One particular activist-turned-reporter-turned-entrepreneur I love is Michael Rogers, a former ACT UP activist and fundraiser who launched a personal blog whose biggest draw was outing closeted gay politicians who were actively fighting against LGBTQ rights. (The Washington Post once called him the most feared man on Capitol Hill, long before he outed U.S. Rep. Ed Schrock.)
In 2004, Rogers partnered with John Byrne (above, right), founder of Raw Story, and today the two men own one of the largest privately held collections of online LGBTQ-owned news media companies in the U.S. (which includes Raw Story, AlterNet, and The New Civil Rights Movement).
“We believe the future of true independent journalism is one of self-sufficiency, the absence of corporate parents or a venture capital race for the next dollar,” said Byrne when the duo bought AlterNet, the legendary indie media outlet. “We are excited to create a solid future for AlterNet and The New Civil Rights Movement and to safeguard their important missions of strategic journalism, civil rights and social justice, and politics.”
So imagine my delight to discover that Byrne turned that media money into a solid HIV-prevention organization, Prevention305, and hired a Latinx immigrant to help get the people of Miami on PrEP, and shares their successful outreach methods with any organization who asks.
I’m such a fan of Byrne (and Rogers) that it would have been easy to put the Raw Story founder on the cover of Plus. His years of media creation, political organizing, and now HIV prevention funding is astounding. But as Byrne himself argues, sometimes it’s best for the guy with white privilege to take a backseat. Hence, program manager Marco Torrealba (above, left) gets to represent!
In talking about being a white guy running an agency largely for Latinx people, Byrne is aware that “white people have so many structural advantages” when it comes to getting grants for HIV work. “It’s good to see that there are some funders that are now accepting applications in Spanish… but these grants are set up for people to win who went to the Ivy League schools. They’re not set up to necessarily find the people who need the money. The problem with philanthropy, in general, is that rich people get to pick the winners. It’s a terrible system.”
He hopes to change that, at least in Miami. But for now, Byrne and Torrealba are busy changing lives dramatically with the money they have.