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|Harlan Smith: 'If you give a friend a condom, you’re an activist'|
|Written by Ryan Watkins|
|Friday, 20 July 2012 00:00|
Harlan Smith isn’t a name you read frequently in the press, but he was recently voted the Best Male Activist in the GA Voice 2012 Best of Atlanta reader survey. For Smith, the recognition comes from years of working with HIV organizations, promoting safe-sex habits.
Smith, 34, left behind the corporate world in 2010, trading a job at Verizon Wireless to work in HIV/AIDS activism. He feels fortunate to work toward a cause that he’s passionate about, and notes that activism doesn’t always have to be high profile.
“If you give a friend a condom, you’re an activist,” Smith says.
Smith is also the founder of the MSM Public Health Professional’s Network group on Facebook (http://on.fb.me/NDOUqW), a group dedicated to connecting health professionals who work with African-American men who have sex with men.
The group bills itself as a networking resource, as well as a tool to promote initiatives and research in HIV advancement.
GA Voice recently sat down with Smith to learn about his work and why safe sex is more than a state of mind.
How did you become involved with activism?
I started out as a volunteer with AID Atlanta. I volunteered for Black Gay Pride weekend in September 2009, which eventually led to a full time position with AID Atlanta in December 2010.
What activism work are you doing now?
I now work for the SHARE Project. We are doing a five-year study on serosorting. Serosorting is basically the mindset of an HIV-negative man having raw sex with another man who also claims to be HIV negative.
So, we’re doing this study with gay and bisexual men, basically trying to get in their heads and find out what makes them put so much trust in their partner(s) without considering the consequences and what makes them think this is safe sex behavior.
This study is for HIV-negative males only. However, the SHARE Project is also doing studies with individuals who are currently living with HIV. So everyone is encouraged to call (404) 892-3500 for a screening. All participants are paid for their time.
I’ve also created the Facebook group, MSM Public Health Professional’s Network. This national group is for individuals who do work public health that targets black MSM (men who have sex with men), as a way for us to network with one another.
So, if you do this kind of work, you’re encouraged to join the group. Club promoters and production company owners are also encouraged to join to open doors for more collaborations.
How long have you been in Atlanta?
I’ve been in Atlanta almost nine years. I transferred to the Alpharetta, Ga., office from the Greenville, S.C., office — my home town.
How can everyday people be better activists with regard to HIV/AIDS?
Anyone can be an activist / advocate. It doesn’t have to be the CEO of a nonprofit or that outspoken person always leading a rally. If you give a friend a condom, you’re an activist. And you’ve just done something to help fight the spread of HIV/AIDS.
I’m very fortunate that I can do something I’m passionate about for a living. Giving back to the community is an awesome feeling.
Top photo: Harlan Smith was voted Best Male Activist in the 2012 GA Voice Best of Atlanta reader survey. (by Brent Corcoran/RNZ Photography)
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