Posted on 02 July 2014.
By D. David Kinney
Atlanta is a great place for gays to live and work in the South and that’s not by happenstance. Every day thousands of gay Atlantans wake up to pursue their passion for making our home and our world a better place. To recognize the incredible amount of good that our community members do FENUXE created the FENUXE 50 and FENUXE 15 awards. The FENUXE 50 awards honor Atlanta’s favorite gay and gay-friendly businesses, and the FENUXE 15 awards recognize individuals who make a positive contribution to Atlanta’s gay community through their work, volunteerism or art. So we asked our readers to nominate gay Atlantans they felt deserved recognition, and it is our honor to recognize fifteen of these outstanding individuals here as this year’s FENUXE 15. You can also read about the 2014 FENUXE 15 in the digital version of FENUXE here.
WORK – Whether you own a business, manage a store or simply work nine to five, thousands of gay Atlantans are helping make workplaces more gay friendly and helping educate employers on the benefits of equality in the workplace.
VOLUNTEERISM – “It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference,” Tom Brokaw once said. Truer words were never spoken. Atlanta has many wonderful opportunities for people who want to get involved and make a difference – especially right here in the gay community.
ART – Art can do more to change hearts and minds than just about anything. Whether it’s through the poignant words of a film, creative rap lyrics or drag, there are hundreds of Atlanta artists bringing positive exposure to the gay community.
The FENUXE 15 are presented in no particular order. They’re all outstanding and we’re in awe of their accomplishments and passion for our community.
Brian Sharp – Atlanta Police Department:
Brian Sharp is not only a highly respected Senior Police Officer, but he is also the LGBT Liaison for the Atlanta Police Department (and a talented singer, too). “My work allows me to work directly with individuals and organizations to better understand their needs, while offering them a unique link to an often misunderstood profession,” Brian told FENUXE, “I love to go out and talk with people and share my story. It allows us to connect on a more personal level, and people see that police officers are just like everyone else. My partner and I are both officers and we share the same struggles as anyone else, and I think most folks relate to that on some level. At the end of the day, my work allows me to be out and show that it is ok to be who you are no matter what.” Additionally, Brian has developed LGBT training for law enforcement officers while working with the Atlanta Police Department. “I have had the amazing opportunity to share this training not only with our officers and civilian staff, but also with other local law enforcement officers that work with our community here in our great city,” Brian remembered, “To date I have trained officers from several agencies including Spelman College campus police and Georgia Tech campus police.” However, Brian is just getting started. The U.S. Department of State recently asked Brian to travel abroad and share his expertise. “I am traveling to El Salvador June 14 – 21 to train officers from six different countries at the International Law Enforcement Academy,” Brian revealed. “The training will include LGBT sensitivity training, as well as bias and hate crime identification and investigation.”
Randy Prophater – Team Friendly Atlanta:
Randy Prophater is the chair of Team Friendly Atlanta, which is part of the Mr. Friendly movement, where he works to combat the stigma of HIV. In addition to fostering dialogue with community members one-on-one, he also recently organized a town hall meeting at the Phillip Rush Center to discuss pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). When we asked Randy where his passion comes from he replied: “I was once described by a friend as a Crayola Crayons 64-pack. I loved that he was unable to define me with a single word or a single label. Just like that box of crayons, I have a variety of colorful words that describe me. Son, brother and boyfriend. Spiritual, passionate and creative. Recovering Crystal Meth Addict, dyslexic and HIV+. No one single term defines me. Nor should others be defined by just one term, least of all their HIV status. That is why Team Friendly Atlanta is so important to me, I want everyone to be able to be themselves, without any single word, term, or label holding them back from being themself, their whole self. All 64 colors.”
Joey Helton – AID Atlanta:
Joey Helton believes Atlanta’s future is bright and he works hard everyday as the Chief Development Officer at AID Atlanta to make sure it stays that way. “AID Atlanta seeks to expand its target population from HIV positive individuals to also include historically underserved populations, including minorities, youth, low-income individuals and the LGBT community,” Joey detailed to FENUXE when asked about the future of AID Atlanta, “The health condition of the population in metro Atlanta indicates a strong need for primary care and behavioral health services, with a high prevalence of chronic diseases and poor overall health conditions. AID Atlanta is viewed currently as a provider for HIV/AIDS testing, counseling and treatment, and will need to shift perspectives and payer mix to support its new service delivery model.” It’s a big challenge for the organization but it helps motivate Joey. “I love a challenge,” he told FENUXE, “The word ‘no’ is not in my vocabulary. I prefer to hear ‘not know.’”
Brian Isbell – For the Kid in All of Us:
Brian Isbell is known throughout the gay community for his hard work and dedication to For the Kid in All of Us, the organization behind Backpack in the Park and the Toy Party. However, you may not know that he is also the Starbucks corporation’s district lead for community service. In the past three years he and the Starbucks AIDS Walk team have raised for $12,000 for AID Atlanta. “With the current fight for equality it is important that the general public sees the good that the LGBT community is capable of, rather than judging us on the typical gay stereotype,” Brian explained to FENUXE, “For 21 years I trained and showed American Quarter and Paint horses. I was fortunate to win several world and national titles. While exciting and rewarding, at the end of the day all those trophies and titles weren’t making a difference in the world. I knew I wanted to do something that would make a difference in both the gay and straight communities.” As always, Brian was incredibly humble and included: “I have to thank the current and past For the Kid board members and presidents Alex Wan, Frank Bragg, Jorge Esteban, Chris Bess and Alison Hall. I would also like to thank the numerous volunteers that donate their valuable time year after year to help For the Kid achieve its goals. Lastly, I have to thank Kevin for his unconditional love and support.”
Jeff Graham – Georgia Equality:
“I’ve led marches, been arrested, helped win elections, passed legislation on both a state and local level and secured tens of millions of dollars for HIV medications and other services for LGBT folks,” Jeff Graham, a hero in the Georgia gay rights movement, remembered. Yet, despite all of the incredible things he has done for our community he remains incredibly humble and points toward our community’s success instead of his own. “Some of the success that I am most proud of was the opening of the Grady Infectious Disease Clinic on Ponce de Leon, the elimination of the waiting list for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program and the creation of the Phillip Rush Center. None of those was done as an individual but by working closely with others who are just as dedicated to making a difference as I am.” Now that’s truly the hallmark of an inspirational leader! And now more than ever Georgia needs his leadership as LGBT equality takes center stage in the political arena. “When it comes to LGBT equality, there is a tremendous amount of need in our city and in our state. Georgia Equality is in a period of growth. As we are able to expand our staff, we will be in a stronger position to influence policies and laws that will benefit all LGBT Georgians. We’ve developed several very strong collaborative partnerships with both local and national organizations that share our vision of equality. Working together, I see a bright future for Georgia Equality and the community that we serve.”
Rick Westbrook – Lost-N-Found Youth:
Rick Westbrook isn’t a man who minces words. At a community meeting a few years ago he raised the issue of Atlanta’s homeless LGBT youth crisis and declared that something had to be done. Shortly thereafter Lost-N-Found Youth was created and the organization made a promise to our community: “Lost-N-Found has promised the community that we will address the ever growing problem of our homeless youth, and we are stepping up to do that,” Rick told FENUXE. Indeed, they’re tackling the issue head on and have met their initial goals ahead of schedule. As promised we have opened a Youth Center to address the needs of the youth on the street. We have also opened a Thrift Store containing all of the gracious donations given to us that allows us to help fund our programs, and we are in the process of renovating a house at 5th and Juniper that will allow us to increase the services we offer threefold,” Rick detailed. It’s hard work, but Rick is motivated by the positive impact he can have on LGBT youths. “It’s simply mind boggling the amount of youths that need us. My mind says we cannot save them all, but my heart says we are going to try our best. [It’s] the look in the eyes of a youth when the wall breaks down and they realize that our community loves them just the way they are. Then to see the youth actually grow when they are with us and then get their life back,” Rick revealed.
Cindy Abel – Atlantis Moon Productions:
Woven throughout our history there is a rich tradition of storytelling, and despite the endless forms of modern entertainment at our disposal we continue to hold storytellers near and dear to our hearts. Cindy Abel is an Atlanta filmmaker, speaker and writer. Yet, above all, she is a master storyteller. Whether you’re reading her blog on Huffington Post or watching her critically-acclaimed film “Breaking Through” from Atlantis Moon Productions, (a production company she formed to develop projects that “launch conversations and impact popular culture”) it is clear that Cindy has a gift for capturing an audience and she uses her gift to affect positive change for the LGBT community. “I initially taught, then added writing and speaking, then led teams combining words and pictures and now with film, those elements have motion and a soundtrack,” Cindy reflected, “But it’s always been about stories. That’s how many of us learn while also being transported into the world of possibilities. As I look at my life now – filmmaking, speaking and writing – I can see how each step has led me to this place. When a young person whispers to me that “Breaking Through” helped them realize they can be all of who they are and want to be, or an older person sobs that after 53 years of living in shame, he finally gets there’s nothing wrong with him, or a mom in a rural area tells me she now has hope for her son – that’s all the motivation I need.”
Steven Shipp – BB&T:
As a Vice President at BB&T Bank, Steven Shipp understands how important it is for major corporations to understand the needs of the LGBT community. “As our community evolves with more acceptance, LGBT couples are able to get married and that ‘modern family’ grows, the importance of having a partnership with a financial institution is crucial to helping these modern families reach their dreams and goals whether that’s to have children, plan for retirement, or, in some cases, continue to grow their business,” Steven explained, “I love being able to help people and make a positive impact in their lives! When I work with retail and small business clients to help them accomplish their dreams of growing their business, buying a new home, or even something as simple as opening a checking account to manage their money I feel like I am truly helping them reach their dreams and goals as their financial partner. Many small business owners don’t have the time in their day to stop what they are doing and focus on administrative tasks while running a business. Their relationship with their banker and partnering with a bank that understands their needs is essential for their success. My team and I are committed to making this happen in the Atlanta market.”
Michael Shutt – Emory University:
Emory University is a great place to be a LGBT student and Michael Shutt is a major reason why that is true. As the Assistant Dean for Campus Life and the Director of the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Life, Michael has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. “My work is very complex as it straddles a space between being an activist and an administrator in a large organization,” Michael explained, “Both at Emory University and at other institutions of higher education throughout the country, LGBT support services programs continue to evolve into more complex organizations. Most started out as points of crisis and were established to support the problems LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff faced on campus. Today, there are still issues of access, equity and inclusion that must be addressed. We must therefore be engaged in ending injustice on and off our campuses. At the same time, we must utilize the amazing strengths of our community to change the world. For example, I hope the Emory University Office of LGBT Life plays a role in recruiting and retaining the best students, scholars and researchers in the world. This sets us up to cure cancer, eliminate HIV, end violence and create a world where everyone can thrive. This means we must support a fully inclusive, accessible, and equitable environment while building a community that values and affirms everyone. If we can do this, the rest will be easy!” It’s a large undertaking, but if anyone can help Emory realize this progress we’re confident that Michael can. He has an impressive history of successfully helping LGBT students. In fact, in 2005 he helped create the first LGBT center at a public university in Georgia and served as its founding Director while at the University of Georgia.
Dino Thompson-Sarmiento – Spotted Dog Agency:
Whether he’s serving as a Senior Advisor for the GLAAD Leadership Council in Atlanta or as the CEO and co-founder of the Spotted Dog Agency, (a branding, marketing and film production company here in Atlanta) Dino Thompson-Sarmiento is a hard working advocate for the LGBT community. “Atlanta has a rich and important history that reflects humanity’s arduous and challenging growth process,” Dino opined to FENUXE, “Our city embraces change and as difficult and sometimes painful and scary as change can be, Atlanta continues to open doors and take risks for the betterment of our society.” Yet, Dino isn’t someone willing to stand on the sidelines and wait for change to happen slowly. He is determined for his life to have a positive effect on society for the LGBT community: “I’m motivated by how I feel when I go to bed. Did I do my best? Did I help change the world for the better? It’s my legacy. I don’t have children so my impact in the community is what I will leave behind.”
J Tyler – Musician:
Justin Tyler Ellingwood moved to Atlanta just over a year ago, but he has already captured the attention of Atlanta’s gay community through his art. You may know him better by his stage name – J Tyler – Atlanta’s gay rapper. He’s a natural entertainer and performs at different venues throughout the metro area. J Tyler also frequently performs at benefits raising money for LGBT charities and has a loyal gay fan base. However, things weren’t always so easy for the rapper. “A lot of people don’t know that I started from below the bottom and had to work my way to being stable before even thinking about pursuing my dreams,” J Tyler recalled during an interview with FENUXE, “Luckily, I had help getting pulled up to where I was able to get out there and perform. But I was focused on my dream the whole time. And it’s all thanks to people like Brent Star, Monica Van Pelt and Ruby Redd. They’ve given me the opportunity to step into the Atlanta spotlight!” For more information about J Tyler and to hear his music you can check him out on MTV.com and on Soundcloud.
Dr. John Ouderkirk – Piedmont Avenue Health & Wellness:
Dr. John Ouderkirk was born in San Diego, however, he was quickly drawn to the East Coast. First he went to North Carolina where he obtained a degree in psychology. From there he went to Washington, DC where he earned his Doctorate of Medicine and did his residency in internal medicine. And finally he conducted a fellowship in infectious disease medicine in New York City. Dr. Ouderkirk has devoted his life to providing state-of-the-art HIV care and since 2001 he’s been treating Atlantans at Piedmont Avenue Health & Wellness. “My medical office is a safe haven for transgender, gay and lesbian patients,” Dr. Ouderkirk said in response to what excites him about his work specializing in HIV, “I want them to feel at home and not like they’re being judged for who they are. I feel that Atlanta is an oasis in the Southeast where all types of people can come together and get along.” His patients appreciate his medical skill and attention, and the future is bright at Dr. Ouderkirk’s office. “Piedmont Avenue Health & Wellness is growing by leaps and bounds, he explained, “An infusion center is our latest venture. I have a new physician starting next month and hope to expand to three to four physicians in the next year.”
Jerry Henderson – Joining Hearts:
Jerry Henderson first got involved with Joining Hearts after attending one of their events several years ago. Little did he know at the time that he would eventually rise within the organization to become the Director of Marketing for the them today. He remains faithful to the organization because the work hits home for him. “It’s personal to me as I have friends with HIV and I’ve seen their struggles,” Jerry explained to FENUXE, “I knew I had to do something so I started volunteering. Last year, I wanted to take a bigger to role to promote and educate the community and was elected to the Board of Directors by my peers.” In his role as Director of Marketing, Jerry believes he has a clear mandate from the group’s Board of Directors and donors: “We want to build upon the 26 years of Joining Hearts history and to take it to the next level.” In conclusion, Jerry offered a call to action for Atlanta’s gay community: “I challenge the community to get involved and do something to make Atlanta a better place.”
Dr. T. Douglas Gurley – T. Douglas Gurley MD:
When Dr. Gurley began his career he was working for a large HMO here in Atlanta, however, he wasn’t happy with their standards. Between pressuring doctors to spend as little time as possible with patients to the unfriendly and sterile environment, Dr. Gurley knew there was a better way treat patients. So over a decade ago he hung his hat at his own practice specializing in HIV care and his patients couldn’t be happier. The difference is noticeable the moment you walk in the door. Dr. Gurley’s office is peaceful, tasteful and incredibly inviting. “We have a lot of different types of people who come here. It’s not just HIV people,” Dr. Gurley explained during a recent interview with FENUXE, “It’s botox, primary care, etc. I think a lot of people with HIV want to come and experience a warm environment and not feel like they’re visiting an HIV clinic. I don’t want them to be sitting in the lobby and feel like everyone knows they’re HIV. People can be tense or nervous when they’re coming to the doctor and that’s not a good time to interview someone and get their real emotions.” If you are HIV positive finding the right doctor can make all of the difference in the world. So we asked Dr. Gurley what the most important factor is when picking a physician: “I think the main thing is that you have to find a doctor who is educated and will fight for you.”
Angelica D’Paige – Entertainer:
From lighting up stages throughout Atlanta with her signature performances to being crowned the reigning FENUXE Queen of Queens, Angelica D’Paige is a force in Atlanta’s LGBT nightlife scene. We all know she is wickedly talented, however, did you know she frequently uses her talent to raise money for LGBT groups? “When an opportunity to help an LGBT charity presents itself and I’m available I try my best to help out our community,” Angelica told FENUXE during a recent interview, “I’ve done a lot of things for Lost-N-Found Youth, AID Atlanta and even the Armorettes. We work together a whole lot and I work with Ruby Redd every week at Ruby’s Redd LIght District.” In addition to lending her talent to do good, Angelica also promotes community unity. “I truly believe that we have to stick together and work together as a community to make things right,” Angelica commented, “I believe that Atlanta is a family-oriented kind of place. Whether it be a heterosexual family or a gay family, drag family or club family, Atlanta is a family-oriented place. You’re always going to belong somewhere, and you’ll always feel like you belong to something in Atlanta. I think there is a true sense of community wherever you are in Atlanta.”