Executive Director Vaughn E. Taylor-Akutagawa Discusses GMAD’s Past And Future
To understand how Gay Men Of African Descent was created you have to understand 1986.
The year was marked by incredible highs, like the national syndication of the Oprah Winfrey Show.
The Cosby Show dominated television and Mike Tyson was heavyweight champion of the world.
There were tragedies like the Space Shuttle Challenger blowing up in front of millions of people.
And then national efforts to change the world like the Hands Across America campaign to end poverty.
But for people suffering from HIV/AIDS, and their families and allies, this is a terrifying time. This is a year before there are any FDA approved drugs to combat the virus.
Just five years earlier what was later classified as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome ripped through the LGBTQ community especially gay men.
It was just in September of 1985 that then president Ronald Reagan publicly acknowledged the disease for the first time.
And reports from the CDC and other officials were saying that the virus was impacting African-Americans at an alarming rate
In the midst of what was finally being called an epidemic and something that was hitting the black and brown community hard, action needed to be taken.
A small group of black folks decided to come together. The Reverend Charles Angel and others wanted black gay men to be able to be their authentic self without fear. GMAD was born so we could come together and discuss our issues and seek answers to our questions without having to parcel our issues up in the gay or black basket.
It’s been 30 years since this landmark organization was formed. So much has changed in our country, our community, and the future is not as clear as it was just one month ago. But GMAD still stands.
SOULE had an opportunity to talk with Vaughn E. Taylor-Akutagawa, GMAD’s current executive director, about the future of one our community’s most historic organizations.
SOULE: What made you decide to take the position of Executive Director of G.M.A.D.
Vaughn E. Taylor-Akutagawa: I think I bumped my head along the way. I truly believe we need a space just for us with other agencies closing, this was the last appropriate battleground. We’re the last remaining black-owned and operated program in New York.
How do you think the organization has changed over the years?
We have come from a community-based organization to a minority social sector enterprise, I think we are clear about who we represent. But there is nothing wrong with a non-profit making a profit and the money going back to the community.
Do you think the mission of GMAD still rings true?
We’re in a volatile time post-U.S. election. If we don’t maintain this safe space, black gay men who don’t have HIV may be another thing at the Smithsonian.
How has the recent election shaped your agenda for future if at all?
For the immediate future we decided to focus on economic empowerment and our membership base. Long term we decided to add primary care our sustainability.One of the challenges we face is we heavily relied on government funding. The contracts don’t give us the flexibility to meet community needs.
How important is it to integrate the different generations of the struggle?
There are group forums (where) we have different generations to discuss issues in their perspectives. It’s too easy to silo and self segregate. One of our oldest members is 72. For him, you had to understand the hanky code a bunch of stuff that would confuse me to no end. Meanwhile our youngest member is 15 who has a GPS app for sex on his phone. You can sit in a room and see all the available men in your area. To bring these two guys together you need respect and understanding and effective communication.
Have you come across people who are now opposed to the term Gay in GMAD – Meaning they want to use the term “queer” or something that doesn’t label them?
It definitely impacts us significantly. It’s a great political term. We have people who use the term queer and cisgender. It gives us an opportunity to have diverse voices. Self-definition is the first step to self-control and respect.
What is the thing that surprises you in your work?
What surprises me is our resilience. When I came on board we had massive seven-figure debt and the ability to align our expenses and revenue, to have volunteers and staff to endure the change is resilience.