Jeff Graham and Dave Hayward

Recorded June 16, 2011 Archived June 16, 2011 02:04:50
0:00 / 0:00
Id: ATL000908


Dave Hayward, 61, interviews Georgia Equality executive director Jeff Graham, 46, about the phase of his career from the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic until he became the director of the AIDS Survival Project in Atlanta.

Subject Log / Time Code

Jeff got involved in ACT-UP, an AIDS advocacy group, in the early 1990’s.
The large spike in HIV/AIDS cases in 1992-93 was due to his group’s advocacy for an expanded definition of AIDS, which would enable more patients to get services.
He recites an explicit chant from street protests.
He tells the story of boycotts against the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain for their anti-gay policy.
He describes the beginnings of the AIDS Survival Project in Atlanta.
He talks of his fear in rising to director from an administrative assistant job.
He describes the significance of disclosing one’s HIV status in this community.


  • Jeff Graham
  • Dave Hayward

Recording Location

Atlanta Storybooth

Venue / Recording Kit

Partnership Type



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00:05 Hi, my name is Dave Bryant Hayward to in-61 and fortunately and today is June 16th, 2011. We're in Atlanta and Jeff and I have known each other since the dawn of time and where we're colleagues and friends and co-conspirators.

00:26 And I am Jeff Graham. I am age 46 it is June 16th 2011 here in Atlanta, Georgia. And yes, Dave and I have known each other for quite some remember when I met you, it seems like you've always been here, but I have that effect on people. Sometimes it's actually so to pick up where we left off and and we had talked about your coming to Atlanta and that attorney chip Rowan had been really influential to you in terms of a direction for activism and and a mentor really, okay. Okay. I love how you said he was chatting you for the way you were working the the park and and so he did get you to your first act act up meaning.

01:26 Atlanta head action been involved a little bit and in helping to form that accept chapter in in Athen, Austin, Texas when I was in graduate school there and then this would have been 1989-90 name of all of that happened in the spring of that year was when I was in Austin, Texas and in just did a little bit of some of the organization will work and some of the early demonstrations that act of had me and Inn in Austin, Texas to me and then I act up was already going here and Atlanta had been since the 1988 Democratic National Convention. So I joined about a year-and-a-half later and they had already kind of established themselves ran into chip Rowan in the park. One day. I was working on homeless issues and wearing the silence equals Death t-shirt.

02:26 Highway Peg me as a as a gay activist and told me there was an active meeting that night and that I should be there and so I was and got to know chip got to know all the people that were involved with except Atlanta at the time and day. In fact, it just made the decision to have a national demonstration two days of of demonstrations, one of the state capital where we would be protesting the Georgia sodomy law that the US Supreme Court adjust upheld a couple of years earlier. So it was a real hot-button issue. And then the next day we had the first to my knowledge was the first ever demonstration at the Centers for Disease Control and prevention and that was specifically about their reluctance to include I women's medical issues in the definition of AIDS and to really look at T-cell counts as a marker of what the definition of AIDS is in so

03:26 Was 2 days a demonstration. I believe it was a Monday and a Tuesday and Monday. We were down to the state capital with a brass bed and a hundred of us got arrested in our pajamas. And then the very next day we were at the CDC again. It was about three or four hundred people at the CDC and pajamas pajamas that day. He was in the regular active gear the jacket the smart and Sassy t-shirt and the Doc Martens and I and that's where we'd specifically looked at. What age did the CDC to expand the definition of AIDS to specifically cover women and specifically cover people who had an HIV infection and a low T cell count. But who do who had not yet. I've manifested one of her at the time I think 27 opportunistic infections that defined a so you really standing up for people who are even just possessed in terms of that that identification

04:26 Very much so very much. So and and I it actually those those demonstrations at the CDC. We had to that year. So one was in January and then another one was on world AIDS day that very same year. And by the time we got to the world AIDS day, the focus had become almost a singular focus on Brian attention to women who were hiv-positive but it did not meet the cdc's clinical definition of AIDS and therefore they did not qualify for any public benefits. They couldn't get involved in a service organization and there were women who were literally dying undiagnosed and in the CDC had to change their definition. And so that was a very long your mom campaign with two major demonstrations and major Civil Disobedience actions where where hundreds of people got arrested between those two actions at the CDC.

05:26 I'm it's been a lot of work in between attending research conferences doing community-based research getting information out there. That's when I first began to work with days on Dixon Diallo a noted HIV activist here in Atlanta who works very specifically on women's issues choose an organization system and India really all of us working together on led by the street activists and backed up by Renegade researchers. We actually changed the definition of AIDS That You & I by people and get some people some help. I need a huge Drew awareness to the issue of of women and HIV that really extended ultimately around the globe and and really set the stage to it to help a tremendous number of people.

06:26 And it's really funny today. Cuz this year we of course we're looking back at one of 30 years are the year 88 epidemic and a lot of people will look at the the graph of HIV infections in the country. And in 1992-1993. There is this huge Spike and people wonder what happened in 92 and 93 and folks today or shocked when I say what happened was we changed the definition and so tens of thousands of people who were hiv-positive but we're not considering people living with AIDS overnight became people living with AIDS and I'm going to go get help and then they could get the 1990s and the brass bed demonstration wasn't January. Yes. And then the world AIDS day is in December this embryo is through the beginning of the year in the end of the year to be clear about that and the brass bed. That was the

07:26 Brainchild of act up New York or other active other outside active groups. The brass bed was something that we had come with up with on a round here looking pretty in your face for Atlanta in your face for Atlanta. And in our original concept was to just have it as a prob now when some blow up sex dolls got thrown out onto the bed and really what the folks from act up New York brought were some incredibly cheeky verging on pornographic chance that we all marched day on Peachtree Street headed towards the capital and M M. Frankly even I was shocked but the things that were coming out of my mouth that day

08:14 And that was the first time you were arrested. That was the first time I've thought about that part of what made me want to move here to Atlanta course it was to be with my partner, but it was also to be in the heart of the civil rights movement. And so I took the concept of getting arrested and committing Civil Disobedience incredibly seriously and in a lot of folks again today, I don't think I have an appreciation for that. We did a series of trainings with people who had committed Civil Disobedience. So that folks would understand the philosophy of nonviolence that goes with that. I really looking at in studying the words in the the teachings of both doctor as well as Gandhi to really understand that that committing Civil Disobedience willing to risk arrest was something that that in

09:14 Anyways was with a special in end if you will almost sacred opportunity that it really was a point of privilege that the we were. Whyn't we were educated We Were Young we needed to go into it. Not as something of we're going to be radical and get arrested but really realizing that that we were there to show that we were frustrated and we felt that there were no other options than to push the envelope and push the point so far that we may end up going to jail. I'm so it was several weeks of build up to the Civil Disobedience. It was the first time that that all of us, I think from Atlanta and in the first time that many people that were at that those demonstrations had actually committed Civil Disobedience. Were you trying to the King Center? I we were not trained at the King Center. Active had its own training program. Okay, so guy we had an advance team that came from New York to do the training for us here locally.

10:14 And then we went in different waves, but the first wave was all people from Atlanta because everybody agreed that we needed to be able to take ownership of that. I'm in what we did is we just marched into the middle of the street and we sat down and when the police told us it was time for us to move. We refuse to move me and chanting. We want to hear some of the chance. I don't remember the exact date that we were doing.

10:48 Do I need to hear some of those nasty? The big one that was talking to me was suck my dick lick my clit. The sodomy laws are full of shit.

11:04 Fireworks that I met Joanne Goldy Chris Cuomo. They looked very grandmotherly and grandfather. Lee's variety of social is a lot of it at economic Justice very involved with politics and I knew them in the later years of their life and and they could really shifted a lot of their focus to being strong allies and supporters for I gay and transgender rights us specifically here in Atlanta. They were straight couple. Like I say you look at them and you'd see Grandma and Grandpa Walton. I mean just right off of TV right off of a normal Norman Rockwell so cute.

12:04 And they were there that day and I remember being in sparest that people were saying these slogoman our grandma and grandpa Goldie a little bit better and realize that they were having a great time with those Logan's themselves. I just I will always remember that that that moment of up looking down and seeing Joe and gold. Just wondering what what Grandma and Grandpa by the end 19-2000 6 2006 and that it was not going to happen. So we did and that was great and then actually six weeks later she passed but the thing that was funny to me about that was that they were the only had her sexual married couple who were members of act up in coronation.

13:03 But two of them Joanne goldy and Goldie was telling us stories about being on the picket line with Cracker Barrel Cracker Barrel rides firing everybody for being LGBT and and and we are all going in there and having sit-ins and you know staying there for hours. I don't drink coffee or iced tea and so she talked about being on the front lines and she was in addition to being elderly as they both were she was also really tiny you ride a guy but she was pretty small his big voice really big guy. I was everything I was afraid of him. But but she was she was like this is like 5 feet or something like that and and and so, you know, there's like you're saying, you know this little babushka thing and end until she talks about going to Cracker Barrel and being on the front lines and being dragged off the picket lines and being thrown in jail, and I think they were too rough with her.

14:03 Now let me know they were firm. They were the place until she talks about that. You look at her and you think this is Grandma. It's those were fun time. Is there a serious right now? I think now they probably were kind of like mentors to you in a way write a role model players Indian. My my girly activism here in in Atlanta really pretty early on there was there were folks that were very involved in making sure the queer Nation had its own identity to work specifically on gay and lesbian and transgender issues and then a right and I thought there wasn't really a whole lot of animosity between the two groups, but we did we we we especially those of us in act up really wanted to

15:03 Not distance ourselves from gay rights, but make sure that our message was inclusive of all people who were affected by HIV and AIDS and again in the early 90s. The public perception was AIDS equaled gay white men only gay white men had AIDS and AIDS only affected gay white men. So most of us work a white man, I white lesbian women, I you know if you can so we we were we were that group and so we felt it was very important that a round act UPS messaging that we we really honor the fact that it was African American women African American gay black man other members of the African American Community children at the time I emigrants, you know, again, one of the early actions that I worked on was actually the early days of the Bill Clinton admit

16:03 Stration, we went after him just days after the inauguration when he made an appearance here in Atlanta because when he came into office, there were I believe over a hundred Haitians that were being held at Guantanamo Bay the exact same place that we are now holding members of al-Qaeda. They were holding him for no other reason than these for HIV positive people trying to get into the United States. They didn't want them. It's the United States so they detained them indefinitely in Guantanamo Bay. So again this the stories that people just can't imagine happened and so we had to go after them. So anyway goes for the sorts of populations. We were working with the issues in the stories. We were trying to bring out so why we didn't shy away from issues about queer identity and certainly did not shy away from my den den to find ourselves as gay and lesbian people.

17:03 We also wanted to have a strong firm organization queer Nation here in Atlanta that could work just on those issues and kind of discrimination stigma and and especially back in the early 90s. A lot of hate crimes and violence act has been working a lot in Coalition with groups like sister love so they said they were they were they were group said it wasn't all and I don't want to get the perception that it was just white people. Yeah people of color was working and Coalition in actually, you know that the folks that were most intimately involved in in act up here in Atlanta Dream my time. I many people know Mona Bennett. She's still involved in in in doing HIV prevention work. I am Moana is a straight black woman actually a lot of times people get shocked to find out Mona is a straight black woman.

18:03 She was so much the face of of act out a long time. I just a long time or maybe a drag queen Monet and I we went for a first act at meeting together. So she joined it was very much the exact moment. I did what you were working with great nation. Just as much you were kind of parallel. Yeah, we we actually did work quite a bit with with queer Nation. Are you personally involved equally in both are mostly involved with act in terms of being an organizer and providing leadership, but I don't think that there were many queer Nation demonstrations that I didn't go to. Okay, so I think that's it. That's the difference is you know, where you're providing leadership and in in in doing the organizing as opposed to just participating right and I think the same is very true most

19:03 Everybody in queer Nation would come as a participant to most of the act up demonstrations. So that's how we built our strengths that there was a note with a queer Nation. I do want to try to bring in the King Center to send extent and I know that when Catherine who was the the aid to mrs. King, I think her Chief aide for about 25 years. Did you work really closely with Lyn contouring and then the King Center through Lynn never really worked that much with with the King Center. I certainly did work with Lynn and any other the my perspective on a lot of that is that act up really was more in your face. I mean that your whole Persona with the people in the black leather jackets and the dead sexually provocative chance and we were dealing with you know, a dirty sex positive message when it came to eat.

20:03 Ivy prevention I willing to to Rattle anybody's cage we would we went over we went after a lot of public health professionals that 20 years later. I have had the privilege of working with them and they're very wonderful decent people and it makes me feel bad that we did things like Valentine's campaign to their home asking them how it felt to know that so many people had died because of their inaction. Happy Valentine's Day, you know Avery we we we were really real Atlas in that way and I do believe that there were some folks at the king sent her even though we very much felt that we were in the history of non-violence and really respect demand walking in the shadow of dr. King and all the good that he did in Atlanta there. I think we're certainly some people within the King Center that were a little shocked ID act that were last show

21:03 Blocked by by queer nation and so queer nation, of course through Lynn cothron had a very close working relationship with the King Center. I did have the opportunity to to meet several times with mrs. Keane, but that that really was was later on when I was more involved with doing just a bit more mainstream advocacy and policy and lobbying. But but I when I was involved with act up there really wasn't anyone in the establishment in Atlanta at the time but wanted much to do with active act up or responding to the boycott of the Cracker Barrel restaurants firing all the LGBT people was that was that they're their primary focus or one of the timer focuses Leo a huge Focus route of queer Nation here in Atlanta Cracker Barrel that that case became a national incident.

22:03 Quickly, what had happened is there was I believe a dishwasher know he was not a dishwasher. He was a waiter the the company had put out either a memo or head actually change their policy that they did not want people who appeared gay to be front of Staff because it could be offencive to the customers and ran contrary to the kind of down-home Middle America a good southern people image in Christian Christian image that the Cracker Barrel wanted to portray themselves as and have the time.

22:45 And so there was a gay man that was fired and he was front of house. There was a lesbian who worked in the Kitchen Charlotte Cheryl Somerville brought this to national attention. I'll be with her courage to go to her manager and say why did you fire him and they said well cuz he was gay and he's a waiter and we can't have that and Cheryl said I do know that she was going to stand in solidarity in the fact that she worked in the kitchen shouldn't matter that if they were going to fire one gay person. They had to fire everybody and so she forced them to to fight for an independent. It became a huge national issue. And in fact, it was a it was a battle that lasted for a long long time with many people boycotting Cracker Barrel do believe that they've changed their policies today, but I knew it was a long time coming and and and that's

23:45 Dark beer Nation as a as a movement had started to pop up in in other cities around the country as kind of a dead companion to act up chapters. They were queer Nation chapters. There were also lesbian Avenger chapters to work very specifically on under eye and attention to it to the unique advocacy needs and challenges of lesbian in America the most famous for eating fire famous for eating fire. We have a lesbian event. They're done for chapter here. I get our way in and so so they were really kind of these three parallel groups going on at the same time in the early 90s. It was a lot of cross pollination a lot of the same people really existed because as AIDS activists the message would be messy. If suddenly we were talking about violence against lesbians or

24:44 Workplace discrimination against gay people. So that's why you needed to have kind of these three separate identities to be able to do your work that there was great collaboration and cooperation between all three organizations before we forget you wanted to specifically talk about one of the second column and activist John Caparulo. Yeah. Well that that John is is really kind of my transition from being the street activists and then the stuff that I did for for all those years with with act up, you know, an act up your weed. We did everything and we certainly talked about the CDC and changing the definition of a we opened up at the Ponce. I did the Grady infectious disease program on Ponce de Leon the pain center. In fact that their 10-year anniversary date. They actually asked me to give the keynote because they wanted to to dry out that attention that it really was again people.

25:44 Dropping Banner zwilling. We did not actually get arrested that day. But we were risking arrest by I trespassing on the property. We had to go up against Remax Remax did not want the Infectious Disease program to be located just across the street down the block from their business. And so we targeted and Atlanta institution of Mary Mac's for their discrimination. I'm opened up the first HIV funding in the state of Georgia says a lot of things that act up was really able to accomplish that I think people take for granted but I you know in the in the in the mid-90s 1993 to 1994 was when I really start transitioning in instead of just being by day a costume designer and buy nights the radical activists AIDS at this point. I'm had really become my passion. Yeah, I saw it is

26:44 Way to take to have so many of my interests around social justice come together. I'd certainly was was concerned about LGBT and queer issues. But I was also issue concerned about issues of racism sexism people living in poverty access to the healthcare system and how the healthcare system in the country was was broken even back then and and AIDS activism allowed me to do that when I realized that this was something that I wanted to do full-time. There was really one organization in town only one organization in town that but was actively involved in advocacy and the organization back then was known as the Atlanta chapter of the National Association of people with AIDS Atlanta nap What in in early 1994 they changed their name to Aid survival project because they wanted to make a statement that they believed that you could become.

27:44 Survivor of AIDS and I in in the way they described what it meant to be a Survivor is that aids didn't control your life. You controlled your life. None of us can actually extend our lives. None of us know how long we have on this planet. So the concept of Survivor as being engaged and marked by time passage of time was not fair to people who were living with a life-threatening deadly disease like AIDS. So instead the Survivor was more of a concept of being able to take back control of your life you control what happened and the person that really embody that was John campers who had founded Atlanta Napa and who was the board chair that Led Zeppelin through the transition and renaming to Aid survival project and I always like to remember John just because of what he gave to be Atlantic community and

28:44 You did all of this when he was in his early thirties and forming these organizations really for the first time bringing advocacy around HIV to Atlanta. And in the way, we really saw our working relationship between act up and AIDS survival project at the time was we could kind of draw the media attention and burst the door open and they could then go in with a more nuanced policy analysis more in-depth medical research eye connections to the service providers and to AIDS service organizations. I in the city throughout the state and of course around the country and and it was a really nice working relationship. So it's kind of sounds to me like the kind of typical formula of action in the streets followed by people who were able to go into the boardrooms. That's exactly correct.

29:44 Mmmm, John would probably be surprised to have himself described this way. But John was the person who went into the boardroom for I was the one that was breaking down the doors in the street. I'm its we had a great working relationship and unfortunately John died in 1994 and I in the last few months of his life. He had brought me on on staff Edith survival project and was literally on his deathbed that John had wanted me to become executive director at AIDS survival project. I became the executive director about three days before he died. So yeah. Yeah. Yeah, he was there there was there was another executive director at the time that that person I had left the agency they were without an executive director trying to figure out what to do and John was the one

30:44 And who had called the board together and said I think Jeff is the one who needs to do it. Everybody was like my God. He's so young and he's so radical. How could we trust him with anything and John was the one I've had just turned 30 and and I was actually my role at 8 survival project before I was executive director was Administrative Assistant. I'm so I was an administrative assistant in and then became executive director file with a really big job that I was scared to death, but but John really gave me that opportunity as one of the last things he did and I always have tried to honor John's work in my time at 8 survival project. And of course, I stayed with that Agency for 13 years and was there as we grew the agency from

31:44 Three full-time employees making just barely above minimum wage to an organization that had a very robust budget 20 employees and programs that I people accessed from throughout the state and had a national reputation for excellence and ending I duplicated replicated all that.

32:10 Some more in me than I saw it in myself. I frankly I was scared to death when I was in the hospital and could not come to me himself. So it was he was the board vice president. She'd she asked if if I could stay late at work one day and I did and she in a couple board members with the air and they said

32:45 We would like you to do this date. Did it just on an interim basis? Because nobody really trusted me. So right at 6 months of being an intro Ben Rector wife to see who else was out there. And you know, I died I had some wonderful people around me. I had another board member are bored pressure at the time with a CPA. He also was dealing with failing how do enemas hurt suchet was his name. He's another person that I owe so much to made me go through accounting and bookkeeping boot camp at that's the only way I know to how to describe it because I'd never done anything like that before and that's now actually one of the areas that I excel in the nonprofit manager is budgeting and financial and he taught me that he made me learn that wrong and we had three months before he too died.

33:45 That first year at 8 survival project out of a board of twelve seven of them. I'd that first year.

33:54 So I if you really was with a lot of them mentoring me to make sure that I could carry on and would have a very strong agency. And so each of them just kinda took their area of expertise and just sat down and made me learn. I'm actually still not in the end. The reason why it just comes to my mind because obviously, you know, you're dealing with all these other people and then you know Kurt and and John have and they are gnats and that is exactly what happened is that people just kept passing left and right and then and then, you know, they're there just a handful of us, you know yourself myself other people who you know, just so, you know somehow Dodge the bullet was actually it was it was controversial and when they hired me and hiv-positive and in fact

34:54 I think the public annual meeting is where they announced that that I was going to be the the interim executive director. I'm we actually had people that showed up that night and protested because they have named an hiv-negative person as as as the interim executive director so completely happening to me to like, I mean and I felt I felt that survivor's guilt but I mean it in the scent but also just just take that here we are and we are part of this community and these are our brothers in our sisters and we love them and there's really nothing we can do about it because we're not God. So all we can do is to it's just at your you you are absent one of my favorite.

35:54 Chance from act up in this one is not profane or I is it say we are all living with a bra living with it. And and that's always what I took to heart is that yes, I am living with AIDS and and threw out my time specifically at 8 survival project. I never wanted to make a big distinction between Mia's hiv-negative and someone who was hiv-positive and and and I worked very closely with the board with that board 80% of my board members throughout the entire tenure there were people who were hiv-positive that was written into our bylaws that part of our philosophy. We were actually Coalition of people living with AIDS. And so they had the leadership they have the votes. They have the ultimate control and we would spend a lot of time talking about it because

36:54 I didn't want to mislead people into thinking that I was hiv-positive. But at the same time I was afraid that if I led with that further stigmatizes people who are hiv-positive. So while I've never hidden my HIV status I'm there are still many people to this day. They just assume that I am hiv-positive and I don't actually go out of my way to dissuade them of that right unless I feel that I'm somehow, you know, if they're building me up as a as a peer for instance if it's other people who are hiv-positive have to know what this is. What medication do you want? I mean, that's what I'm going to let people know but they're actually cuz I ain't a dear gentleman. Dr. Joe Wilbur who ran the public health department in the late eighties and early nineties out of very strong Ally of the HIV community in the

37:54 The gay community

37:56 Am I saw him a few years ago before he passed away and I ran into him at this event and his eyes just got so big and he said, oh my God, you're still alive, and it was like, oh gosh, how do I tell? Dr. Wilbur that? Yeah. I really like I just turned 42 and I may be a little overweight, but you know,

38:19 Walk-in medical miracle go figure who know that I felt a little badly that someone had just been so much of their hopes on the fact that I was hiv-positive and I really wasn't sure Bill Burr still alive to see what I'm thinking. Obviously. We need to get into the Georgia quality. So but less kind of for now can we kind of wrap up the a survival project? And then maybe we can kind of go from there into positive impact and put a put a. On the said what I think is this significant stuff about the other day it it be at the agency grew and had a great reputation and and and I was the leader at that time and I feel very honored that I was able to serve and

39:19 Play a role in that but ultimately it was the passion of all the people there and the fact that all of us agreed that it had to ultimately be led by people who were hiv-positive who were actually living with AIDs that their opinions mattered most and I think that's what made that such a special and unique organization. Ultimately. It's survival project close think they did. I I did step down I've gotten a little burnt out with with the job and I don't know what really happened inside be the organization cuz I was not there a positive and but I think that they're just some folks that did not share that that same vision of empowering people with HIV to take control of their lives and I and

40:19 In and honoring that history of people who were hiv-positive being the leaders of organization symere running the boards and in and making up the majority of the staff. I am in so I N N I don't know that there was that same level of commitment towards professional advocacy either. And so I think that that's why the decision was made to close the agency down on two years after I step down as executive director and in the other are still to this day people that will come up to me when they see me and give me a hug and say I want to thank you. I think that you would need survival project save my life and we never provided medical care. We just provided hope information or knowledge. I just love the fact that you know, you were part of it and that you was hiv-negative person that really

41:19 That we all have AIDS. Thanks. So we'll we'll do our part 3 and hopefully rap. Thank you, Dave.