Kathie Hiers was born on October 5th, 1954 in Mobile, Alabama. She might have been born in Joliet, Illinois, where her family lived at the time; but Kathie’s mom, a Mobile native, didn’t want her daughter to be a Yankee; so she took the train home to give birth. Kathie’s mom was deeply religious, and her dad suffered from alcoholism, but in spite of all that, Kathie looks back on her childhood as being “pretty normal”.
In 1972 Kathie started college at the University of South Alabama, and began questioning her sexuality. When she asked two gay friends to take her to a local gay bar, they refused, not wanting to “sully” her good name. So Kathie went on her own. The bar’s name was Society Lounge, although locals referred to it as Shitty Lounge because of its slummy appearance. It was good enough for Kathie, though. On her first night there, she met a woman, and never looked back.
In 1984, Kathie fell in love with a long-term friend, Donna, and the two started a relationship that would eventually fall under the lens of the local courts. When Donna broke the news of their relationship to her husband, a six-year custody battle ensued where both women were deemed unfit parents because they were lesbians. The kids’ dad was granted fully custody; the court decreed that Donna could not live with Kathie for a year; and Donna and Kathie’s time with the kids was severely limited. But the two women remained committed to them. Kathie and Donna eventually went their separate ways; but to this day, Kathie still remains close with both kids, and one of them works for Kathie at AIDS Alabama.
Kathie formed AIDS Alabama in 1987, in the aftermath of learning that five of her best guy friends were HIV-positive, and seeing the abysmal state of HIV/AIDS services in the state. Some 14 years later, in 2001, Kathie formed a larger AIDS service organization called the Southern AIDS Coalition. Time and again, she saw that people living with AIDS in the Deep South didn’t receive the same treatment and funding as those in urban areas like New York. In 2009, Kathie was invited to join President Obama’s Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA). To her dismay, around this time, Kathie heard gay men from her community make racist comments about President Obama. “There’s nothing more ironic than a bigoted queer,” Kathie says with a rueful laugh. She became more determined than ever to address and eliminate systemic racism in any organization she was involved with.
After more than four decades in HIV/AIDS advocacy work, Kathie was awarded the AIDS Drug Assistance Program Individual Champion of the Year in 2014, and in 2016, after working on PACHA for several years, Kathie finally got a housing provision added to the first national HIV/AIDS Strategy.
Kathie continues to this day as CEO of AIDS Alabama. She believes her gay superpower is the ability to relate to people, despite how different they may seem from her. She is justifiably proud of the progress the LGBTQ+ community has made in the Deep South, and she continues fiercely determined to highlight the unique struggles of the HIV/AIDS community there. Going forward, she hopes there will be more conversations around racism in the LGBTQ+ community. In her opinion, change may come slowly – but it’s always worth the fight.
Kathie at age 5 on Easter Sunday, 1960. Photo courtesy of Kathie Hiers.A first grade portrait of Kathie (age 6), 1960. Photo courtesy of Kathie Hiers.Kathie at age 17 in her graduation cap, 1972. Photo courtesy of Kathie Hiers.Donne McGahre Bark, Kathie’s partner, who lost custody of her kids as a result of their relationship, 1985. Photo courtesy of Kathie Hiers.Kathie Hiers with Amy Bark and Dave Bark (the kids of her then-partner Donna McGahre Bark) at the Atlanta Braves Game, July 4th, 1985. Photo courtesy of Kathie Hiers.Kathie Hiers and the Third World Softball Team, circa 1994. Photo courtesy of Kathie Hiers.Kathie Hiers, Steve Mozino (who died in 2007), and Donna Bark at the Osiris Mardi Gras Ball, 1996. Photo courtesy of Kathie Hiers.Katie Hiers with the Bark Family, 2005. The top row includes Kathie Hiers and Dave Bark (Donna McGahre Bark’s son). The bottom row includes Amy Patt (Dave Bark’s fiancee), S.B. Brown (Dave & Amy’s stepsister), Amy Bark (Donna McGahre Bark’s daughter) holding Kyle Nicholas (her son), and Edward Nicholas (Amy’s partner). Photo courtesy of Kathie Hiers. Alice C. Harris (Kathie’s mother) and Kathie Hiers. Photo courtesy of Kathie Hiers. Kathie Hiers and Representative Barbara Lee at the award ceremony for the National Association of People with AIDS, 2005. Rep. Lee received the award that year. Photo courtesy of Kathie Hiers.The Southern AIDS Coalition visiting AIDS Czar Joseph O’Neill, July 2005. Evelyn Foust (the AIDS Director for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ Communicable Diseases Branch) and Kathie Hiers (the CEO of AIDS Alabama) were Coalition Co-Chairs. Photo courtesy of Kathie Hiers.Kathie Hiers and the National AIDS Housing Coalition, 2005. Photo courtesy of Kathie Hiers.Kathie Hiers and the National AIDS Housing Coalition in New York, NY, 2005. Photo courtesy of Kathie Hiers.Getting the canoe ready for the Libra Party, #31 out of 40, Mobile, AL. Photo courtesy of Kathie Hiers.Kathie and her Mobile friends headed to Mardi Gras, Mobile, AL, 2006. Photo courtesy of Kathie Hiers.Kathie and other Alabama AIDS advocates with Senator Jeff Sessions, 2006. Photo courtesy of Kathie Hiers.Kathie Hiers, Dave Bark, and Amy Putt Bark on Dave and Amy's wedding day, 2006. Photo courtesy of Kathie Hiers.Kathie Hiers and her brothers Tommy, Mike, and Charles Hiers. Photo courtesy of Kathie Hiers.Kathie Hiers with Jeanne White-Ginder (Ryan White’s mother), 2007. Photo courtesy of Kathie Hiers.Kathie Hiers with Representative John Lewis, 2009. Photo courtesy of Kathie Hiers.Kathie Hiers and some of the AIDS Alabama staff, 2010. Photo courtesy of Kathie Hiers.Kathie Hiers, the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, and
President Barack Obama in the White House, Washington, DC, July 2010. Photo courtesy of Kathie Hiers.Kathie Hiers, the National AIDS Housing Coalition, and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, 2011. Photo courtesy of Kathie Hiers.Kathie Hiers and other AIDS activists during the annual HIV Awareness Day at the State Capitol, Montgomery, AL, 2011. Photo courtesy of Kathie Hiers.Kathie Hiers, Deepsouth Director Lisa Biagiotti, and Clare House Director Lee Lewis touring Minneapolis, MN, 2013. Photo courtesy of Kathie Hiers.Kathie Hiers and Elton John, November 2016. Photo courtesy of Kathie Hiers.Kathie speaking at the Elton John AIDS Foundation’s Annual Gala, New York, NY, November 2016. Photo courtesy of Kathie Hiers.
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