Henry: So let’s start super broadly. Just tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.
Wright: Well my name’s Gary Paul Wright of course as you know. I am one of the founders and the executive director of the African American Office of Gay Concerns. We actually started it in 19… I’m just kidding. We actually started about 20 years ago. I was working for the New Jersey AETC, New York New Jersey Education and Training Center, and before that of course we can talk about that in a minute. We’re celebrating 20 years this year so I’m very very happy because a lot of agencies you know don’t last that long so I’m happy about that. Um let’s see I’m married to my husband. We’ve been together for 30 years. We’ve been officially married since 2013 when you could get married legally, and we live in South Orange, we have a dog named Caesar Milano and that’s about it, you know. You look nice with your hair down!
Olivia: Aw thank you! I had to take it out cause I looked bald.
Wright: No! No, you look fine. I miss my hair. You know I used to have dreadlocks for many many many years. So y’all fire away and let’s see if we can give y’all a good interview.
Henry: Yea so just talk a little bit about your work at the African American Office of Gay Concerns and what it does within the city of Newark.
Wright: Okay. Um let’s see… I gotta tell you I am nervous about this. I rarely get “interviewed”, so if I backtrack, if I screw up, you know fuck it okay just take the best parts.
Henry: You’re fine. It’s very chill.
Wright: So what we do is we are an HIV prevention organization. I mean that’s why we formed, it’s what our main purpose is. But now we serve more as a resource for our community, for the black gay community, and white community too, but there are bigger agencies serving bigger people and more people, so we’re kind of specific. And then a few years ago we started with our transgender outreach, and that’s been very very good and very succesful as well. So we’re still a small agency, we’re still community based, and that’s our purpose, you know? A lot of people say “why don’t you guys grow and get some more funding and this and that” and it’s like “well, that has a lot of responsibility with it”. Like I said there are other HIV/AIDS agencies and other LGBTQ agencies that do a good job, and I like where we are. You know, I’m an old man, I can’t do much more, so this is it guys, okay? Umm but we’re there, we’re in downtown Newark and we’re just like a central location that people can stop by. Everybody knows who we are, from Jersey City to Trenton they know who we are, and they know our doors are always open. All our services are free. We get funding from the New Jersey Department of Health, which is gonna make next year a little weird since all the money is going to COVID-19, so we’ll see how we… keep your fingers crossed, okay, that the state’s got some money left over for us. And unfortunately I’m not one of these fundraisers. I mean I look good in a tux, trust me. But I’m not one of those people that, you know, there are bigger and better people than I am who can do that. My board is basically you know people who have been friends and things like that, so you gotta have a board, gotta have a board. They don’t do a whole lot of anything but the fact that they support and me and they’re happy I’m still alive so they don’t have to do the work.
Olivia: Solid. So just to build off the last question, what services does the African American Office of Gay Concerns offer?
Wright: Well our main service is the HIV testing. We do HIV testing for the LGBTQ community. We do couples testing which is something I’m really trying to encourage. We actually do syphilis testing for gay men, we get funding to do that. I don’t know why just specifically for gay men but they said you know “can you do this with your program” and since they fund us I said yes. But we also with our transgender community though, I mean we have a yearly event we call Mascara. That started because when we first did this outreach, this one day event for our trans community, it was Valentines Day. This was like 12 years ago. So we called it the “St. Valentine's Day Mascara” to kind of play on the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. But unfortunately none of the kids or anyone who came to that knew exactly what the hell the massacre was so we had this cute little pun and nobody got it. But we liked the name Mascara and it worked so the next year we started having it at a different time of year, and then we started having it on Transgender Day of Remembrance so we kept it Mascara. We just finished Mascara 11 last year and it was very successful. We held it at Rutgers Newark. We started out with, our very first one we had like 14 people, 14 trans kids. And now we’re up to I think a hundred and something like 112, 120. Just under 120 last year. But this also includes professionals and other agencies participating as well. It’s been pretty successful, so we’re happy about that. But like I said, we act as a resource, so we can have kids come in and people call on the phone, and if we don’t have any answers right then and there we will do what we can to find the answers. And a lot of times it means going to people like Garden State Equality or NJCRI or Heison Foundation, you know what I mean? And we got no problem with that because we have a good working relationship with all these agencies. And, we don’t rock the boat in terms of messing around with other people. We like all the help that we can get, you know what I mean? So…
Olivia: Of course. So, as executive director of a body that primarily focuses on black queer identity, can you speak a bit on the intersectionality of identity in the black queer community, and why it’s not only important to adress queer issues but black queer issues? Why do we need to separate a body to address the black queer community?
Wright: Wow that happens to be one of these questions I have in front of me, damn you’re good! You know, I should’ve written all these answers done like an essay but uh… first of all let me say, first of all being black in America is one thing, okay? Being queer in America is another thing. Being black and queer is totally yet another thing, and I try to say, you know, that there’s no disparities going on because we know that there are. Even within the gay community or queer community, I’m used to saying gay community so yeah, clean it up however you want. But you know, I’m trying to think, you know when I was working at Gay Man’s Health Crisis, and everyone was saying it was a gay white man’s disease, why are you dealing with it? And we were trying to tell people, those of us way back in the late 80s, no it’s not a gay white man’s disease! You know, black people are getting infected. But we kind of had an upward battle. And now, and then we got to the point where the black community was like leading numbers all over the damn place so we had to not only fight with the regular communities out there. We had to fight with the black community to convince them, hey y’all this is happening. Y’all need to start talking about safe sex, you need to start using condoms, things like that because it’s really happening. And then it exploded with straight black women, so I think that’s when it really like hit our community as well. But then of course it narrowed down to gay black men were like leading the numbers, so I think that’s what made it so important that I started doing what I was doing, and even though I was working for, you know, a university hospital at the time, when I started the AAOGC I knew that the focus, there needed to be a focus on black gay men. Ergo, I talked to the state of New Jersey and they found out what I was trying to do, and that’s how I got funded in the first place. But we specifically wanted to do outreach to our own community. You know, I don’t have a picture of my Board of Directors. I mean not my Board of Directors but my original founders. But we actually, our very first meeting was in our kitchen, around our kitchen table, so when we say we really are grassroots, we really are grassroots. Uh now I’m off on a tangent what else was I gonna say. Oh! Then, and even in the olden days, like in the 80s, you know, people were saying, you know, “black people aren’t gay people. That’s the white man’s term”. And then they came up with SGL, which stood for Same Gender Loving, so a lot of black people don’t even use gay anymore, they use SGL. And then, the big question in those days were are you a gay black man or are you a black gay man? I’ve always put black first because I, you know, duh. But I’ve also, you know, been one of those few people who, in the olden days, whenever you write Black people that B is capitalized, you know what I mean? And that’s a little thing, but it really is big, to me it was big. But the fact that I was focusing on my friends and the people that I know and the community that I was part of, just made it more dynamic, more important for me. Flush it out if you want to.
Henry: No that’s amazing.
Olivia: It’s perfect, you’re doing great. 10 out of 10.
Olivia: 11 out of 10 I dare say.
Wright: Ooooo okay. Alright well anyways so let’s talk some more.
Oliva: Um so, again off our lovely list, for being someone heavily involved in Newark’s queer community, how do you believe that the city of Newark has or has not been adressing queer concerns.
Wright: You know, when I read that question, I did write down Shani Baraka, who was Mayor Baraka’s sister, who was murdered. Her and her lover, her and her wife, I don’t know if they were legally married but her and her wife were murdered by another in-law. You know so, the queer fight has been out there, and the fact that they named the women’s center after her, and not because she was a lesbian but because she was a black woman, I think that says volumes. Now there is a lot of people who think that Newark isn’t doing enough, or the Mayor’s not doing enough, but I gotta tell you even since Cory Booker was mayor, the black queer community has like been out there and in the open. You know, we even have a parade every year, and it’s small compared to Asbury Park or of course New York City, but at least we’re out there. And Cory Booker started the Commissioners, the LGBTQ Commission, and they didn’t have to do that but I think it was a wise move on his part because we were becoming very very vocal in this city. Especially, of course, everybody wants to center around the death of Sakia Gunn, and I think rightly so. That was like the movement, that was like the beginning of the movement here in Newark. It was just like how the hell can this happen in this city, you know, to a fifteen year old girl, you know, openly lesbian. A lot of people even thought that she was like a trans man but, you know, she was just butch, that was just her style and the way she expressed herself. But I think it picks a lot of us off, and that’s just like… do you know who James Credle is? James Credle was a Dean of Students over at Rutgers Newark, and he’s been around for a long long long long long time. He’s got an organization called Circle of Friends, so if you ever want to talk to somebody who’s really got history in Newark, talk to James Credle. He was here long before I was. I didn’t move to Newark, to this area until later on in life. Not later on in life, but 20 years ago was when we moved here. Anyhow, to make a long story short, James and some other people decided to have a meeting, and they formed an organization called Newark Pride Alliance and it was like the, we were trying to make that the body of queer work, black queer work here in Newark. And it evolved into other things, and yet people like Darnell Moore, I think he’s in Los Angeles now, so we had a lot a lot of good people here in Newark that were, and young people. I mean I’m 66 years old so the fact that, and I was old even when all of this shit started happening, so the fact that these young lions as I called them came up and they were very vocal and they were like “we’re not gonna stand for this”, I thought it was the best thing that ever happened. So when the Commission happened and the, Essex County actually put together their own advisory board for Joey D. I think we just became a force you couldn’t ignore anymore, and I think that was the most important thing. We didn’t have to really get nasty and protest and things like that although there’s some things that we had to take care of. But I think the reception here in Newark for the most part was pretty good. I mean I don’t know if Newark was just ready for it, the pushback wasn’t that great. You know, we weren’t getting a lot of press and things like that from the Star Ledger, but, you know, we persisted. I think, you know I wish some of this activism were kind of back, I’m getting a little bored. That’s just me, okay. I will say, you know, because of my agency and who we are, every year on World AIDS Day we stand in front of City Hall, you know, and try to remember those who have gone before us so that we don’t forget, and some years we’ve had a lot of people. We’ve done it maybe 13 years, and some years it’s just me and my staff and my husband and me, and we do it on World AIDS Day which is December 1st, so it’s often very cold, so that’s a detriment as well. But nobody really supports that day in Newark, or really hardly anywhere in the United States anymore. There’s some pockets here and there, but HIV and AIDS is kind of like, I don’t want to say it’s forgotten, but it’s not like at the forefront anymore. So I don’t know if that answers your question, I forgot what the question was. Anyways, let’s keep going.
Henry: Yea, that segues perfectly into our next question, so you’ve been at the forefront of the movement for HIV/AIDS recognition and preventative measures, specifically seen through your extensive work with Gay Men’s Health Crisis and the American Foundation for AIDS Research. Now, outside of the AIDS Crisis, how should we best continue to support those who are HIV positive, and continue to advocate for prevention of any spreading?
Wright: Well, I’m gonna tell you, you gotta keep using condoms, okay? If you don’t know your partner, use condoms. Anyway, if you don’t know someone’s status, use condoms. But, even more important than that, know your status. I mean we’ll talk about Status Is Everything, but that’s the whole thing. You gotta find out where you stand. I think a lot of people are a lot safer these days, and HIV is not as scary as it used to be, and of course now we have PrEP, you know which is like really a godsend, kinda. A scientific godsend, but a godsend. That’s allowing people like, you know, have a little bit more creativity and fun with sex and not have to worry so much about it. But you gotta be on it, you gotta take your meds and things like that. But I think the main thing we need to do for people living with HIV is to get rid of the stigma. There’s still that stigma. A lot of people are still in the closet about HIV, and I understand, cause you just don’t know where in this world people are really gonna fuck with you because you’re HIV positive. You know, knock on wood, I’ve been lucky enough to survive and stay HIV negative, and I’m proud of that, but you know even with somebody like me, there’s that, you know, they talk about HIV remorse. But I don’t have remorse, it’s just like I’m catholic but I don’t have the catholic guilt. You know what I mean? It’s like, I’m fine, and I’m happy the way I am and the way things turned out, and I did it on purpose. But there are a lot of people who think “oh, why didn’t I get HIV” or “why didn’t I get AIDS” or “why am I still alive”. You know, and I look at it this way. God let me stay alive so that I can do what I can do, you know what I mean? Maybe it’s just to hire, to be there to have an agency to hire people, queer people, trans people, and all so that they can get a job. So, I don’t know what my purpose in life is, but, you know, I just move forward, you know. And the whole thing is, I don’t want to move backwards, you know what I mean? And I think, with the fight against HIV, we’ve been moving forward and been moving forward, and I don’t want to see us fall back into it. You know, you talk about Covid, and all these people who are not social distancing, and it’s you know, what’s gonna happen in two weeks in some of these places? What happens when it spikes again, and then, okay, it’s gonna be your grandmother who gets infected this time, it’s gonna be your child who’s gonna get this MISC, so quit being so damn selfish. But economically I get it, you know I get it, but still, you know, we need to like calm down now so that we can get things back to normal. I guess I’m one of the lucky ones the fact that the state is still paying us, and we’re still trying to do our jobs remotely, and Peter is too, but I know there’s a lot of people out there who can’t. So anyways, back to HIV stigma, people are still getting infected, people are still dying. Not as much as with other things, but it’s still out there, and as long as I can blow that horn and let people know “you still gotta be careful, it ain’t over with yet”, I’m gonna do what I gotta do. But listen I’m ready to retire, I’ve been doing this a lot, I’ve been handing out condoms for thirty years so it’s like, you know, if I had money in the bank I would’ve retired a long time ago.
Olivia: I’m ready to retire and I’m 17 years old.
Wright: How old are you?
Olivia: I’m 17.
Wright: 17. You’re 17?
Olivia: I am.
Wright: Wow, I love that! I mean you come across very mature.
Wright: Yeah! I’m thinking like 21, 22. I knew you were young, but 17, Jesus. Henry, how old are you?
Wright: Holy shit man. See now that’s wonderful the fact that you guys know how to put together a website and to do this whole thing, see that’s what I’m talking about. This is what you young people should be doing, but I didn’t realize y’all were that young. My hat’s off to you man, that’s great.
Oliva: Thank you!
Henry: Thank you!
Olivia: I can’t take any credit for the website, that was Henry.
Wright: Okay well, well done, well done.
Henry: Oh, it’s an effort.
Wright: Now I feel really old, I’m old enough to be your grandfather, but we won’t go there. Well done!
Olivia: Thank you, we try. But I still want to retire.
Wright: Okay. Did y’all graduate this year? I don’t know what seventeen…
Henry: Next year.
Wright: Next year, oh okay. Oh you’re still in high school?
Wright: Bless your heart! Prayer? Yay. That’s catholic for, you know what I mean. Okay.
Olivia: I’m catholic.
Wright: Okay, so.
Olivia: My family is very catholic actually.
Wright: Oh yea? Okay. It was, you know, I don’t go to mass but I believe in the promise of heaven and the threat of hell and that’s why I don’t kill motherfuckers who cross me so…
Oliva: Snaps for that, man. I would say that I live by catholicism spiritually but not in actuality.
Wright: There you go. Oh god… see now we’re talking about religion, lord have mercy. Alright back to the subject at hand.
Wright: Black and queer, queer and queer, okay.
Henry: So you created the Status is Everything HIV Testing Campaign, which led you to eventually present the campaign at a poster presentation at the International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria in 2010. So, what did you do with this project, and why do you think that it had the traction that it had?
Wright: I, you know what, even though that was 10 years ago and I don’t know if you can see, I’m in my office/gym, and I don’t know if you can see that back there, but it says “Mayor Cory Booker, The Municipal Council,
Wright: Status Is Everything”. So, I’m VERY proud of that campaign. And we were lucky. There’s a man who works at the Department of Health, he was like the Director for Education and Prevention or whatever, Steve Saunders, he passed away a couple years ago. But, out of nowhere, not out of nowhere but he called me up one day and was like “hey listen, we’re getting this pot of money from the CDC to try to do a campaign in some urban areas and wanted to know if you’d be interested”, and I’m like “oh yeah, okay sure, how much we talking?” and it was like $300,000, and I’m like “oh shit, are you kidding me? What the hell am I gonna do with $300,000?”. It was so funny because that year I had a budget of half a million dollars, and this is like the one and only time I’ve been a half a millionaire, even though it wasn’t my money. And they said “yea we want some kind of a testing campaign” because the numbers were still low as far as what they were trying to do, and this is like 2010, and we said “okay sure”. So we put the word out, we ended up working with a group called FemmeWorks, which was a lesbian-owned and operated organization agency. And, you know, we… it was wonderful. We had casting calls, we had this crew that I had got in from New York City to do the professional filming for us, we had commercials, we had PSAs, we had billboards. I mean we spent this money, let me tell you something. They said “okay fine”, I mean, you’re gonna give it to us, we’re gonna spend it. And it was great because we used queer models, gay, lesbian, and gender nonconforming people, here in Newark. And these were models that like, they weren’t professional models, it was just like our neighbors and things like that. But they were representative of the House community and our community, and we paid them, and we paid them well. The guy that did the filming, a guy by the name of Robert Penn, is somebody I actually worked with at Gay Men’s Health Crisis many many years ago. And we did the filming around Newark, Branchburg Park, things like that. And it was just uh, it was just and awesome experience for everyone involved, even the beauty shop that is below us, or excuse me not the beauty shop the um, Elegant Eyes, that’s where I get my eyeglasses, they got this beautiful, they had this awning and we did some filming under there and all the people were in the shot getting their eyes fixed and they were like “oh look at these people, this is like Hollywood here in Newark”. So it was really really wonderful. But then, when it came down to advertising and billboards and buses, I was following a bus on my way to work that had my organization on the back of it, and then we had a whole bus that was like painted, I can send y’all pictures if you want to, but it was like great. It was like, oh man this is us. The best thing about it is, now not only did we use local talent, people within the city of Newark didn’t know that it was specifically a gay campaign, and numbers actually went up within the community for a period of a few months, cause they saw this testing campaign. It did better than we thought it would, because it was like, everybody in Newark saw it, and because we had black faces and young black faces on there, everybody kind of related to it, so I mean we were very very surprised that it got the traction that it did. I wish I had another $300,000 and I could do it again but, you know, it went really really well. So you mentioned the AIDS conference, the 18th AIDS Conference. I actually submitted it just on a whim. I had been to the international conference many many years ago when I worked at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, and I just said, you fill out this form, you send all the stuff in and you do all this stuff and I got a letter back saying “oh, you’ve been accepted for a presentation, a poster presentation” as opposed to like a workshop. But hey, a poster presentation at the International Conference, that’s like damn! So of course I let the state know hoping they would (mimes money) and they were like “oh that’s wonderful! You did such a good job! Hope you can go!”. So, you know, I had to pay for it out of my own pocket, or me and Peter went, you know I had to do it, but it was worth it, man. It was worth it just to be in this whole setting, representing New Jersey, and then you have to like, within the conference there are certain days where certain posters are presented, and you have to stand in front of them, and people come by and you tell them all about it, and things like that. But it was like, I want to say it was surreal, but it was like, it was fabulous. And Vienna, of course, I mean, Vienna! I would’ve never gotten to Vienna anyways, you know what I mean, so it was very very special. But yeah, it was like, a highlight for me in my life. You know, when I’m dead and gone, I still got that poster that I can point to and say “I did this, we did this” and “I went to Vienna and showed this thing” you know and “being black and queer and rrrrr rrrrr!”
Olivia: The best way to be!
Olivia: Best way to be!
Wright: Yea it was good, we had a lot of fun, but it was good, and I think I’m still paying credit card debt from that, but that’s another story. As an old fart, as an old person, y’all, don’t get into debt, okay?
Wright: Don’t get into credit card debt.
Olivia: Tell that to my college debt.
Wright: Ughhh so yea, that was good, that was a good time. I… yea, okay.
Oliva: So, again off our fun little cheat sheet.
Wright: Uh huh.
Olivia: As a New Jersey-centered queer publication, we ask all interviewees the same question. So how does New Jersey’s queer community compare to others and are there specific social factors that create New Jersey’s specific queer community, or are we all sort of a one in the same across the nation?
Wright: Yeah well we certainly ain’t a cookie cutter, let me tell you. You know what, I tell people, I live in New Jersey on purpose. I was born and raised in Dallas Texas, and I’m proud to be a Texan it’s just like, you know, proud to be a Catholic, I just don’t live in Texas anymore, and the reason’s because my poor black loudmouth queer ass would probably be six feet under if I were trying to do what I was doing at the time that I was doing it, you know what I mean. Dallas was still very very closeted even though there was a gay community, and I was part of it when I went to school there, and I went to college in Texas. But I knew that I wasn’t gonna last very very long as an adult, I just knew it. And this is even before I was like really really out to everybody, even though I’d been out for a long time. And I had the opportunity, I was also trying to be an actor, so I had the opportunity to do some stuff and end up in L.A., so I said “you know what? I’m not gonna go back to Texas. I’m just gonna stay here in L.A. and I’m gonna be rich and famous” and you know, there was Roots One and I wasn’t in that, and then there was Roots Two and I wasn’t in that, and then I was like “you know, maybe you ain’t gonna be no moviestar okay?”. So, I had to work elsewhere in advertising. So I started working in advertising and then I started volunteering, well and that’s around when the HIV/AIDS epidemic really started happening in the late ‘80s, and I was really just sick of Los Angeles, oh my god. Y’all clean that up if you put it on the web. But L.A., I got kind of tired of L.A., okay, since I wasn’t gonna be a rich movie star. So I had a friend who lived in New York City, and I thought maybe, you know, Paul’s been trying to get me to come to New York for all these years, so I’ll go in there. And that’s sort of how I ended up in New York City, and then I was volunteering for Gay Men’s Health Crisis and that’s how, and the rest of course as I say is history. But I think New Jersey itself, I chose to live here not only because economically it was more feasible for me, cause I was still a single gay man and I could get more bang for my buck living in New Jersey, and then when I got work in New Jersey it made sense to stay here. But I think the atmosphere here was just, I don’t know, I was lucky because, you know, you had people like Steve Goldstein and Troy Stevenson and the ones that started with Garden State Equality, so you had some people here, and you also had like the black gay church, Unity Fellowship Church, so there were things happening here that made life a lot easier for me when I first got into this area. So to me, I just found more camaraderie, I actually said that correctly, in New Jersey then I found in California or even in New York. So it was just like, and I tell people I choose to live here because this was, it was better than what I was used to. We had some rough years under the previous administrations… I don’t want to say Chris Christie out loud but you know what I mean, and I think that made things a little rough for some of us, and now I think with the way things are now it’s just a little bit more calmer in this state. But it wasn’t as… I don’t know why I like New Jersey so much, but I really do, and I like, you know, Peter and I went back to my old high school, they had a 50th reunion for the high school that I went to, the black neighborhood high school that I went to one year. I was just so happy to say first of all this is my husband, you know, and also the fact that I love living in New Jersey. So I don’t know what it is. I mean you guys are born and raised here, right?
Olivia: Oh yeah.
Wright: Something tells me you’re not gonna be here very much longer are you.
Olivia: Oh no.
Wright: You know what, and I ain’t mad at you, okay? I don’t blame you. I’m just so very happy that I got out of Texas, Dallas, you know, because it was the right move for me. If I were to go live there again you know I could make it happen, but I’m not. So I understand, you’re 17 and you want to get the hell out of here. Do, okay? I encourage you, you know what I mean? But check out where you’re going first, okay, cause it’s a tough world out there and hooo lord have mercy. But you’ll do good, you’ll both do good. What about you, Henry?
Henry: Yea I’m planning to get out, but we’ll see. We’ll see how things end up.
Wright: We’ll see how things go. But no, you gotta flock. But as far as the, well, I actually wrote down here “yes and no. I’d rather be queer in New Jersey than, say, Alabama”. You know, there’s, as a person of color, I don’t think there’s as many obstacles in my way as in other places in like, say the deep south. But that’s from being black, that’s from being queer, liberal, all these things, they’re gonna be fighting against you. The community around here, I think we’re standing on our own two feet, and I think we’re going to be careful, like I said before, of not going backwards, you know what I mean? When you hear people on the federal level be like “oh we’re gonna get rid of gay marriage” like hell! I mean the revolution… this country hasn’t really pissed us off that much. I mean they have but you know, if there came a time for the shit to hit the fan, I think queer people are gonna be right up there in front. You know, so they just better watch it. We’re letting them think they run the place now, but it’s gonna change, it’s gotta change real real soon. This country is so hhhhh. I try not to be political, mainly because I receive state funds for my agency
Wright: So I try not to too much, but as a private citizen man this place, it sucks man. I walk a thin line, but I do walk that walk that line. I am the type of person, you know I was an old hippy way back in the when, you know, I will fight the fight. I will fight the fight. I am fighting the fight, in my own way, but if we have to get dirty and ugly we can do that too. I just rely on younger people, because y’all run faster.
Olivia: That would be true.
Wright: Okay so, and that’s what, if I could, and that’s another thing we try to do, mentor people. Try to be an example for people. I don’t want to be a “do as I say, not a I do” type person, I want to lead by example, which is another reason why I’m very happy to be HIV negative, you know, because it can happen. I lived in the epicenter in Los Angeles and in New York City, you know, and really there but for the grace of God, you know, there go I. I do consider myself very very lucky. And smart too, you know, smart too, but I was a hoe for a while lord have mercy. Well listen I was cute, I was young, oh man I had an ass to, you know, I gotta tell you so, I was sought after, you know. I mean there were times when, you know, I remember when I first left Los Angeles I ran into a writer friend of mine who is now, well, somebody who was a writer. He worked for ABC for a while, then he worked on a couple of movies and things like that. But I was, I saw him at a restaurant on Santa Monica Boulevard and he was like, it was somebody that I had slept with, and he was like “I don’t talk with negroes like you” and I was like “what?” and he was a black guy, and he said “because y’all sleep with white folks too” and I went “well yeah, okay”, and he starts with the whole “oh you’re a snow queen” and this and that, and I was like “well I was sure good enough for you when we had it” and then he said “y’all are the ones who are bringing AIDS to the black community” and really all this shit, and I was like “you know what, I’m not gonna worry about you, you know, when I was messing with you you had a wife and two kids so, you know, it’s like the pot calling the kettle black, but Imma leave it alone cause I’m leaving, I’m going to New York City and I don’t give a fuck about you”. Then of course a couple years later it turns out he died of HIV/AIDS, and I didn’t want to like go “ahahaha now who’s talking” but it was like, you know, we talked about stigma. It was a stigma being “a snow queen”. Labels hurt then and they hurt now, but you weather it and move forward, but also be careful who you’re pointing the finger at because bitch, guess what? You know what I mean, so I guess what I say is I don’t want to be a “do as I say, not as I do” whatever that is. Did I mix it up? Okay sorry. Do as I say, not as I do? Yeah, okay. I don’t want to do that. I want to do as I do. I was talking about mentoring, see y’all let me talk to much god. I hope you got your editing hat on, okay?
Olivia: We do, we always do.
Wright: Okay. I’m hoping my husband’s out on the deck sunning and reading and I don’t want him to sneak in and… “what’d you say that for!”
Olivia: Nope, that didn’t happen, what?
Wright: “What are you talking about?”. Uhhh but you know, I’m just too old and set in my ways now so I don’t give a fuck. Okay, so…
Olivia: I mean
Wright: Okay what else you got for me. Is that it or what?
Olivia: That would be it.
Henry: That’s about the end. I mean, usually now we just give you the opportunity just if you feel like there’s something you haven’t said, or something that we didn’t ask, you have the opportunity to talk about whatever you want.
Wright: Okay, well first of all I, you’ve put me on a pedestal first of all. So don’t do that anymore. I’m not the one all, I’m not the be all, but I’m glad my voice can be heard when you talk about unheard voices and things like that. As far as being a leader, I never called myself a leader, just a doer, and some people just happened to like what I was doing, and you know that’s how I ended up doing what I’m doing. People think that I’m a whole lot more than I really am, but I’m just a regular old black guy who saw a need and got lucky enough to get some people to believe in me, you know what I mean? People wondering “oh are you gonna run for office?”. Hell nah. I’m sorry, you know. I’m not a politician, okay? I leave that to, there are a whole lot of people who talk a lot better than I do, whole lot more educated than I am, let them be the politicians. But I’ll stick to my guns, and just, I really wanna, I really never thought I was gonna live to be 66 years old, I swear to god. I thought, I’m gonna be gone by 30, 35. And then when HIV happened, I thought “ah man this is it”. But you just can’t let your guard down, you know, live your life and just be happy. If you make some bad choices, you know, suck it up man, wear a mask if you gotta wear a mask, okay? That’s all there is to it, no big philosophy.
Olivia: Wise words.