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00:00:14 - Attending Belmont Abbey and Making His Way to Asheville

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Partial Transcript: Belmont Abbey is in Belmont, North Carolina, between Gastonia and Charlotte. I think in our interview maybe I told you how I got there was that a lady that I worked for, Mrs. Kearns, May Kearns, she had a nephew who was a brother there, Brother Gregory. Because I was unable to get into schools [00:01:00] in Virginia, where I was from, I ended up there. It's who you know kind of thing. It was an opportunity. But because of that, it's led me in so many different directions in my life, so you can never always foresee why things happen, or where you're supposed to be at the right time. It was operated by the Benedictines, so that was the order that operated Belmont Abbey, or still does.
Michael Harney: I [00:01:30] had never been to any kind of a parochial school or system growing up. I didn't go to Catholic schools. Though my family was Catholic, I really was not a practicing Catholic in that sense. At the age of 12, when my parents were having some financial difficulties, we didn't go to church regularly. Then when they got stabilized again a year or two later and expected us to want to go back, need to go back, think it was something [00:02:00] to do-
Corey Childers: I'm so-
Michael Harney: You're all right. I just found that it wasn't necessary. It wasn't really for me. I wasn't getting anything out of it. However, Belmont Abbey, because of the, I say the church there, the abbey itself, was so ornate, and the traditions of these monks that would come each day to vespers, and they chanted these Gregorian chants in [00:02:30] Latin. You could sit in the ... and you can too if you're down there. Find out what time vespers is, either the morning, afternoon or evening. But I just recall being in awe of this old, ancient I'd say, Latin being used. All of those traditions made it really exciting and fun.

Segment Synopsis: Harney describes his college experience and the priceless friends he made there.

Keywords: Belmont Abbey; Catholicism; Charlotte, NC; Clergy; College; Dance club; Friendship; Gay men; LGBTQ Gathering; Latin; Outcast; Romance; monks

00:19:37 - Choosing a Spanish Degree and Times Abroad in Costa Rica

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Partial Transcript: So your trip to Costa Rica, what was that like?
Michael Harney: It was a two part. In the ninth grade, I think I told you that my mother was a real estate agent. One of her clients, the husband and [00:21:30] the wife there. The clients were cousins of folks in Costa Rica that still lived there. They lived in Norfolk. I can't remember their names right now. He was in the United States Army, and was in that Norfolk, Newport News, Fort Eustis somewhere area. My mother, that was her area, her territory of real estate, and had these clients who had [00:22:00] cousins in Costa Rica who had a son my age, Luis Carlos. Would I want to go down there for a month? It seems like it was the summer of the ninth grade. "Okay, whatever." I was adventurous.
Michael Harney: I went and stayed with them for a month in Costa Rica. They showed me around the beaches and all that kind of stuff, and volcanoes. Funny, over the weekend I was looking for some other photographs for ... [00:22:30] I wanted to show a friend of mine show photographs from when I was younger. Some of those photographs from Costa Rica, and Luis Carlos, and Flora Maria, and Victor, the father, and Victor Manuel, the brother. They were all in these pictures. I was looking through some of that. It was interesting that you ask. But that experience in ninth grade led to Luis Carlos coming to stay with us for a semester in high school, so in Hampton. He stayed with us for ... [00:23:00] I don't remember if it was fall to December, or January to spring. I can't remember exactly which semester he stayed with us, but he did spend a semester.
Michael Harney: Then when I go to college and saw this opportunity to study abroad in Costa Rica at the University of Costa Rica through the University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, I applied for that program, and got it authorized [00:23:30] by Belmont Abbey to accept the transfer units back. That's how I ended up going to Costa Rica, simply. How was the trip? Great. I studied two semesters there. The hardest thing was probably doing math, so statistics. I don't know why I took statistics in Costa Rica. It was one of the required classes I had to take. I said, "I'll just do it." [00:24:00] I failed tragically. The teacher gave back tests from the highest score to the lowest.
Corey Childers: Oh, gosh. That's terrible.
Michael Harney: It was very stigmatizing. He looked at me with such disdain when he first gave me that. You didn't do any of your work. You didn't pay any attention. Why are you even in this class? Then I explained to him after class that I was an exchange student, and he was like, "Why didn't you tell me? I could've talked to you. I could've helped." He spoke English just fine. "I would've been glad [00:24:30] to have tutored you or something." I didn't know. It was just very strange. But the trip itself was wonderful. I mean I did fine in school there, learned lots. The father, I say my Costa Rican father, Victor Manuel Arsay, was an industrialist. He was a rice factory owner there.

Segment Synopsis: Harney tells stories from college, including his long-time love for Spanish language.

Keywords: 1980s; College; Costa Rica; LGBTQ gatering; Rainbow family; Spanish

00:30:25 - Gay Scene in Costa Rica, 1986

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Partial Transcript: There were gay bars, but they were much smaller. Maybe twice the size of this interview room was about the size of it. It wasn't wide open like Scorpio, where there's a big dance floor and lots of rainbow flags. There was a big gay scene there, but it wasn't open in the streets [00:30:30] with parades or anything like that. It was mostly beer and liquor. They had something called guaro. It's tequila. You drank that. This is all me being drunk and sick, and not even realizing how allergic I was to alcohol. You would go, and everybody's looking at each other, and eyeing each other and that kind of thing. You might've picked up or hooked up. [00:31:00] It wasn't a major discotheque as I experienced it. It was just little community bars more than anything. They weren't gay bars. That's how they were different.

Keywords: AIDS; Alcohol; Allergy; Costa Rica; HIV; LGBTQ gathering; advocacy; awareness; bartenders; community bars; gay bars

00:32:57 - Early HIV Awareness and Advocacy

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Partial Transcript: Here in North Carolina, it was a little more prevalent. My roommate, Mark Oetker, and I went to do our first HIV test in Mecklenburg County. That would've been after I'd gotten back from Costa Rica, when he and I were roommates. I knew him, and we knew each other was gay, but we didn't really hang out a whole lot until we were roommates. Now great, great friends, and have been [00:34:00] all these years.
Michael Harney: But we went to get our first HIV test at Mecklenburg County Health Department, and you got a special code number. It wasn't identifiable by name. It was all anonymous back then. It is no longer anonymous. It's confidential, names-based. But they gave us a number. We went back whatever, two, two and a half weeks later. They separated us. When we talked about it afterwards [00:34:30] on the way back, we each thought we had been separated into the positive room. He thought he was being taken to the positive room. I myself, I was like, "Oh my god, I'm going to this other room. Why did they separate us? I must have it." Neither of us did or does, but it was a real heavy experience remembering that.

Keywords: Aids; Condoms; HIV; HIV testing; Positive; gay

00:38:06 - Racial Consciousness and Gay Liberation

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Partial Transcript: But in terms of gay liberation, [00:39:30] I don't really recall that so much as a scene. I remember Anita Bryant in the news criticizing the gays, and all the orange juice ads and that kind of stuff related to Miami and Florida. But it didn't click in my mind so much so that it was the gay liberation movement. The free love and all that kind of stuff was all part of that late [00:40:00] '60s, early '70s. The styles, the music, all the drugs and things that were going on. I witnessed that, so it influenced my life. I know that it did, but I don't recall so many I say social action. The social action center at church was about as much the movement as I knew about. When I went later on, and it had to do with liberation theology in those days, but I [00:40:30] just remember being part of the community. There was so much to do, and work to do, and volunteerism and stuff like that.
Michael Harney: I was too young at Stonewall. I knew, growing up in junior high and high school, there were gay bars around Newport News. There were a couple in Norfolk and Virginia Beach. I had friends in high school. Alan Darty, I think I mentioned somewhere [00:41:00] in the previous interview that we had. He was that one kid in school that everybody teased. He was the most effeminate and flaming or whatever, but probably the strongest, because he put up with so much shit. He knew about the gay scene, and was at a very young age involved. You could get into some of the bars underage because you were gay, and you were pretty, and you were young. [00:41:30] He was part of that scene. But he would tell me about things, so I knew about it. I was never part of it.

Keywords: Anita Bryant; Black; Caucasian; Gay liberation; Internalized homophobia; Stonewall; gay bar scene; homophobia

00:45:03 - Radical Faeries

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Partial Transcript: Power, yeah. They are so creative. Well, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence came from all of that. We have the Beer City Sisters here. They are of that same principle of radicalism, of making a point, of being [00:48:30] so creative and beautiful, and so it's all that. The fun names, like Wilma Holburn, for example. Selma Cooter. They always had the greatest of names. The Radical Faeries had many of those same names, and there's plenty of history there. You find history about them as well with The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. Their names are listed there, and many of the [00:49:00] sisters who are gone now too. Yeah, that's a good one, the Radical Faeries. They have a place here. Is it called Short Mountain? Over the Tennessee-
Speaker 3: That's in Tennessee.
Michael Harney: That's considered the Radical Faerie commune, or playground or campground.
Speaker 3: They still do regular meetings, apparently. Twice a year reunion.
Michael Harney: Right. I'm just not thematic enough. But I've [00:49:30] been invited, I just haven't gone. A lot of times related to the solar eclipse, and the solstice, and that kind of stuff. It's oftentimes related to astrological celebrations, and-

Keywords: Earth; Radical Faeries; Spirituality; Tennessee; lgbtq gathering

00:50:07 - The Shift From Anonymous to Confidential HIV Testing

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Partial Transcript: Right, if you were just number 637521OA. [00:50:30] If I never came back, there was no identifier in order to reach you. Now in terms of confidential testing now, they ask your name, and address, and ask for your social security number. You don't have to give it, but they're looking for ways of identifying you. I could go in and say my name is Mickey Mouse, and I live at 123 Disneyland Lane, but they're not going to ask for my identification here to make sure I am that person. Now I got to remember that I called myself Mickey Mouse, and where I said I was going to live in order to get my [00:51:00] results back.
Michael Harney: But should there be what we call a positive test, and they want to reach me, they're looking for ways of reaching me to tell me that, "Yes, you have a positive test. Here's how you can treat it. This is how you can live a nice, long life. We can help to identify your partners, or to notify them to get them tested so that they have a fair chance of living a long life and getting the medication, that kind of thing." You can still do anonymous testing [00:51:30] in the sense that you can go buy your own kit in a pharmacy, but it's only an antibody test. It's a screening tool. It's not the antigen confirmation test. What do I think about it? It's fine. There's still so much stigma around HIV, and discrimination.

Segment Synopsis: Harney historicizes the shift in HIV testing from anonymous to confidential.

Keywords: Aids; HIV; Hiv Testing; Stigma

00:56:17 - Biological Family Relations

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Partial Transcript: Yeah. They recognized early that I was on my own path. One time when they visited me here in Asheville in the '90s, it [00:57:30] was my birthday party. My neighbor, Rebecca Craig, and I have ... we share the same birthday. She lived across the street from me. We share the same birthday, but she's 10 years older than I am. We decided to have this birthday party and celebrate. We invited all these people that we knew and whatever, and we gave them a ticket, a free drink ticket, and all this food. It was at the Ebony Bar [00:58:00] & Grill. My friend, Deena Banks, I think I mentioned her somewhere in the ... but she's my dear friend here. She was the first bar on Eagle Market Street to have a bowl of condoms, for example.
Michael Harney: We had our birthday party celebration there. I remember my father just saying, "It looks like this is your home. These are your people," and it wasn't all gay people. It was everybody that we knew from work, and from school, and from around the neighborhood. The people [00:58:30] at the bar that were there were like, "Yeah, you have a drink too. Yeah, have some food. It's great." He recognized this is my family, this is my home, these are my people.
Michael Harney: How did I choose them? Every day, I choose another family member, or a part of my family expands if I get to meet somebody new. Dave Ayers, I've talked about this year, getting to know him much more. I consider him part of my family [00:59:00] circle, and friends. I don't know. People come and go sometimes, but I'm so lucky to be able to hang out with that group, and a couple of those people, and over here I'm comfortable. If I go to that house for a while, it's nice, whatever. I love the world. I love everything that's around me. I don't know. I [00:59:30] don't have just a small core family of six or seven that are my core here either. Trisha, she's the main core, right?

Segment Synopsis: Harney describes childhood times and his past and present relationships with biological and rainbow families.

Keywords: Big family; Biological family; Closeted; Don't Ask Don't Tell; Rainbow family; coming out

01:03:53 - Harney's Relationship with Paul

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Partial Transcript: Yeah, although I've known him since the early '90s, because Marty and he were partners. You remember I talked about Marty Prairie, who was my boss, [01:04:30] and my mentor and friend. The first time I met Paul, I don't know if it was '93 or '94. Maybe it was '94. It probably was '94. It could've been '93. Marty took me on a trip to visit him in Tallahassee. I stayed in the room that he sleeps in generally when I'm not there, and then the big bed, king size bed, is where he and Marty slept. I [01:05:00] went down there. I drove with Marty and met Paul. As I think I talked about, we went to conferences together. We traveled well together.
Michael Harney: I just got to know him over the years. He was Marty's partner, but he would come to Asheville, and we'd all have dinner, a couple of dinners, whatever it was for however long Paul was here. Not every time that Marty went down to Tallahassee, but several times a year I would get to go down and [01:05:30] hang out with them there, or if we were going to a conference. We did a lot of conferences, the National Skills Building Conference and the US Conference on AIDS, and then whatever the HIV conferences were, or Native American-related conferences we went to, and oftentimes went together. If I had a scholarship and went, we would usually share a hotel room. They had a bed and I had a bed. When they wanted privacy, Marty would say, "Go downstairs to the coffee shop, or go to the pool, or go find something else to do for an [01:06:00] hour," kind of thing.
Michael Harney: That's how I met Paul, and how I got to know him as a person, knowing his field of work. He was very supportive around the work that Marty and I were doing. He was helpful in helping to research things, and clarify things, and compare what was going on in Florida with North Carolina. He was licensed, medically licensed, in both states. I just knew him all those years.
Michael Harney: When Marty got really sick [01:06:30] in the Grand Canyon area there, Paul really was very worried, and very ... he reached out a lot to me. How could he support Marty from afar, because he couldn't really stay necessarily? He had to get back to his job. How could he support me supporting Marty? He was very grateful, and thanked me. I was like, "I'm just here. It's okay. I'll do what I can. If it can [01:07:00] help Marty recuperate, great, and if something else happens, whatever. Just let me know." He had my phone number, and was able to call a couple of times and just ask, "Seriously, how's Marty doing? Seriously, can you tell me, because he won't tell me?" Those kinds of things. I built a rapport with him.
Michael Harney: Then in the death and dying process, we got closer. I mean we'd already been very close anyway, just [01:07:30] because we'd been friends for 10 years, roughly, close to. You just mourn together when you're with somebody, and you're during that process. That's something you don't lose. It's an experience, a shared experience. His sadness and my sadness, and his grief and my grief blended. That's how I met him, how we began to be friends. [01:08:00] The romantic part was after that.

Segment Synopsis: Michael describes his process of growing close with Paul and the dying process.

Keywords: Florida; Love; North Carolina; Sickness; death; dying

01:08:31 - Western NC Aids Project (WNCAP) Work

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Partial Transcript: I wrote letters to the editor, and always made my comments known. I think I had an interview with Lisa Morphew [01:10:00] when I came back to WNCAP after Marty died. She was the publisher and editor of the Community Connections newspaper, which was the gay rag here. By then, I was already the rubberman. I don't know. I'd have to look at old files and stuff, but I don't know that I wrote anything by that title until [01:10:30] I was back in the Community Connections. I think I entitled it What the Rubberman Wrote at that point.
Michael Harney: I can't even remember what I wrote. I mean I could look in archives and perhaps find that, but my picture was on the front page. The whole front page was just a picture of me. The Rubberman's Back or something like that, or Welcome Back, Rubberman. It said something like that. I wrote a column in there. "Yeah, I'm back. This is what I'm going to be doing. I hope to look for you in the community. This [01:11:00] is how you can interact with me, and find me here, and let me know if you need a bag of condoms," and that kind of thing.
Michael Harney: Then Lisa said, "Well, do you want to write a monthly? Because it's a monthly magazine, a newspaper. Do you want to write a monthly column?" That's, as I recall, how I got started just writing something thematic. Didn't have to be very long, but something that she could put in the newspaper that was HIV and AIDS-related, or gay-related, that kind of thing. That's just [01:11:30] how it started. Paul was a great editor, so he would read over it and make some suggestions, or correct if I made a mistake, something scientific or whatever. He could look at that and say, "If you word it this way, that's more clear." I'd say, "Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. I can see that." He's a great editor, and able to polish things up.
Michael Harney: But yeah, that's how I started writing What the Rubberman Wrote. Now I still, [01:12:00] if I submit something to, or to The Urban News or something, if it specifically is a column and not just a letter to the editor, I often entitle it What the Rubberman Wrote by Michael Harney. I have to have bylines in order to get scholarships oftentimes for the conferences. You have to have at least two bylines from a current publication, so by Michael Harney. If it's published [01:12:30] then those count, even if it is in The Urban News or online, or non-express, that kind of thing. I need to write more, a column.

Keywords: Advocacy; Rubberman; Sex Education; WNCAP

01:13:18 - Changes in LGBTQ+ Community Across Decades

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Partial Transcript: No. Those [01:25:00] demographics have changed, I would say, and the confusion at what you think is a gay bar. There's all this debate about it. What is a gay bar? Is Henry's a gay bar? We were in Saturday night, and there was a big old bachelorette party going on. There's 6, or 8 or 12 girls, and a couple of their boyfriends that may or may not be gay. Everybody was out hanging out and partying. But if you go to speak to one of those guys, and they get [01:25:30] bullshit mad at you about it, you're like, "I thought we were in a gay bar. I was just saying you look handsome, or you're interesting, or can I buy you a drink or whatever." They get all bent out of shape.
Michael Harney: Same thing at Scandals. You go over there, what used to be the gay bar. When you walked in the door, they'd say ... they'd screen you. They'd say, "This is a gay bar. You know that, don't you? We don't want any trouble out of you." You're like, "I'm gay. What are you talking about? I'm gay." "Even if you're not, we don't want no trouble. This is a gay bar. We'll throw your ass out." [01:26:00] I mean they were real like that, militaristic, militant. It's not like that now. You walk in. Everybody's in. They're like, "Is he gay? I don't know. He's cute. Is he gay? Is she gay? Is she gay, lesbian, transgender?" You don't know. It's so weirdly blended.
Michael Harney: Is Banks Avenue gay? They've got rainbow flags up, some gay people that do a drag show here and there, but they're not really. Are they? I don't know. You see what I mean? It's really confusing. [01:26:30] There's guys sitting at the bar or something. "Hey, what's up man?" "I'm not gay." "I just asked what's up. Damn, you enjoying the game that you're watching? How's your beer? Did you plow your garden today? What's up?" You can't say hello sometimes. "I'm not gay. I'm not that way." You just hear stuff like that. I'm like, "Whatever, man." I like to tease some straight guys or something. I'd [01:27:00] be like, "What do you mean you're not gay? You're not gay?" "No, I'm not gay, man. I'm not gay." I'm like, "Oh, I'm sorry, man. I didn't mean to insult you or something. I mean I just thought you were. Bye." I'm not giving you my power. I've said that. No, I'll tease you like that. Stupid guys

Keywords: AA; Alcohol; LGBTQ gathering; Pride center; Recovery; Supper Club; Technology; gay bars; online dating

01:27:51 - Claiming Your Power

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Partial Transcript: ou had said a lot about having your power, and you don't get my power. You said that multiple times. I just wanted to [01:28:00] ask you to maybe define that, what it means for you to have that power.
Michael Harney: That's a deep question. I may seem aloof. I may seem conceited when I say that. I always was told there will always be someone bigger than you, stronger than you, richer than you. I'm [01:28:30] in touch with that. On the other hand, I will not permit you to make me feel less than a human being sharing this space and place called Earth with you or anybody else. I will respect you, but I demand that you respect me. I will not judge you because I don't want to be judged by you. I admit that I do not have to love you, nor do you have to love me.
Michael Harney: But [01:29:00] I will not allow you to make me feel less than a full human being, a citizen of the world, whether this country or another. I don't like it if you make other people, or try to make other people feel less than a full human being in this world that we share, and so I may challenge you to that. I won't fight [01:29:30] you physically like that, but I may say some things because that is part of my power too, that I have a voice that sometimes people don't. I know what it feels like to be called names in malice. I have had that dagger stuck right in my face, and in my chest, and in my stomach. I know what it feels like.
Michael Harney: From that, I have gained that strength, internal strength. [01:30:00] Maybe it's because I'm 53 years old. Maybe it's because I've just decided that I'm not going to shy away from being who I am fully, respecting you as well. I don't want you to feel uncomfortable or bad because of who I am, or what I say or do. I'm willing to have the conversation, open conversation. Debate the points back and forth. It [01:30:30] doesn't mean that I'm cowering in any way if I let you say things that maybe I disagree with. We'll talk it out for a while. If it's going nowhere, I'm done with it. I got it. I got it. It's okay. Can't we still just get along as human beings?

Segment Synopsis: Harney offers life advice to Corey Childers and describes his philosophies on power and claiming one's self-confidence.

Keywords: Fear; Mentoring; Power; Self Confidence