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| Tuesday, October 21, 2014

ASU’s new LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) student group, AMPLIFIED, drew an audience of nearly 200 students, faculty and community members to the John Garrick Hardy Student Center Theater on Thursday, Oct. 17, for a screening of the award-winning documentary “The New Black” by filmmaker Yoruba Richen. The hour-long documentary focuses on the 2012 fight for marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples in Maryland and “takes viewers into the pews, onto the streets, and provides a seat at the kitchen table as it looks at how the African-American community grapples with the issue of LGBT rights.” The film served as an opening for a much deeper discussion centering on issues impacting black LGBT students at ASU during the “Breaking The Silence” forum that immediately followed the film’s screening.

Atlanta activist Charles Stephens of The Counter Narrative Project, a media advocacy group working on behalf of black gay men, moderated the discussion. Panelists included Tori Sisson (HRC Alabama), Shante Wolfe-Sisson (Freelance Mixed Media Artist), Dr. Carlos Morrison (ASU communications professor and AMPLIFIED adviser), the Rev. Mashaun Simon (Columbia Theological Seminary), and ASU students Caleb Gumbs and Martell Raymond.

ASU is one of four Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) awarded more than $4,000 in grant money through a partnership with Promised Land Films and The Human Rights Campaign, the largest organization in the nation dedicated to achieving full equality for LGBT Americans. AMPLIFIED president and founder, Darian Aaron, a senior communications major from Montgomery, believes that the group’s inaugural event, the impressive turnout and the willingness of ASU students to learn about the experiences of people who are unlike themselves is a major first step.

“So many people told me that the hostility aimed at people in the South and on ASU’s campus toward students who identify as LGBT would make it impossible for AMPLIFIED to exist and that our event wouldn’t be successful. I’m proud to say that we proved the naysayers wrong,” Aaron said. Aaron and other members of AMPLIFIED are working to make ASU’s campus more inclusive and welcoming for students who carry the weight of being a double minority: black and LGBT.

Discussion about religious opposition to visibility and equality for LGBT students at ASU and in society at large took center stage for much of the forum, as those who either opposed or supported LGBT rights made their voices heard. An exchange between a self-identified Christian male audience member who felt excluded by an audience survey that failed to list the term heterosexual, and Martell Raymond, a gender non-conforming ASU student, seemed to get to the heart of the issue for many.

“I’m glad you’re upset by the survey,” Raymond said. “What you’re feeling right now is what LGBT people have to deal with every day. We’re constantly being ‘othered’ and excluded and told we’re less than and we don’t deserve equality simply because of who we are.” Raymond’s comments were echoed by others in the audience such as Tori Sisson.

“In Alabama, there are no state protections from discrimination in employment and housing if you’re LGBT and no protections for students who are victims of anti-gay bullying. You can lose your livelihood in this state for simply being who you are,” Sisson said. Those who were opposed, due to religious convictions, to the visibility of LGBT people on and off campus stressed that in their disapproval, they still offered love.

“There’s a quote from ‘The New Black’ that says (the LGBT movement) is the unfinished business of black people being free,” Aaron said. “The ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy in the black community and on campus regarding LGBT issues is being repealed, and it’s going to happen one conversation at a time. This is only the beginning for us at ASU.”

| Monday, March 03, 2014

On February 25, 2014 I shared the late DC gay rights activist Mel Boozer's address to the 1980 Democratic National Convention during Alabmama State University's annual Black History Month Oratorical Contest. The video of my presentation and my reaction to what occured following my speech is below.

via Facebook:

"I'm experiencing so many different emotions following this speech. I knew when I chose it that there may be some in the audience and even on the judge's panel who would outright reject the content of the speech and my audacity to deliver it. I was right. Regardless of the obstacles that presented itself, I stood at the podium and OWNED every part of my identity and those who came before me who were silenced. This is not a third place speech, but that is the certificate that is tucked away in my bag. I'll be reminding myself throughout the day as I process what occured, that this speech was for the black gay boy in the yellow shirt towards the back of the auditorium whose face beamed with PRIDE as the totality of our identity was CELEBRATED and not DENIGRATED." #myASU #black #lgbt

Official response to ASU press:

"It was an honor to be able to participate in ASU's Black History Month Oratorical contest and to be used as a vessel to tell the stories of our rich cultural history as African-Americans and our continued struggle for equality. I purposefully chose to veer away from the usual celebrated black heroes (i.e. Dr. King and Malcolm X) and elevate the message of Dr. Mel Boozer, an often forgotten black political leader and gay rights activist who has been written out of history as a result of black respectability politics and homophobia. During a time when lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people of all colors, but specifically African-American LGBT's, are fighting for visibility, marriage equality, and equal protection under the law, Boozer's speech and ideology is as relevant today as it was when the speech was given in 1980. Not surprisingly, the content of my speech was met with resistance, with it's pro-LGBT message and acknowledgment of black gays and lesbians as human beings deserving of full equality and as equal contributors to the black civil rights movement. It was affirmed, at least to me, that at ASU it's perfectly acceptable to recite a speech by James Baldwin (which another contested did) but it's unacceptable to publicly acknowledge that Baldwin was gay (which I did).

Black gays and lesbians do exist. They exist on the campus of ASU. They exist in our families, churches, and communities and are an oppressed minority within a minority. "But it matters not which group is most oppressed, or who was first oppressed, or whether they are identically oppressed. What matters is that no group of people should be oppressed." With ASU planted firmly in the birthplace of the civil rights movement, it's time the entire faculty, student body, and yes, even the oratorical judges embrace equality for all. None of us are free until all of us are free."

| Thursday, August 08, 2013

By Tina Joly,Media Relations Specialist at Alabama State University

Darian Aaron spends most of his days up in the clouds; but a couple of days a week, he has his feet planted on the campus of Alabama State University.

Over the years, students have commuted to Alabama State University by car, bus, bicycle and foot. But Darian Aaron could be the first ASU student to use an airplane to get to class.

Aaron, a flight attendant with Shuttle America, flies into Montgomery Regional Airport from Atlanta to attend classes at ASU. He said he is able to commute via plane because of a job benefit and his dad, who lives in Montgomery.

“My dad is my personal chauffeur and an amazing father and is there to pick me up from the airport and drop me off on campus. During the summer semester, I've actually had to fly into Montgomery the night before and crash at my parents’ place in order to be on time for an 8 a.m. class on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” Aaron said. “As a flight attendant, one of our privileges is the ability to travel for free as often as our schedule allows. This is definitely a perk that I'm taking advantage of on a weekly basis.”

Aaron, a communications major, was born and raised in Montgomery. He said that even though he lives in Atlanta and there are many colleges there, none compare to ASU.

“ASU is a family tradition. My mother, sister, aunts and several cousins have graduated from ASU,” said Aaron. “I practically grew up on campus in the Theatre Department from the age of 11 throughout my senior year in high school. ASU provided my first glimpse into life as a student at an HBCU. It was a no-brainer for me to select ASU for my undergraduate studies.There isn't a single institution in Atlanta that was as attractive or has invested so much in my personal growth over the years as ASU.”

He said it’s worth the extra time to commute this way because of the life experience he is gaining.

“This experience is definitely teaching me persistence, patience and the importance of commitment. While the destination is important, the journey is even more so. This may sound cliché, but anything worth having is worth fighting for,” Aaron said. “People are always amazed when I tell them I commute to another state to attend school. I'm generally confused by their reaction because I simply view it as something I have to do in order to get to where I want to be.”

Aaron said the commute is a win-win for him and for his family.

“The journalism industry can be cut-throat and especially challenging for journalists of color. The communications professors at ASU are constantly preparing journalism students for real-world challenges. I'm able to obtain the education that will prepare me for my future, and I get to see my family more often than I normally would,” Aaron said.

Aaron currently is taking Beginning Newswriting with Coke Ellington, assistant professor of communications media. Ellington said Aaron is an excellent student and that commuting to class by airplane is certainly unique.

"I never heard of it (commuting via airplane) since I started teaching part-time here in 1985 and full-time since 1997, nor when I worked in public relations at Clemson University in the 1970s, nor when I was a student at the University of Georgia in the 1960s. I'm always happy to have another good student, whether that student commutes by air, by car or on foot," Ellington said.

Aaron said one of the benefits of commuting is the friends that he’s made at the airports in both Atlanta and Montgomery. He plans to continue to commute until he graduates.

“But no more 8 a.m. classes for me,” Aaron said with a laugh.

| Friday, July 19, 2013

Any aspiring or veteran journalist will agree that the news business is highly competitive, so if one is determined to have a successful career he must have a unique point of view and a superior work ethic that will set him apart from the pack. Shedd Johnson, news director at WVAS offered a dose of real-world advice on Thursday to aspiring journalists in Alabama State University’s communications department.

With over 30 years of experience as a working journalist, Johnson tried to ease any anxiety the students might have about transitioning from academic life into their professional careers. “It all begins with writing,” said Johnson. “If you can write, you can get a job. A good command of the English language will take you a long way.”

Johnson’s advice reaffirmed what ASU communications professor Coke Ellington, who extended the invitation for Johnson to speak, has been teaching to his beginning news writing students over the course of the summer semester. The ABC’s of good writing: accuracy, brevity, and clarity, all of which are necessary components of professional journalism.

It may sound like common advice to anyone who has a high school diploma and has matriculated into collegiate life, “but being able to write a simple declarative sentence is half the battle,” according to Johnson.

“You’d be surprised the number of resumes I get with grammatical errors and misspelled words,” he said.

Johnson also stressed to the students the importance of securing an internship while pursuing their degree. “An internship is very important. There is no better way to find out what is expected of you or if this business is really for you.”

ASU students can gain valuable experience right on campus as an intern at WVAS. Scottie Hunter, a senior television broadcasting major at ASU is learning the ins and outs of day-to-day journalism and showing a potential employer signs of great promise in the process.

In addition to encouraging students to hone their craft, Johnson also reminded them of the type of human being they should strive to be in the business. “If you want to be respected as a professional then you must remain professional. Set out to do right and keep your integrity.”

| Friday, June 28, 2013

Zach Wahls has two moms. This fact could be considered the most mundane aspect of Wahls’ background depending on one's politics. But it’s this fact about Wahls' and the defense of his family before the Iowa House Judiciary Committee in 2011 that garnered him national attention when video of his testimony went viral online. Wahls accepted an invitation from The Friends School of Atlanta in Decatur, a suburb 15 miles west of downtown Atlanta on Thursday to speak in support of his new memoir, “My Two Moms.”

Sponsored by Charis Books, a local LGBT bookstore located in Atlanta’s Little Five Points district, Wahls spoke for over an hour to a room filled with supporters and LGBT families.

An Eagle Scout, Wahls is currently executive director of Scouts for Equality, a national organization working towards creating a more inclusive environment for gay scouts and leaders within the Boy Scouts of America. The first chapter in “My Two Moms” titled “Be Prepared,” derives from the values Wahls learned as a scout and provides the structure for “My Two Moms.”

“My entire life had been lived to prepare for the day’s event,” said Wahls, referring to his testimony before the Iowa House Judiciary Committee in 2011 as the House debated whether to pass a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality in his home state. Iowa became the first state in the Midwest to grant equal marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples legislatively in 2009.

Wahls told the crowd he’d “developed thick skin and quick reflexes as the son of lesbian parents and was ready to defend his moms.” But what Wahls wasn’t prepared for was the overwhelming reaction to the video of his testimony, which he says he was unaware even existed until the following day after he was informed by a co-worker.

“Do you realize you’re all over Facebook?”

Brushing it off, Wahls returned to his cubicle and continued his day. It wasn’t until he returned home and awoke from a nap that he realized he had 600 e-mails, dozens of voicemails, and more Facebook friend requests than he could possibly accept in a day. This was the moment he knew his life was about to change.

“It was the most stressful snow day ever,” Wahls said jokingly.

18 million You Tube hits later and appearances on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Good Morning America, MSNBC and CNN, Wahls has become one of America’s most recognizable faces associated with the fight for equal rights for LGBT Americans.

A fight that was bolstered by the Supreme Court’s decision on Wednesday that ruled Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented the federal government from recognizing legally married gay couples like Wahls’ two moms unconstitutional. Georgia voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment in 2004 prohibiting access to marriage for gay and lesbian couples. When asked about how the ruling would change his activism going forward Wahls said, “ Like many activists folks I know, we’re excited but not satisfied.”

And in his best impression of actor and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger Wahls reiterated, “We’ll be back.” While Wahls was the main attraction of the evening, he shared the spotlight for a brief moment when he acknowledged a 7-year-old boy during the question and answer session that simply wanted to let him know that they had something in common. “I have two mommies too,” he said.

In a full circle moment, the last few lines of Wahls’ now famous speech before the Iowa House Judiciary Committee were given new life. “I’m sure we’re going to hear a lot of testimony about how damaging having gay parents is on kids. But not once have I ever been confronted by an individual who realized independently that I was raised by a gay couple. And you know why? Because the sexual orientation of my parents has had zero impact on the content of my character.”

| Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Lonnell Williams, host of 3LWTV and GLO TV Network presents "The Color Of Love: DL Stigma." Watch this fiery discussion about a topic impacting the black LGBT community with panelists Gyant of GyantUnplugged, director Maurice Jamal, author JL. KIng (On The Down Low) and myself below.

| Monday, May 28, 2012

African-American, Latino, and Asian-American writers tell their own stories of coming of age, coming out, and coming home.

About the book: The new book, For Colored Boys, addresses longstanding issues of sexual abuse, suicide, HIV/AIDS, racism, and homophobia in the African American and Latino communities, and more specifically among young gay men of color. The book tells stories of real people coming of age, coming out, dealing with religion and spirituality, seeking love and relationships, finding their own identity in or out of the LGBT community, and creating their own sense of political empowerment.

This collection includes writers who are African American, Latino, Asian American, British, and Jamaican. Their ages span over five decades from young to old, and they represent all parts of the country and a wide cross-section of occupations, including students, published authors, recording artists, reality TV stars, military veterans, doctors, and lawyers.

We hope their stories will educate, empower, and inspire you.

From Rod 2.0:

The publication of the book is timely. A new survey was released this week that found a shocking 43 percent of Black gay youth have considered or attempted suicide as a result of issues related to their sexual orientation. More than a quarter of Black gay youth say they have experienced anti-gay bullying. Almost one in ten have been sexually or physically abused.

"There are 44 pieces from 42 authors, including 37 African-Americans, 3 Latinos, 1 Asian-American, 1 Canadian and 1 British writer," Keith Boykin told R20. "The contributors' ages range from 23 to 63. We have at least 5 writers in their 20s."

Many of the names should be familiar to R20 readers. For Colored Boys includes contributions from myself, Darian Aaron, Jamal Brown, Topher Campbell, Wade Davis, Kenyon Farrow, L. Michael Gipson, James Earl Hardy, DeMarco Majors, David Malebranche, B. Scott, Rob Smith, Kevin E. Tayor, Craig Washington, Tim'm West, Nathan H. Williams and Emanuel Xavier. The anthology will include nine poems. In addition to Keith Boykin, the editors include young filmmaker Mark Corece and author/scholar Frank Leon Roberts.

Pre-order the book here.
Book Release: July 2012

| Sunday, April 29, 2012

Darian Aaron on black gay couples, coming out Christian, and in-flight shenanigans

By Laura Douglas Brown, Editor-In-Chief of The GA Voice

The May 2012 issue of Ebony Magazine features First Lady Michelle Obama smiling on the cover. The motherhood-themed interview offers interesting insight into the daily lives of the First Family, but in some ways is not as ground-breaking for the mainstream African-American monthly as a story from April's issue: "Black, gay and Christian: Where spirituality and sexuality converge."

The first-person account describes Atlanta writer Darian Aaron's journey from realizing he was gay around age 7, to fearing being shunned by the Southern Baptist church where he was raised, to finding acceptance in a new church home. 

"Spirituality shouldn't hurt," Aaron says in the piece. "When we go to church to worship God as gay Christians, we shouldn't walk away feeling bruised and battered." 

The Ebony article is by no means Aaron's first effort to bring a voice to those often invisible in the media. Last year, he published "When Love Takes Over," a coffee table book of black gay male couples that grew out of a series of profiles on his blog, Living Out Loud with Darian.

Aaron, 32, currently works as a flight attendant while also studying journalism at Georgia Perimeter College. 

GA Voice caught up with him to hear more about his writing, advice to couples, and the weirdest things he puts up with from airline passengers. 

GA Voice: Though updated less frequently now, your blog Living Out Loud with Darian, has been very successful. Why did you decide to write personally from a black gay male perspective? Did you expect the blog to strike a chord the way it did? 

I started Living Out Loud with Darian in 2006 for several reasons, but mainly it was born out of my frustration with the lack of diversity in the blogosphere. There were only a handful of blogs at the time
that focused specifically on the lives and experiences of LGBT people of color. 

In hindsight, it was also an answer to an incessant need that I had to utilize my voice to speak out on issues that were important to me as a black man who unapologetically identified as gay. 

So often the experiences of LGBT people of color are excluded and rendered invisible by the broader gay community along with the media. I wanted to provide a platform that pushed these stories into the forefront. I had no idea that the blog would take off the way it did as I had no idea what I was doing when it first began. But I quickly found my voice and a loyal audience that flocked to the site from all across the country and from overseas. 

GA Voice: Your book, "When Love Takes Over," grew from couples' profiles on your blog. Do you think there are enough role models or media visibility for black gay couples? 

I don't think there are nearly enough role models of black gay couples in committed relationships in the media. I honestly can't remember the last time I saw a black gay couple in print or on television and there's been ample opportunities to diversify the images we see of gay couples with the advancement of marriage equality in several states...

I wanted to do what I could to change the unfortunate narrative that exists among some in the black gay community that it's impossible for two black men to maintain a committed relationship. There are couples in my book who have been together for over 20 years and have achieved the American dream with a home, children, and successful careers. The 18 couples in my book merely serve as examples to single gay men and even those in relationships that they can have a successful relationship if they so desire. 

GA Voice: What advice did you glean from those interviews that has helped your own life, or that can help other couples now? 

A common thread woven through all of the couples I interviewed was date nights. All of the couples continued to date each other as their relationships matured. This is something that is also very important to my partner and me. 

Great communication was also another take-away from the couples in my book. Many of the guys noted that their communication style was a work in progress but without solid communication failure could be imminent. 

GA Voice: Your Ebony essay about being black, gay and Christian has gotten widespread attention. Have you gotten any backlash? 

Believe it or not, I've only heard one negative reaction about the piece via a phone call from a friend in Los Angeles. His grandmother read the article and almost had a heart attack! I found her reaction to be quite amusing. 

I stopped caring about the negative reaction of homophobes a long time ago. I was actually kind of relieved to hear about that single negative reaction since all of the feedback leading up to that moment had been overwhelmingly positive. 

I grew up reading Ebony and can't recall ever seeing an openly gay black person with a positive story about their experience on its pages. The idea that a closeted young gay person of color will have access to my story of overcoming "church hurt" and reclaiming my rightful place in the world as a black, gay, child of God makes nay piece of criticism worth it. 

I have the full support of my family and my partner and at the end of the day that's all that matters. 

GA Voice: Do you plan to write another book?

This is the question that keeps coming up. I honestly can't answer that right now. I'll never say "never," but right now school, my relationship, and work is my focus. However, I will say the opportunity to display my growth as a writer and improve upon the first book is quite attractive to me. 

GA Voice: Is there any topic you absolutely would not want to write or blog about? 

When I was blogging full-time no topic was off limits. My only requirement was that the information posted served to educate, empower, and entertain my audience. 

I did make a conscious effort not to turn the blog into a shrine for Beyonce (or Janet, my favorite artist). Gay men and our fascination with divas. I've seen so many (black) gay blogs neglect vital stories that needed to be pushed to the forefront of LGBT consciousness for pop idol worship...

If something I've written has started a conversation about homophobia, bullying, the lack of visibility of LGBT people of color in the media, HIV/AIDS, or racism within the gay community, then I'm moving in the right direction. 

GA Voice: In your professional life as a flight attendant, do you think the stereotype that a large proportion of male flight attendants are gay is true?

I absolutely deplore stereotypes. but a large percentage of my male co-workers are indeed gay. Every now and then a few straight guys will make it out of training and onto the line. But at the end of the day,we're all one big happy family of various orientations and gender identities---including trans---working hard to keep our passengers safe. 

GA Voice: What is the weirdest thing you have ever encountered with a passenger? 

This may not necessarily sound weird but it's definitely annoying and it happens often: passengers who like to turn our galley (which would be equivalent to their private office) into their own personal gym. I've had passengers occupy my work space to get their yoga on, complete with a mat! 

And those passengers who think it's perfectly acceptable and hygienic to put their trash on the beverage cart during service. Let me stop...I could go on. Maybe I'll save it for my next book.