Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to a dear friend of mine, John Motter. John is another fierce advocate for social justice and has dedicated his life to helping marginalized populations. John understands what it means to serve as a champion for those who suffer from the intersections of oppression and multiple identities, which makes him an ideal person for TSM to celebrate.
While all of us that know John describe him as a compassionate activist who makes the world a better place, John shies away from such accolades. John was kind enough to sit with me on a cold, rainy June day in Portland, Oregon and share part of his background and where he is today. As you will see, John’s journey thus far has not been an easy one.
I grew up in Findlay, Ohio, a very white and very conservative environment—difficult to grow up as a gay male. I came out in 1979. I lived in the D.C. area in 1983 through 1995, which means I was in D.C. at the height of the AIDS epidemic at a time when Ronald Reagan could not even say the word AIDS. All of these things set the tone for me seeing a great many inequities. I attended Howard University in D.C. for two years from 1989 to 1991 and majored in accounting. Many of my professors had been tokenized in the business world before coming to teach at Howard. All of my professors were incredibly demanding.
I think it is important for people to know about my alcoholism and substance abuse and the fact that I was an IV drug user and went to prison. Going to prison was the catalyst that helped me become an activist—I don’t look at myself as an activist, but I guess I am. Going through the prison system is so ridiculous and you see who and how it punishes—there is certainly no rehabilitation in prison. The inequities you see in the prison system are startling. You see people that have committed large scale white collar criminals come out with all of their assets intact. I was in prison with seven other people on a conspiracy sentence and all seven of us were gay and HIV+. We were able to be open about it because there was strength in numbers, but for others that is not the reality.
In August of 2002 I was released from prison and I am celebrating 11 years of being clean and sober. I went to live my brother Bill, who is also gay and that is when I started volunteering at Cascade AIDS Project (CAP).
Among his long list of accomplishments, John served as the Co-Chair of the Ryan White Planning Council and spokesperson with the National HIV Stops With Me Program. John also serves as the Treasurer for Hepatitis, HIV, AIDS, and Awareness Project (HHAAP). In addition to spending 15 and a half months in Kenya working with people impacted by HIV, he also runs the Positive Self-Management Program, which is a seven week program to help people manage living with HIV. Currently, John teaches this class at CAP. He also coordinates the Speakers Bureau at CAP.
When asked what is next, John replied:
One of my next steps is to make it through the next five months (John is currently battling Hep C). The interferon can make one very depressed and or irrationally irritable. The depression can be all consuming including feeling suicidal. They physical effects on my body have been profound, with severe pain and or the inability to eat.
Sometimes I think I need to slow down a bit and take some time for myself (I have yet to see John take time for himself) but I also feel that I have to do my piece, which means empowering somebody else to advocate for our community.
I need to thank John for sharing a part of his story. Everyone in the LGBT community owes John a great deal of thanks for his tireless efforts in battling stigma and working to empower people with multiple identities impacted by HIV.