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While the Nashville community-at-large recognizes Joseph Interrante as the CEO of Nashville CARES, Tennessee’s largest HIV/AIDS service organization, providing services for more than 60,000 Middle Tennessee residents infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, his resume is a long list of LGBT advocacy dating back to the year he came out in 1976.
From working with the editorial collectives at Radical America and Gay Community News, helping to found the Boston Gay and Lesbian Oral History Project and attending the 1979 March on Washington, Interrante says “AIDS work was a logical extension of these activities.”
Out & About Nashville chatted with Interrante, in advance of his HRC Equality Award, about his two-decade tenure at Nashville CARES, the organization’s future plans and what the LGBT community needs to in a new generation of HIV/AIDS.
Out & About Nashville: You are not only HIV-positive yourself but have personally cared for your partner, who passed away in 2012- when did you know that HIV/AIDS was your life’s work?
Joseph Interrante: Actually that occurred in two “stages” beginning in 1983, when my first life partner was one of the first diagnosed cases of AIDS in Boston. During the six months between his diagnosis and death, Paul became involved with the AIDS group that was forming at that time and I became involved with him. That experience left me with a commitment to AIDS work, which I continued on a volunteer basis for five years in Boston and then, Cleveland, Ohio.
The second “stage” came in 1988 when I was volunteering with the AIDS group in Cleveland as a board member coordinating community education. The organization decided to hire its first program staff, so I joined the agency as its HIV educator and became Executive Director the following year. I held that position from 1989 to 1994 when I came to CARES. I met Sandy in Ohio in 1987, and we were together for 25 years until he died in 2012.
O&AN: You joined the staff at Nashville CARES in 1994. Can you share the background on coming to CARES?
JI: I came to CARES to take the job as Executive Director, now CEO. Those were somewhat tumultuous times for CARES, I later learned, due to some dissatisfaction in parts of the gay community with the search process that was underway.
I learned about the job opportunity in the second stage of that search process. I was very impressed with the scope of CARES’ work at the time and what CARES was trying to accomplish. I was equally impressed with the level of engagement with HIV by the Nashville community-at-large. I brought experience as an openly gay man and person living with HIV who had led a comparable organization through a significant process of growth and diversification. Obviously it turned out to be a good fit, and I’ve never regretted my decision to join CARES.
O&AN: Surely, there have been climates changes between 1994 and 2014 in not only CARES but also the community? Can you talk a bit about your time at CARES?
JI: The most significant change has been the introduction of protease inhibitors and combination therapy in the mid 1990s along with the subsequent refinements in treatment. It fundamentally changed the meaning of part of CARES mission.
In CARES’ first decade, when AIDS had a 70-75% mortality rate, “improving the quality of life for people with HIV/AIDS” basically meant helping people die with dignity, knowing that they were loved and not alone. With combo therapy, it started to mean helping people really to live with HIV, for an open-ended number of years. That promise of living has a lot of contingencies—the high level of adherence needed for treatment success is not accomplished easily or simply, especially if you’re dealing with any material or psychological survival needs—but it started a strategic realignment in CARES’ work.
I would caution that this change in mission was more an expansion than a “shift,” since Sandy’s death in 2012 reminded me that, for some people with HIV/AIDS, we can still in the end only help them die knowing they are loved and not alone. Fortunately that is a much smaller number of individuals, but it is still an important part of what we do.
With the more recent science documenting that treatment is also prevention, there was an additional realignment that closed the circle of HIV work by linking preventing new infections to helping those infected live with HIV. The addition of other so-called “biomedical” prevention strategies is fundamentally deepening and enlarging our approach to HIV prevention. We now talk about a “toolbox” of strategies, with our job being to help each individual (or couple) choose the specific combination of tools that they can use effectively and consistently.
My own work as CEO at CARES has also changed tremendously over time. It has increasingly focused on strategic leadership and public policy work, along, of course, with fundraising and community relations. I’m lucky because CARES has a really good staff, some of whom have taken on the role of managing operations which has freed me to focus on those other things.
I have a high-caliber team who work with me on strategic issues. CARES also has a great board, and it’s my job as CEO to support the board in fulfilling its governance and fundraising responsibilities. It’s really all of us together—board, staff, volunteers—that have given CARES its strong reputation nationally and regionally as well as within the Nashville nonprofit community.
O&AN: CARES celebrated some of its most successful events in the recent years, notably a 2013 record-breaking Dining Out for Life- what does the future of Nashville CARES look like?
JI: We are currently completing a long-overdue strategic plan that formalizes these strategic realignments in mission and purpose. Once you focus on health outcomes, it becomes increasingly difficult to “silo” HIV off from all the other issues or needs that research has shown directly affect people’s ability to stay HIV-free or to live successfully with HIV. That doesn’t make us any less specifically focused on HIV/AIDS as CARES’ mission. It just recognizes that working toward an AIDS-free generation requires us to address things that are not exclusively or even specifically HIV-related. So you may see CARES adding STD testing to our HIV testing services, and offering more counseling for gay men/couples who are not HIV-positive but dealing with a range of concerns that can impact risk. It could also mean increasing our satellite locations inside Nashville and outside Davidson County and providing for co-location and better integration of medical and social services.
New initiatives take money of course, so we will want to build on recent fundraising successes to increase and diversify non-governmental funding in particular. These initiatives will also represent a clear prioritization reflective of the goal of ending AIDS so that we use our resources wisely and strategically.
O&AN: Do you think there will be a cure found in your lifetime or possibly the next generation’s lifetime?
JI: At the risk of being viewed as pessimistic, probably not in my lifetime—certainly not a cure that I think will be uncomplicated, affordable and widely accessible. Though I would love to be proven wrong about this. However, we can make HIV infections rare, and help people who are infected live full, productive and rewarding lives. We can create the conditions for a truly AIDS-free generation. We’ve already taken some important steps toward that new world. So, I actually am far more optimistic about our progress than I was even a decade ago.
O&AN: Some will argue that the apathy of a younger generation is the biggest obstacle facing the LGBT community in terms of HIV/AIDS. What is the biggest issue, in your opinion, facing the LGBT community in terms of HIV/AIDS?
JI: I don’t believe it’s fair to blame young gay men for their alleged apathy about AIDS, if that’s what it is, when they don’t see AIDS discussed much within the gay community. The simple fact is that HIV/AIDS has not been a priority issue for what might be called “mainstream” LGBT organizations for years—an unanticipated consequence of the success of combination therapy. When AIDS stopped being (or at least feeling) like a crisis and calamity, many gay men and GLBT organizations moved on to other issues. These were long-standing and important issues, but the “trade-off’ in attention was unfortunate.
However, that neglect has begun to change especially this past year—the joint statement on gay men and HIV issued at GLBT Pride in 2013 and the recent Creating Change conference are two recent examples.
I’ve spoken in the past about our need to recognize that HIV is still a gay disease—not in the simple and simply wrong way that somebody like Stacey Campfield says it’s a gay disease, but in the fact that gay men remain most heavily and disproportionately impacted by the disease.
In 2012, 46% of the new cases of HIV in Greater Nashville were found in gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men. Equal numbers were white and black men. But only one-third were younger gay men under age 25; most new cases were in men in their 30s and 40s (and some even older). So it isn’t just the “apathy” of a younger generation that is driving the epidemic here. Each generation of gay men has a somewhat different relationship to the epidemic, though it is worth noting that if you’re a gay men under age 40-45, which is where almost all of new HIV infection is occurring, your entire existence as a gay man has been played out against the scrim of HIV. Blaming any of these men for being apathetic or simply careless doesn’t begin to address the complexity of what I think is going on.
That’s why I believe the re-embrace of HIV as a priority issue by GLBT organizations and the GLBT community is so important. Effective use of that prevention toolbox I mentioned earlier requires us to be able to talk as a community about HIV in the context of our needs and desires as gay men. That will make HIV prevention what it needs to be: less a list of rules and more a menu of possibilities. If the battle over “don’t ask don’t tell” should have taught us anything, it is that a policy based on silence, on not speaking, simply leads to suffocation. So I hope that revival of the issue will lead once again to open, authentic, honest, and supportive communication among us.
O&AN: You’ve received many honors and awards throughout your career, any words about being the 2014 HRC Equality Award recipient?
JI: As a friend said to me when they heard about it, “It’s a big deal.” I am deeply touched and honored. I’m acutely aware at this stage of my life of my need to pass on my understanding of our history and nurture a new generation of leaders. Hopefully, the award can be part of that process and hopefully it will propel this renewed interest in HIV and in ending the disproportionate impact of HIV on gay men.
For those with a thirst to celebrate, Red Bull Unlocked is the key. In city after city, the most exciting bars, clubs, mixologists, performing artists, and more take over a local landmark building to showcase their signature ambiance while also collaborating for a must-see mashup. And now it's Music City’s turn to seize the spotlight, as the event brings 10 bars together in East Nashville’s Five Points neighborhood.
Fueled by the best of Nashville’s thriving music scene, Red Bull Unlocked has curated an eclectic night of show-stopping entertainment performances including a pop-up Whiskey Jam show, DJ sets, musicians, and more. The full lineup is here:
- Whiskey Jam (feat. Dozzi, Willie Shaw, and Johnny Hayes)
- A.B. Eastwood
- Daisha / Rap Girl
- Boom Bap (DJ Collective feat. DJ-Rate, Case Bloom)
- Whiskey Disco (DJ Collective feat. Coach, Jim O'Shea)
- Old Crow Medicine Show’s Jerry Pentercost (DJ Set)
- DJ Stretch
- DJ Griffin Green
- The Play Mates (Drag Show feat. Sasha, Vanity, Deception, Aura Mayari, Corlis Todd, and Carmin Triple C)
Counting down to the epic celebration, Daisha shares, “I never thought I’d have the opportunity to perform in so many of Nashville’s top spots all in the same night. Fans can expect a lot of bops and high energy. I want people to dance and have a good time.”
Ward Guenther, Whiskey Jam Founder, adds, “Red Bull has been enjoyed at Whiskey Jam since the very first night, so it's only fitting Whiskey Jam is enjoyed at Nashville's first Red Bull Unlocked. Looking forward to this!”
Red Bull Unlocked Istanbul
Photo courtesy of Red Bull
Local favorites including Pearl Diver, Tin Roof, Lipstick Lounge, White Limozeen, and more will join forces for one epic night. Full list of bars and partners below:
- The Dive Motel
- Lipstick Lounge
- Pearl Diver
- Play Dance Bar
- Rosemary & Beauty Queen
- The Stage
- Tin Roof
- Whiskey Jam
- White Limozeen
- Woolworth Theatre – Opening Fall 2022!
- Eleven Eleven - Opening 2023!
Date: August 21, 2022
Time: 6 PM – 11PM CT
Location: 1102 Forrest Ave, Nashville, TN 37206
Entrance: Ticked event
Rumble Boxing, the boxing-inspired group fitness studio, opened its doors for the first time in Nashville on June 20 at 609 Overton St, Nashville, TN. The hottest workout on the block is hosting its official grand opening from August 4th-7th with daily classes, membership specials, and prizes from local vendors. The new Rumble Boxing studio is currently offering a buy one class, get one free promotion for the Nashville community.
Rumble Boxing delivers 45-minute, 10-round, strength and conditioning group workouts, crafted around teardrop-style aqua boxing bags and high-intensity strength training circuits. This brings all fitness levels together to experience what Rumble is known for: combining the sweet science of boxing with high energy and positive vibes.
Rumble Boxing Fitness Studio
Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville
This boutique fitness brand offers serious benefits like increased stamina and strength, with cardio that’s actually fun. The seasoned trainers at the new studio are thrilled to serve their local community while offering this fun, new modern approach to boxing and welcome members of all fitness levels to the Rumble family.
The new Rumble Boxing studio is owned and operated by Blake Baskin and Antonio Compton. With their background in the fitness industry, this dynamic duo is excited to bring their passion for boxing and group fitness to Nashville. As business and life partners, Blake and Antonio aim to create a strong community within their new Rumble Boxing studio and share their message of non-apologetic inclusivity.
Black and Gay-Owned Business
Rumble Boxing Store with Dolly Parton Mural
Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville
“We own who we are, and this brand aligns with that perfectly,” said Antonio. “This is what we want to create and bring to this community: a fitness class that is designed for anyone and a place for people to be who they are. As a Black and gay-owned business, we want to help lower the division we see in the world right now. Our goal is to bring people together through Rumble, set everything aside, and have fun.”
To echo their message of acceptance and inclusion, Blake and Antonio commissioned a local Nashville artist to paint an 11 X 6-ft. mural of Nashville icon and philanthropist, Dolly Parton. The massive portrait features the country star in Rumble Boxing gear in the lobby of the studio.
The excitement and buzz around Rumble allowed Blake and Antonio to recruit top-tier trainers to head up the new studio, including Head Trainer Oronde Jones, a well-known celebrity trainer in the Nashville market.
Rumble Boxing Fitness Studio
Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville
“Compared to other fitness classes, Rumble is a class you can truly get lost in for 45 minutes. With the dark room, you don’t have to worry if anyone is paying attention to you. The music is awesome and inspiring, and the beat drops right when you need it the most. Also, with boxing being a sport you can never truly master, you’re always improving and crafting your skill. On the floor, you’re consistently doing something new, which prevents you from ever hitting a plateau.” Said Oronde Jones about his favorite part of Rumble.
Rumble has massive brand loyalty and widespread appeal, partly thanks to attracting top names like Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Kendall Jenner, Hailey Baldwin, Jason Derulo, David Beckham, and Kevin Hart to its studios.
About Rumble Boxing
Founded in New York City in 2017, Rumble is a group fitness concept delivering a mix (or combination) of boxing-inspired circuits and the transformative power of resistance training. Pro and amateur fighters glove up together, no matter their fitness level or skill, to reveal their inner fighter. The experience is a 45-minute, 10-round, full-body cardio and strength workout crafted around specially designed water-filled, teardrop-style boxing bags. Rumble was founded by Noah Neiman (former Barry’s Bootcamp Master Trainer, and cast member of Bravo’s Work Out New York), Eugene Remm (Co-Founder of Catch Hospitality Group (Catch Restaurants, CATCH STEAK, Lexington Brass), Andy Stenzler (Co-Founder Cosí, Kidville), and Anthony DiMarco (13-time IRONMAN, former Managing Director, Google).
Who would have thought that we would have to get through a pandemic in order to appreciate the small things we have, such as the ability to simply pack our bags and hit the road?
For two years, there’s been nothing left for us travel junkies to do but sit at home and try to find new destinations that we will conquer once we defeat what appears to be the biggest villain of the 21st century. But once that happens, hold your bags tight because we will be up for some of the most interesting travel experiences. Take a look at some ideas for your post-COVID traveling plans:
A Gay Cruise
One of the best options to have in mind when all of this passes is a good, nice and long (pun intended) gay cruise. Or cruise in general, for that matter. Bear in mind, social distancing will still be a thing in the post-COVID world. But COVID-19 likely doesn’t mean that cruises will cease to exist. On the contrary, though cruise ships will probably keep the number of passengers smaller than before, it is believed that they will become an even bigger hit in the following period, especially because they are all going to go a lot more environmentally-friendly. On the bright side, is there any better way of celebrating the end of the pandemic than by cruising around some magnificent seas, stopping by at great cities and having romantic dinner nights at nice restaurants?
A getaway in nature
On the other hand, there is always the option of stepping away from the hustle and bustle of large cities, and spending some time in a place that’s not only healthy, but also beautiful. Some of the destinations that plenty of people will look for are the ones that can cater for both peace of mind and amazing things to see or do. One such destination is New Zealand, one of the greenest countries on Earth right now. Not only will you be visiting the magnificent country that gave us the beautiful Shire from Lord of the Rings; this is also a destination that’s excellent for everyone who prefers relaxing to partying. If you’re up for some partying, you will be able to hit Auckland, while if you’re for something calmer, there’s plenty of amazing places that you can see and visit.
Dancing Around at Pride
Pride parades are also events that you want to have in mind for the post-COVID world. Such events have always been quite important, but it seems that they are now more important than ever. The virus has canceled more than 75 Pride parades all around the world, which is one of the reasons why we must support the ones that will see the light of day once the pandemic stops. Truth be told, the upcoming Prides will perhaps be the best Prides ever organized. Give the gays a couple of weeks of quarantine, then let them outside and see what kind of party they are able to throw!
A road trip
If you’re, as well, waiting for the day to wake up and say “long gone are the days when we were not allowed to go wherever we wanted?”, and if staying at one place gave you a lot to think about, then your first post-COVID travel experience should definitely be a nice road trip. You can practically choose which country you want to tour, and you can either take your own car (you have probably missed it so much), or rent one at your destination. Australia is an amazing country for this, though, as it offers the possibility of seeing the Great Ocean Road, which is an amazing thing to see and experience. On the other hand, if you do not want or cannot leave your country, you can also choose to go on a domestic road trip – there are amazing things to see in your vicinity as well.
Holiday for a single guy
If you’re single, or you’re traveling someplace with another single friend, then you should definitely organize a nice vacation for yourself or for you and your single friend, and hit one of the best European cities. Europe has been greatly affected by the virus, which means that now it’s time to pay it back and get it back on its feet by traveling there and seeing all the amazing things it offers. Any city you choose in Europe – you will not make a mistake. Apart from being able to see great landmarks, you will also have the chance to have a drink at great gay clubs and pubs, and join unforgettable gay parties. And if the gay scenery is not your forte, worry not, as Europe indeed has to offer so many different and magnificent things.