Did this gay Atlanta man lie about his intimacy with HIV?

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A gay Atlanta man who volunteers with LGBT groups has come under fire for allegedly lying to a national newspaper for its extensive report on HIV among gay black men.

On Tuesday, just a day after the Washington Post published “The black HIV epidemic: A public health mystery from Atlanta's gay community,” it back-tracked, called Mickyel Bradford a liar and removed large portions of the story that added a human dimension to the extensive report about why gay black men in Atlanta have significanetly higher rates of HIV than white gay men.

Mickyel Bradford was one of the people upon whom “Storyline” reporter Jeff Guo had relied to tell the human dimension of his story. The goal was to shed light on something of a conundrum: Why do gay black men have such high rates of HIV even though they practice safe sex? As the story notes of the preliminary results in an Atlanta study, “Among black gay men, 43 percent were HIV positive, compared to 13 percent of white gay men, even though the black gay men had fewer sex partners and less unprotected sex.”

The reporter who wrote the piece, Jeff Guo, did not respond to questions from Project Q Atlanta. But his editor, Jim Tankersley, told the Post's Erik Wemple Blog that Bradford's story fell apart after an ex of Bradford tipped the paper that portions of the story didn't happen as they were presented.

The Post responded quickly, issuing a startling retraction and removing the 2,000 words of the piece that included Bradford.

Editor’s note: Several passages have been removed from this story because the source of those passages, Mickyel Bradford, has admitted to fabricating them. The passages include descriptions of a lunch in Bradford’s town and a ball that Bradford claimed he attended with a man identified as Seth. Bradford now confirms that neither of those events occurred as described. Additionally, Bradford admits the two men never discussed getting tested for HIV. All passages concerning the two men have been removed.

Tankersley said that Bradford admitted to faking portions of the story.

A love interest of Bradford’s signaled to The Post that certain aspects of the story hadn’t happened as presented, at which point Guo contacted Bradford. “He immediately admitted that he had fabricated a few parts of the story,” says Tankersley, who responded immediately to a request for comment.

A 2,000-word chunk of the story fell away with the revelations. One of the factors that makes the retracted material compelling reading is its fly-on-the-wall narrative style. The interactions of Bradford and Seth, for instance, are described in the present tense — how they meet up in a parking lot at 2 a.m. after the ball, for instance, and how there’s a “feeling that there’s so much to talk about that nothing can be talked about.” It goes on to narrate a heart-warming scene in which Seth flashes a “goofy smile” as they’re trading the results of their HIV tests. “Bradford reaches for his keys, and feels his testing slip in his pocket. He fishes out the crumpled piece of paper and thrusts it in Seth’s direction.”

But on Tuesday, the same day the Post revised the story, Bradford blamed the paper in a Facebook post and implied that there was more to the incident than the paper admitted.

“The media's the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that's power. Because they control the minds of the masses.” Malcolm X

He then added this comment:

“That's all I'm willing to say on the matter at the moment. But trust there will be a response in kind.”

When asked about the incident by Project Q, Bradford declined to address specifics of what happened. But he issued this statement:

“I was contacted for a story about Black Gay Men Navigating HIV in the South. Due to my lack of experience with the press, it was unclear to me what was idle conversation and what was explicitly being used for the story. From my perspective, it is clear that there were miscommunications and misunderstandings. Unfortunately, some of the details involved information about a person I was dating which made both he and I uncomfortable.

In fairness to the Washington Post, when contacted by the person I was dating, they had no other choice than to update the story because the facts appeared to be in dispute. I thank my beloved communities for their continued support. It is my hope that this will not have long-term effects to my relationships to the causes dear to my heart. If my part in these events has harmed anyone, I deeply regret it.

The real story to be told is the narrative around living with HIV and the ongoing challenges it brings. There are still many untold stories in our community. These stories, OUR stories, are urgently needed and it is my hope they continue being told.”

When pressed about whether he fabricated what he told the Post and lied to the paper, Bradford wouldn't say.

“I provided you with a statement. That's all I'm comfortable with stating. Please respect my privacy.”

Since being contacted about the incident, Bradford has removed his Facebook page. Bradford has worked with LGBT non-profits, including AID Atlanta's Evolution Project, which is a community center for young gay black men. AID Atlanta said Thursday that Bradford's work with the agency ended in 2013.

Also last year, Bradford was among several people who spoke out against plans to force sex shops and strip clubs off Cheshire Bridge Road. At the time, he was a member of Queer Up Atlanta, which was spawned to oppose the proposal for the strip.

Bradford is also a board member for Lost N Found Youth, which cares for homeless LGBT youth in Atlanta. His bio on the group's website describes him as “a radical healthcare advocate” and occasional drag queen.

Mickyel “Micky” Bradford, is a radical healthcare advocate with experience supporting LGBTQ people of color and people living with HIV/AIDS. The GSU graduate began his work when he became President of National Youth Pride Services, empowering young black same-gender-loving men, like himself, and black transgender women at The Evolution Project of AID Atlanta. After hearing LnF Representatives speak at the Atlanta Coalition For LGBTQ Youth, he decided to join the Lost-N-Found family to further their dream. He’s also a pretty fierce drag queen.

On Friday, the youth group said it investigated the situation and stands behind Bradford, according to a statement from Executive Director Rick Westbrook.

“We recently became aware of a situation in which one of our board members' personal integrity was questioned by a reporter with the Washington Post. As an organization focused on improving the lives of homeless LGBT youth, we were disappointed to hear of these circumstances. From conversations with the board member, we are unconvinced that all the facts related to the retraction have been accurately portrayed. We continue to go over details of the situation and will review any facts surrounding the story as they are presented to us.”

The incident has overshadowed the story, which takes a deep dive into the complex situation of why gay black men face higher rates of HIV than gay white men. The remaining portions of the story focus on research from Greg Millett, a gay former Atlanta resident who authored critical research on the topic while working for the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Millet, who now lives in Washington, D.C., later worked in the Office of National AIDS Policy in the White House before becoming a vice president for public policy at AmFAR.


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