HRC taps longtime community activists for annual awards

Even as state legislators consider laws that would ban same-sex adoptions in Tennessee and other equally divisive measures are considered elsewhere, the Human Rights Campaign’s local arm will honor three Nashvillians who are working to level the playing field for the GLBT community.

The HRC’s 14th annual Equality Dinner presented by Bridgestone will take place on March 14, and will honor Brad Beasley, director of the STD/HIV Prevention and Control department within the Metro Nashville Public Health Department, as well as Suzanne Bradford, vice president of investments with the Rowland-Bradford Group of Raymond James & Associates, and her partner, attorney Judy Lojek.

For Beasley, who will receive the Community Leadership Award, the recognition comes at a time when HIV and AIDS awareness and outreach is at a crossroads.

“HIV’s not the media disease du jour any more, so we don’t see it as much as we did 15 or 20 years ago,” Beasley said. “That’s got us scratching our heads, trying to figure out what to do to make it recognizable again. The young people coming up now have a certain degree of apathy, because we’ve maybe overeducated them. They need to know that it’s a bigger deal than ever, even with medication.”

Beasley can take the long view, since he began with Metro’s health department in 1991 as liaison to the gay community and began working on outreach and testing efforts at that time. Since then he has developed a program to provide free Hepatitis A and B vaccines to gay men, a program chosen by the American Public Health Association (APHA) Gay and Lesbian Caucus for a poster presentation at APHA’s national conference.

He also has served on advisory boards for Vanderbilt’s HIV vaccine trials and clinical trials networks. He also is a member of various Ryan White program committees.

“Receiving this award is overwhelming and certainly not expected,” he said. “Nobody’s going to get rich working in the government, but I enjoy what I do. It’s fulfilling to me when somebody comes up to me form 15 years ago and says I did their HIV test and helped them through that. To be tapped on the shoulder for this recognition is very humbling.”

Bradford and Lojek, who will receive the Equality Award, echo those sentiments. Their joint and separate community activities include HRC’s Federal Club, Artrageous, Nashville CARES, the American Red Cross and the Brooks Fund, and a variety of other worthy endeavors.

“If we’re doing anything right, it’s trying to do what our parents instilled in us, which was to get involved in the community and work to make it better,” said Lojek, who has worked to pair up Nashville CARES with the city’s public-defender office, as well as facilitating seminars for the agency’s clients to help them obtain Social Security and other disability benefits. “We’re just trying to take steps so that one day we really can have a sense of equality on all levels, not just on the surface.”

“If we keep things moving the way they are, then we can set examples for others," added Bradford. "In our own neighborhood, which is quite diverse, everybody gets along. Equality starts at home, and once you show that you’re no different than your neighbors, that your struggles are the same, your co-workers, then people start to wonder what the big deal is about your being gay; it just takes the mystery out of it.”

The two say that HRC and other organizations, such as the Tennessee Equality Project, are doing great work at the local and state level on such pending issues as the adoption ban, but that more people need to step in, and up, to help carry the fight forward.

“The national election last November spoke to the old ways maybe finally being put to rest, but here in Nashville and in Tennessee we’ve got to rise to the challenge,” Lojek said. "Those are battles that we’re going to have to win at the state level, and then see what other things can be done nationally.”

“We don’t want to have to go to another state to be recognized,” added Bradford. “Adoption, the recognition of a partner in a relationship, the things that normal, married couples take for granted — we’re not equal in those areas yet, and that’s why we have to keep things moving along.”

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