and has done a dynamic job of getting more women involved. Juanita was our 2014 Survivor of the Year as well. Debra Smith also HIV Positive who passed away two years ago from cancer was our longtime Women’s Director and was with our agency from the very beginning. EVERYONE loved and truly misses Ms. Debra. Ada Thomas our Secretary who is HIV Positive and is currently working on her Master’s Degree is a very educated and endearing leader in our team along with offering spiritual motivation to our members. Garrett Vance our longtime Treasurer is a Certified Counselor who works with West Central Georgia Hospital Facility here in Columbus who is the 22 year partner of Tim Vance and his HIV Negative. Angelica Macht whose son is HIV Positive just stepped down as our Assistant Secretary due to health issues but still is an active member of our agency is known as our DEN MOTHER who has been there for everyone and everyone loves dearly. Shelby Welchel who lives in Wisconsin is our Social media partner and Co-Founder of our Rise Above HIV Anti Stigma Sector which has been with me for the past four years. She is a 32 year survivor of HIV. Shelby specializes in Social Media Administration. Former Mayor Bob Poydasheff who is our attorney for the agency and helped us establish our 501c3 status. Other people that have worked with our agency Dr. Joe Coley, Tan Shorter-Coleman and Andrew Dennis.
- Who else works with you at Colgay Pride? Can you describe their backgrounds, roles and occupations?
Tim Vance who is our Vice President, HIV Positive and also a Gay male along with his partner Garrett Vance. Both have been together for 22 years. Patricia Lassiter who is on our Team is a well-known political and community activist who has been there for us these past two years at every event. Part of our team now is Georgia Equality which does a weekly conference call to keep us both on the same page and ensure we are all working together. Harry Underwood which is a Web Designer, Political and Community Activist and Vice President of PFLAG Columbus Georgia is part of our team as well.
- I take it that you’re pretty frustrated with how CV Pride has operated over the years. Given what you’ve just said regarding CV Pride as an organization, have you considered that a lot of the perceived absence from activism or prominence on the part of CV Pride’s leadership may rest on how difficult or expensive it is for the average person to be openly-LGBT (or an ally), civically active AND be employed here in Columbus or the Southeast?
I have considered it. But if you’re going to be an LGBT Organization, then those factors cannot keep you from doing the job needed. As FDR once said “The only thing we have to fear…is fear itself.” Our role is to change that fear factor and work to ensure people can live open and be themselves in everything they do. If we have to hide who we are as a human being then we are not living a fulfilled honest life. When we are able to truly be ourselves…we can do and accomplish so much more. As far as being employed the CV Pride directors partner works for the Columbus Police Department and is accepted by all his fellow officers. Ten years ago, things were different, but today it’s a brand new world where we can be open and be ourselves. True we still have adversity, but that sadly is a common factor in all our lives. No matter who you are someone isn’t going to like you. But you cannot let that stop you from living an honest true to thyself full and meaningful life.
- Do you think that CV Pride, in holding Pride at Flat Rock Park, wish to take a somewhat cautious and cost-effective approach for Pride attendees, and do you think that safety and cost is a similar concern for Colgay Pride in a prominent part of town like Broadway Downtown? Or are you specifically going for the more visible and political approach to Pride that we see in cities like Atlanta?
Cautious Yes. I can understand their concern for safety just as I was/am concerned for the safety during our event. But we must also look to history. Harvey Milk and the folks at Stonewall along with so many others who put their own safety on the line to help make a change and bring forth a better tomorrow. When we hide from others, no one can hear or see our message. We can’t just think about ourselves. We have to be brave and work to make this world a better place for our LGBT Citizens now and those of generations to come. We can’t just sit back and let someone else do the work. If we want change bad enough we have to be out in the streets, in the public’s view and up in their face. As far as cost, it takes truly hard work to put on a good performance and get a good venue. You have to build partnerships with leaders and business owners and so forth here in Columbus. People will not just come and dump money into your lap. You have to work to get the funds you need to throw a successful event. We’re faced with cost restraints everyday especially because of economic factors, but you have to do more and never give up or give in. I have a great reputation with businesses here, with Uptown Columbus and our leadership including most of the city councilors, our Chief of Police Ricky Boren, our Sheriff John Darr and of course Mayor Teresa Tomlinson. That comes from years of working with leadership and not being afraid to pick up the phone and makes those calls, but also being persistent and relentless until you get something from them. Partnerships are just that, It’s called working together because they are going to call upon you to do something to help them as well, so be ready to step up to the plate and show some action when they call.
- Can you describe another initiative that you’ve helped restart, PFLAG Columbus? I was told that there was an earlier chapter of PFLAG here, so what happened to it?
PFLAG was something very much needed here in Columbus because family members need to be an inspiration to their LGBT children not a hindrance. The actions of family members have such a huge impact on LGBT youth and those children’s future actions are a direct result from how their parents dealt with them. Also we need to implement the Welcoming Schools initiative into Muscogee County School District to educate tolerance, promote diversity and end bullying. I was told the same thing about the other chapter but never knew anything about it and after speaking to former board members they told me the constraints that eventually led them to dissolve it was lack of participation from the Straight folks and allies. We are finding a similar trend with our PFLAG as well but are working to get those positions filled. We still currently need two more straight family members or allies or friends to fill the positions of Asst. Secretary and our second Vice President.
- The Welcoming Schools initiative that PFLAG Columbus has advertised at recent monthly meetings received press in the Ledger-Enquirer. Can you describe the goals of the “Welcoming Schools” initiative?
Welcoming Schools offers professional development tools, lessons aligned with the Common Core State Standards, and many additional resources for elementary schools on:
Embracing family diversity,
Avoiding gender stereotyping and affirming gender
Ending bullying and name-calling.
Welcoming Schools is inclusive of the many types of diversity found in our communities including LGBT families and people.
Administrators, educators and parents/guardians can get materials that are necessary to create learning environments in which all students are welcomed and respected.
This must begin early in educational environments to prevent future negative actions from students that can cripple LGBT youth from expressing themselves and being themselves.
- What is the “We Serve All Establishments USA” initiative, and how did it come about? There are similar initiatives like “Open for Service” in Indiana and “If You’re Buying, We’re Selling” in Mississippi, so what is different about this initiative here in Columbus?
It all started when I saw what took place in Arizona in 2014. The Arizona bill was one of several bills across the country aimed at providing legal protection to those who wish to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. However, at that time was the only one to actually pass, with similar bills in Idaho, Tennessee, and South Dakota being defeated and a bill in Kansas being held up in the state Senate. I said flat out I cannot allow something like this to happen in our state. So I created the We Serve All Establishments program which is free and businesses receive an individualized numbered sticker to put on their establishment entrance area. Not to toot my own horn here, but Colgay Pride was the first to introduce this type of program. Now that RFRA bills are being signed into law all across the country more organizations are starting to take the same approach. So I guess you can say we invented and was the first We Serve All Program in our country. So that was another great achievement for us here in Columbus as well. I am proud and very happy the concept that we created is being adopted by other organizations around the country today.
- You seem to have a lot on your plate as far as activism and leadership is concerned. How do you balance it all? I notice that CVBWF is a 501(c)3 non-profit which receives donations, so how do Colgay Pride, PFLAG Columbus, We Serve All, and many other campaigns you’ve launched or helped launch receive their funding or structure? Is there a way for the public to donate to Colgay Pride?
I don’t think I have learned yet how to balance it all because as you pointed out I have A LOT on my plate. But as I said before, my time here is hindered due to living with AIDS. I will not take life for granted or waste any of the precious time I have left here on Earth. I will do everything I can, as long as I am able, to pave a better way of life for mankind. Does it wear me down? Yes. But I have to know and recognize when that is coming and take some time to rest because as so many point out to me if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of and work for anyone else. A lot of people ask why do you continue to do this, deal with all the “BS”, deal with all the haters, deal with all the pressure and deal with all the stress when you are not getting paid to do any of it? And my response is simple. I am a true humanitarian. I believe in the causes I work for. My passion is true. I find folks that are paid to do the job sometimes lack the passion because they are too busy chasing the incentive of pay. My incentive is making a change and bettering our world and bringing our people together as one. That to me is worth more than all the gold in Ft. Knox. Our agency does receive donations. And COLGAY Pride is under the umbrella of CVBWF Inc because as I said before a focus factor of COLGAY Pride was to address the HIV Infection rates that have crippled Gay Males in our Country. It’s all ONE organization like United Way that umbrellas so many agencies under their roof. PFLAG was created by CVBWF Inc COLGAY Pride but is its own entity. PFLAG itself will raise money for itself. As of right now, we have no need for any money except for advertising and business cards and so forth. We Serve ALL is under CVBWF Inc COLGAY PRIDE division and the program itself is FREE not to mention I personally paid for all the stickers. CVBWF Inc since day one has never charged for any of its programs. We provide FREE services to everyone out there. NOONE has ever received a salary or pay from CVBWF INC COLGAY PRIDE…EVER. Our work is from the heart. We are true humanitarians and everything we do service wise, we do it for free. This has been the number one reason for our success. Because of our partnerships we have built these past seven years we don’t have overhead. We are provided office space and meeting rooms through New Horizons. I find so many of these agencies that are long gone now were constantly struggling to pay bills, rent, salaries and so forth. Every event we do is paid for by our community through sponsorships. Now don’t get it twisted. We need funds to provide the services we give for free. The Support groups, the fuel, the food, the advertising costs and so forth we need donors to help us provide those things to ensure we continue forth being successful in all we do. If anyone wants to donate to CVBWF INC or COLGAY Pride all they have to do is go to our website www.betterwayfoundation.com/donate-today and from there they can choose where they want their money to go. And the funds donated will be used for that program alone. Next year we will be applying for several new grants, something I have avoided for some time due to my own lack of knowledge on writing grants not to mention all the extra paperwork which I don’t have time to deal with right now because so much is on my plate now. We need experienced grant writers to help us and donate their time to get more funding. That to me is a great donation. And people donating their own personal time and talents is the greatest donation of all.
- Tell me about COLGAY Pride’s New LGBT Softball team that was just announced.
Back in the days where I was first coming out and Dave Forker was the owner of the Fountain City Yacht club we had a LGBT Softball team called the QJ’s. It was a wonderful way in which our LGBT community was united and came together and had a lot of fun doing it. 1995 was the last year the team played and was dissolved. Now twenty years later, COLGAY PRIDE is bringing back LGBT Softball. So many in our community always want activities and so forth and as I said before our LGBT community needs to work together. What better way than to work together through teamwork and sportsmanship. I think us having a team will help build and unite our community and also provide something other than just a bar or show. We are now forming the teams and getting people involved and getting our community informed about its formation. We have a long way to go and need to raise money and so forth for equipment and uniforms, but we have already gotten confirmation from Starship Novelties that they will be one of our major sponsors to ensure its success. We need to build our LGBT community and work together and I believe this is a positive step in that direction.
- Why do you believe Columbus cannot get a Gay bar to stay open?
Since 1993. I was 18 and was sneaking into the Fountain City Yacht Club. Dave knew I was underage but also knew I needed a place to go to find myself. And I did just that. Met so many folks who helped me understand who I was and made a lot of friends. But then the Olympics came to town and they closed up the Yacht Club because they felt it would be an eyesore to the community. Dave quit doing bars then but his history goes back to Curiosity and other bars he ran and owned for many years. Dave Forker is a Hero of mine. He helped us form a team and made the bar something that has not been seen since and that was a COMMUNITY..A FAMILY. Since then we have had eight others bars come and go and seven of them from the same owner. The reason they failed was because they didn’t change it up nor did they provide more than just a show and drinks. Dave helped form the first LGBT Softball team here. We also did Saturday Brunch’s at the Yacht club where people would bring food and come together as a community and socialize. We did trips together to Callaway Gardens and Atlanta and many other places. Another thing that made Dave so successful was he didn’t play favorites. He served and loved everyone that came through that door and built a friendship with every one of them including me. That was the key to his success. He made us a family. And that is something we have not seen since. It takes more than just opening the doors to a club. It takes more than just doing drag shows which I do enjoy but strongly feel shouldn’t be the cornerstone of an establishment. In order for a Gay bar to open and stay open here in Columbus, we need new owners and partners that aren’t in it just for the money but in it to build a community and bring our folks together and form a family.
- How much of the LGBT history of Columbus can you recount?
Besides the bars, there really has not been a lot. I grew up in the days of Dave Forker, Monica Van Pelt and Stella Drocko and Fountain City Yacht Club. Then I remember as said before the first time I felt discriminated against was when the Olympics came to Columbus and the lease holder of the building would not renew the lease to the Yacht Club because it would be viewed as an eyesore and blemish on Columbus. I also remember how police use to wait outside the club and basically target the patrons because they were gay. For years I attended the CV Pride show that took place at Flat Rock Park and once in a club on Broadway. But I also remember how many gay friends I have lost to AIDS like Eddie, John, Joey, Raphael, Gary and dozens of others. I remember also how many people have uprooted themselves and moved away from Columbus because there was as they said “nothing to do here”. In the last two years because of Colgay Pride and our partners I think LGBT History is finally happening and being printed in Columbus Georgia. Vigils and rallies where people are coming together to stand up against discrimination like we have seen take place this year alone. Businesses putting a WE SERVE ALL sticker on their front door. LGBT Pride month Columbus Georgia proclamation last year and again this year in June. Also the first ever Community Center for LGBT Citizens opened by CV Pride. Columbus has seen prevalent LGBT history in the making in just the past two years and I am very proud to have been part of that.