Looking Back on our History this Pride Month
Matthew Pieper, Executive Director
This month, Open Hand is enthusiastically celebrating Pride month. When I reflect on all of the many reasons to salute and show some love to our LGBTQ family, I can’t help but think about Project Open Hand’s (as we were first named) earliest days of service.
Project Open Hand was built on the shoulders of so many members of the LGBTQ community. Including, of course, our beloved founder Michael Edwards as well as my predecessor and mentor, Stephen Woods (may he rest in peace). Countless numbers of lesbians, gay men, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals (too many to include in this column regretfully) joined together to dedicate their time, talents and enormous capacity to love to build the foundation blocks for what Open Hand Atlanta has become today.
Those early days were the darkest days of the AIDS pandemic. A positive HIV test result was essentially a death sentence. In response to this daunting crisis, and in response to the stigma and fear attached to HIV/AIDS, the LGBTQ community joined forces with individuals from all walks of life, races, and ethnicities to mobilize and bring much needed education and services to metro Atlanta (and many other cities across the country as well). This action gave birth to many powerful advocacy and AIDS services organizations, and we proudly stand tall as a shining example.
While LGBTQ and LGBTQ-friendly individuals of all races could not cure friends, neighbors, and loved ones dying of AIDS, we could at least cook and deliver nutritious meals to show respect, and most of all, love. Project Open Hand was about helping so many neighbors, young and old, who were often ostracized and isolated, to die with dignity.
I know I am biased, but I truly believe Project Open Hand is one of the greatest examples of what the LGBTQ and LGBTQ-friendly community built and sustained against all odds and in the face of great oppression. When I look back, it is remarkable to me how the LGBTQ community across the country was able to overcome homophobia, bigotry, and attacks on basic human rights in order to forcefully and lovingly demand action.
Today, Open Hand Atlanta continues to show love, respect and dignity to the many individuals we serve. We also continue to be an organization that celebrates diversity as a strength and is a welcoming place where LGBTQ individuals, as well as individuals of all backgrounds, feel welcomed, respected, and safe. Those of us who continue to advance Open Hand’s mission today will never forget the courage and compassion the LGBTQ and LGBTQ-friendly community demonstrated in bringing our organization to life.
Wishing all our friends and supporters a happy Pride Month!