By Mikkel Hyldebrandt

 

 

Who or what makes a hero? The definition can be either very hard to define or crystal clear. However, we have heroes right here in our community whose actions and deeds shouldn’t be overlooked or much less passed off as business as ‘normal.’

 

We all know that heroes are usually not someone who slaps on a leotard and cape and flies off to the rescue. As it turns out, a hero is mostly someone whose actions demonstrate with passion and determination that what they do and who they are can make a difference in people’s lives. Unsung? Definitely! Without impact? By no means! In fact, it seems like it is ordinary people that do extraordinary things that generate the most impact for most people – especially when it comes to the LGBTQ community.

 

We spoke to a handful of people, whose individual actions, deeds, or personal story has not only served as an inspiration but has indeed made an impact on our community. So, without further ado, here are the unsung heroes right here in our community that are doing amazing work for the improvement of our community.

 

 

Grey Hardy

 

Photo: Laura Baccus

 

Grey is a Manager of Production Operations at Cox Enterprises. Previously, he was the founding co-chair of the PRIDE Employee Resource Group (ERG) at Cox Automotive. He was recently honored as Business Person of the Year at the 2018 AGLCC Community Awards – Grey chose the same event to publicly identify as male for the first time on his transitioning journey.

 

How do you feel your work is making an impact on the LGBTQ+ community? 

The work my team and I implemented through the PRIDE ERG provided education to the workforce regarding LGBTQ topics which increased understanding and inclusion within the workplace. PRIDE ERG’s offer a diversity network focused on creating a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ & Allies team members. It creates an environment of engagement, respect, and connection where ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives are used to drive business impact and fuel innovation. Diversity and inclusion are an important part of the employees work experience within corporations, and Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) can help support this goal and their team members.

 

When I left the role as co-chair of the ERG, I founded last year it was imperative I stay involved and known as an out transgender manager.  We all need leaders that resemble us, someone we can look up to and inspire to resemble. If I had chosen to be stealth, I would not help the transgender community be seen or counted among the corporation I serve. By being out as a transman, I am normalizing the issue. People are scared of what they do not know or understand. If I allow myself to be transparent and lead with vulnerability, it gives others the opportunity to ask questions of me which has lead to understanding, acceptance, and even celebration of the person I am within the workforce I serve.

 

Why do you think there is a need for your kind of activism in our community right now? 

Due to the recent attacks against the LGBTQ+ and specifically the transgender community, my activism provides a statement, safe space, and celebration for all people.  We all need leadership that offers inclusion of all people. Within the business world, an LGBTQ+ individual should know when they start a new job that the company is ready for the authentic person they are not that they are being graced with an opportunity because they are in the LGBTQ+ community. Every person should be celebrated for who they are and what they bring to the table and not feel they are working for a company to meet a quota. I have received countless letters from my coworkers across the company praising me for being my authentic self and connecting to the transparency I give. Those traits are imperative for all levels of leadership.

 

What is your advice to other unsung heroes like you?

If you want to make a difference in this world, show up and contribute. If you are complaining about an issue you do not like, get involved and make a difference. Change happens because someone chooses to make a difference not because they sat on the sidelines.  There is power in numbers, and the more people that not only speak up but put their actions to work for the good of change will help our community gain the respect, and common treatment as other communities receive.  Share yourself with you the circles you live in. When you meet resistance, do not shy away but find a way to “stay in the room” and keep the conversation going with individuals that might disagree or not understand. Give grace and patience to others; it will come back to you.

 

Jim Farmer

 

Jim Farmer has served as the festival director and executive director of Out On Film, Atlanta’s LGBT film festival, since 2008. In that capacity, he has been responsible for the programming and logistics of each year’s event.

 

How do you feel your work is making an impact on the LGBTQ+ community?

We provide an 11-day film festival featuring work for, by, and about our community as well as year-round programming. We showcase up-and-coming LGBT artists as well as veterans who have been making positive cinematic contributions for decades. Outside of the festival, a significant amount of what we do is free.

 

Why do you think there is a need for your function in our community right now?

It is vital to provide positive images of the LGBTQ experience. At a time when many of the rights that our community felt we had are being threatened, this is more important than ever. It is so important to be able to see LGBT films together as a community and be able to discuss them afterwards. And we provide a safe haven for people to come together and experience work like this. Many of our patrons live in the Midtown area and have plenty of places to come and feel welcome, but many of our patrons outside of the metro Atlanta don’t have that luxury. Some of them are not out at work or even at home.

 

Share some of your ‘unsung hero’ success with us!

This has been an amazing year for us. The 2018 festival was the second most attended in our history, and we had events all year, such as screenings of “Love Simon,” “Boy Erased” and “Can You Ever Forgive Me,” collaborations with a lot of other organizations and an appearance by “Tales of the City” author Armistead Maupin in September.

 

Nasheedah Bynes-Muhammad

 

Nasheedah is the Director of Operations at Los-n-Found youth. She is also a member of the Trans Housing Atlanta Project, and she works with a coalition to redefine affordable housing in the city of Atlanta. Additionally, she is a member of the Icon House of Mizarahi and walks “Femqueen Realness” in the House-Ball community.

 

How do you feel your work is making an impact on the LGBTQ+ community?

I’m very concerned about housing and housing rights for LGBT Youth, Trans folks, and people living in poverty. The work I do all relates to helping people to escape poverty and creating housing solutions for low-income communities. Primarily my work at LNFY is extremely awarding because although I rarely work directly with the youth in my role as Director of Operations, I have had the privilege of seeing young people go from living under a bridge to moving into their own apartments, finding employment and even coming back to LNFY as volunteers and employees.

 

Why do you think there is a need for your work in our community right now?

Because everybody needs a home. It’s very difficult to focus on any of the problems facing the LGBT community when we don’t know where we are going to sleep. There are many brilliant, passionate, and hardworking people living under bridges and in tents in Atlanta, and we will not tap into the full resources of our community until everyone has their basic needs met.

 

Anything you’d like to add?

We have the resources to end LGBT homelessness in Atlanta if we come together and do it.

 

 

Malik Brown

 

Photo: Tyler Ogburn or Joshua Spruiel

 

Malik serves as the LGBTQ Affairs Coordinator for the City of Atlanta – a new role created under the leadership of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. In this function, Malik works to better connect the LGBTQ community with Atlanta city government by serving as a liaison to government officials, community leaders and non-profits to move LGBTQ equality forward locally, regionally and nationally. He also volunteers as a member of the Human Rights Campaign’s National Board of Governors where he plans and executes local fundraising events.

 

How do you feel your work is making an impact on the LGBTQ+ community?

Because of the Mayor’s leadership in establishing this role, the LGBTQ+ community has a direct contact in city government. This is a full-time position, so for the first time in Atlanta’s history, a government official focuses solely on the needs of the LGBTQ community. In less than a year we have established a diverse 34-member LGBTQ advisory board to make policy recommendations. In their infancy, the board will focus on LGBTQ youth, health, Trans affairs, economic development, and LGBTQ arts, entertainment, and culture. We have also held the City of Atlanta’s first recognition of the anniversary of the uprising at the Stonewall Inn, and we kicked off Atlanta Pride Week with Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Congressman John Lewis, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, news anchor Thomas Robert along with 600 LGBTQ+ Atlantans and allies.

 

Why do you think there is a need for your specific function in our community right now?

I think this role would be important in any government, there are so many resources available that LGBTQ people don’t know about – and I’ve seen firsthand the difference it makes when they have someone who can connect them to resources they otherwise would not have known about. I also think it is important for young people to get involved. It’s very easy to feel “woke” because you post progressive things on social media, but you have to also get out and do the work. Spend a few hours a month volunteering, make calls for a candidate that you believe in, advocate on behalf of a community that you don’t belong to – because being an ally is more important than ever.

 

What is your advice to other unsung heroes like you?

We cannot forget the importance of intersectionality. As people we aren’t just one tied to one identity, we’re multifaceted. From a jail in Birmingham, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” To truly achieve equality and equity we must stand together. LGBTQ people will have to advocate for black lives; black people are going to advocate for immigrants, women are going to have to advocate for LGBTQ people. We have to stand together.