Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to my friend Michael Kaplan, the Executive Director of Cascade AIDS Project (CAP). As you will see from our interview, Michael’s life shows all of us how our individual and collective voices can help address the intersections of oppression.
Michael was born and raised in Minnesota, save for five years living in Kansas. He graduated from high school in Wichita, “a very conservative place,” before returning to Minnesota for college. Michael earned his B.A. in Child Psychology and his Master’s in Adult and Community Education.
On coming out as gay:
I came out at age 20 at U. of Minn and after I came out I explored being queer on a trip across Europe. My parents were very supportive. Their concern was what I would have to deal with as a gay man. I come from leftist Jewish hippie parents. I have a fraternal twin brother and an older brother. My mom was social worker.
On becoming an activist:
Coming out drew me to community building. Growing up I wanted to be a teacher—I knew I wanted to help kids. A professor at U. of Minn led me to volunteering at the Twin Cities Gay and Lesbian Coffee House, now called District 202. Before I was hired and while volunteering there I tested HIV+ at age 22. After volunteering for several years, they hired me as the ED, at age 23. The kids named it District 202. For me there were a lot of people focused on AIDS, but not focused on Queer youth stuff. I later got involved with the state planning group for HIV prevention and co-chaired the state prevention plan for Minnesota. In 1992 I became the Founding Executive Director of the Queer Center in Minneapolis, now called District 202. In 1997 I got a fellowship (one of three) from the CDC, the Price Fellow for HIV Prevention and Leadership.
The CDC got me interested in a larger stage to do national work and in 1998 I moved to D.C. I was on the board of the National Youth Advocacy Council (NYAC) and then became their Development Director. Six months later a friend of mine created a position for me with the Academy for Educational Development (AED), but NYAC made me their Deputy Director. Eventually I did go to work with AED and I got involved with government contracts around HIV issues, specifically prevention. I stayed with AED for seven years. I was invited to work on international proposals.
Around 2002 my proposal was funded and I got to go to Zimbabwe, which was both daunting and exciting. That was the start of me doing international work. I was able to secure grants for HIV prevention in countries in Africa and all of Central America. One particular grant was for 90 million. When I moved to D.C. in 1998 Sean and I broke up and he moved to the West Coast. We met up again in 2006 and he moved to D.C. for us to live together. I was traveling so much around the world that we both decided that I would look for an opportunity in the United States. In 2008, I sent my application for the ED position at CAP from my work in Vietnam on a business trip. In September of 2008, I got the ED position at CAP.
What should marginalized communities do to have a stronger voice?
I just want people to live their lives—to be out and open—through your existence in the world we change things. It is because I am an out open gay Jewish, foster parent, HIV+ man, that folks who thought they never interacted with any of these identities have to realize they have in fact met someone. It is a great opportunity for education.
I need to thank Michael for this interview and for all of the good work he is doing towards social justice.