Karen Ocamb

Thank You, In The Meantime Men, for Honoring Me

Filed By Karen Ocamb | December 11, 2010 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: In The Meantime Men, Karen Ocamb, vintage Hollywood

As a somewhat old-fashioned journalist, it feels odd for me to accept an honor from an organization that I cover. I don't want anyone to think I might lean towards favoritism. On the other hand, I wonder how many old fashion journalists cover a minority community so closely and for so long that longevity itself breeds a kind of intimate familiarity. As they used to say - I know where the bodies are buried.

Unfortunately, given the LGBT community and AIDS - that is quite literally true. In fact, during the height of the AIDS epidemic, before the wonders of the HIV/AIDS cocktail and the Internet, I recorded the honest last thoughts of the dying so they would feel their life mattered – that their name would exist as someone important in the world, if only for the two weeks the magazine was on the street.

"Diversity" is mainstream code for everyone not white, straight or male. But as an LGBT journalist, I know there are 126 Asian languages or dialects in Southern California; that many people of color are "same-gender-loving" and men who have sex with men to avoid the "white"-identified word "gay." And I learned that there's more to the term "down low" than whites and straights realize.

I would not know or be able to write about this without the kind guidance of LGBT people in different communities and cultures - people like In The Meantime Men's creator and CEO, Jeffrey King. Tonight Jeffrey is honoring me with the Founder's Award at ITMT's 11th anniversary gala fundraiser at the Harlem Renaissance-style The Vintage Hollywood Private Club on Washington Boulevard. But it is I should be honoring him for the tenacity with which he spiritually fuels this incredible wellness organization.

First, Jeffrey is a close friend of a dear friend of mine, Jewel Thais Williams, legendary owner of Jewel's Catch One Disco and The Village Health Clinic. ITMT's offices are at the Catch, which doubles as a center for LGBT African Americans. Somehow knowing

Jeffrey King with Rue (left) and Jewel Thais Williams

Jewel gave us a short cut to knowing each other. The rest was catching up and filling in blanks.

But what captured my attention and trust is Jeffrey's unabashed frankness in talking about difficult things - like racism wherever and in whatever form he finds it. I was part of one of those uncomfortable, out-in-the-open dialogues and during a recent ITMT forum.

I have also been happy to provide Jeffrey with a space online where he can share his thoughts about HIV/AIDS, coming out in the Black community, and the need to strategically develop, network and empower LGBT leaders within the Black Gay community through the Los Angeles Black LGBT Network he created last February.

If you're interested in coming to the gala, you can buy tickets at the door. ITMT is also honoring AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein with the Lifetime Achievement Award, Nina Harawa with the Kevin Spears Humanitarian Award, Greg McNeal with the Image Award and William Johnson with the Volunteer of the Year Award.

The Vintage Hollywood Private Club, 4000 Washington Blvd., LA CA 90019, Saturday, December 11, 2010, 7-8p.m. Champagne Reception and Tray Pass 8-9p.m. Awards Presentation 9-10p.m. Special Guest Entertainment 10-11p.m. Afterglow Preferred Table Seating, $50.00 General Admission, $30.00 (Tickets Available now) (323) 733-4868

Here is an excerpt of Jeffrey's Aug. 10, 2009 blog about coming out:

Jeffrey King with Queen Victoria at an HIV/AIDS rally

“I can remember a turning point in my life, long before I had come out of the closet. I came home after a long day of work and turned on the television. The screen filled with what appeared to be thousands of mostly white HIV/AIDS activists engaged in righteous civil disobedience–shutting down Santa Monica Blvd., blocking traffic, jumping onto cars, getting arrested, not giving up, and not giving in.

Although I had yet to claim my place among the LGBT alphabet, I knew right then that the time would soon come when I would have to step up to the plate and take a stand, first by coming out myself and then by defending the right to not only be who I am, but also to defend the rights of others like me.

For many of us, coming out is still terrifying. Twenty-five years ago no one could have told me that I would found an organization for black gay men. But after losing most of my dearest friends and hundreds of peers and associates to the HIV/AIDS virus, I began the journey that brought me to the fertile ground that now is In The Meantime.”

Here's a Dec. 17, 2009 blog excerpt celebrating ITMT's 10th anniversary:

“Our culture, as Black folks, is really about, 'Hush, don't tell--what happens in this house doesn't go beyond these doors or these walls. We don't talk about what happens here, so we don't talk about sex. The way that we learn what we learn is from some of the older kids in many cases. Maybe this is even American culture, but some of that has influenced the way we go about living our lives. We call it 'being private.' So that becomes our way of justifying that we live our lives in secrecy and fear of being found out. Black gay men are on the DL, in general.

I call it the ultimate sacrifice. There's a sense of loyalty to our community and to our heritage that says we won't bring shame to it. Many of us have risen above that. But there are far too many of us who are still closeted. One of the images I remember growing up was of Black men with picket signs in their hands [during civil rights protests] saying, 'I am a man.' I also remember the older men talking about what qualified [as] being 'a man.' And a lot of that had to do with how the predominate or white culture had influenced them, so I think we still live with a lot of that pressure as Black men--not just our sexuality--because we hold those stereotypes against each other."


(Crossposted at LGBT POV)


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Congratulations, Karen, on the award.

Had I still been in Los Angeles, I would have loved to attend this event -- but unfortunately I'm 2300 miles away.

And I certainly wish that midwestern cities such as Louisville and Indianapolis had groups such as In The Meantime Men.

Thanks, A.J. - it was a lovely event. I was towards the end so I got to see how loving and respectful all these folks were with each other. And especially since AIDS Healthcare Foundation's Michael Weinstein was in the audience waiting to receive his Lifetime Achievement Award - I was reminded of something my old, late friend AIDS activist Michael Callen used to say about how the gay community is really just a "useful fiction."

I said I wished Michael was still alive to see the folks in the room because this truly was a community - and this was a fact, not a fiction. It was deeply moving to be embraced by this family, this community within two other minority "communities" - African American and LGBT.

BTW - Michael Weinstein noted how he started AFH - now a global AIDS group - with just a clipboard and determination - and he promised to stick by In The Meantime.

So perhaps you can check out In The Meantime's website and get some pointers how to start your own group where you are. It's just family helping family to start out with. That's doable....

Good luck and thanks for the pat on the back.
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