Harry Knox speaks out on White House post

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imageMORE | Atlanta activist tapped for White House panel

To say this week has been hectic for Harry Knox is, well, an understatement typical of the part-time Atlantan’s soft-spoken demeanor.

He spent the better part of two days this week inside the Eisenhower Executive Office Building near the White House for briefings with more than 60 religious leaders and Obama administration officials.

On Monday, he was named to the advisory council to the White House Office of Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships. The group of 25 religious and secular leaders will provide Obama with advice and feedback as well as establish how the office will work to meet its goals of economic recovery, reducing abortions, encouraging responsible fatherhood and improving interfaith relations. He is one of at least two openly gay members of the council.

Knox took a few minutes Wednesday to discuss with Project Q Atlanta his new role, working with anti-gay members of the council and how his years in Atlanta helped prepare him for his new assignment.

Q: What was your reaction in learning about your selection to the advisory council?

A: It’s humbling and exciting at the same time to be chosen to do this. People with whom we interacted in the last day and a half are enormously smart. We heard briefings from the senior staff that relates to the four initiative areas that we will be focused on.

The administration is focused on really big and world-changing ideas. It was a great thrill to be there and very humbling at the same time. I went very much in a learning posture and listening mode. It was also nice to meet a lot of people whom we have talked about in the press and reconnect with friends that we have known for years. It was a little bit old home week and it was a little bit college mixer feel to it. And an awful lot of baring down and getting down to business in figuring out how to go forward with our work.

Part of my task is to get the word out that there is a sincere determination to involve LGBT groups to seek out both the dollars and the expertise that are available to them through the Office of Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships. They did stress that funding decisions are not made by the office. We will help set up the regulations for how those funds are dispersed, but we will not make those decisions. Part of the reforming of the office is to make the office more transparent.

Q: The advisory council includes opponents of same-sex marriage and other gay civil rights issues. How will you approach working with them?

A: It’s relatively easy to sit across from them because they are my sisters and brothers. I try to come with a listening posture and an open heart and they do the same, which was really apparent in the group [Tuesday] that everyone had come with an open of a heart as possible and seeking a real community and how we could get things done, rather than what we disagreed about. There will certainly be some contention on the council and we all know that. It also helps that the president has made it clear to us what his priorities are.

Q: You criticized President Obama for his selection of Rev. Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration and you support same-sex marriage while he does not. Will that create conflict with your role on the advisory council?

A: [President Obama] has made it clear that we will not discriminate in using taxpayer dollars against LGBT people. The fact that the president and I disagree about marriage equality right now doesn’t mean that I can’t come in and be fully engaged to help people maximize the work around climate change, supporting healthy families through responsible fatherhood or helping with the economic downturn and helping neighborhood and faith-based organizations assisting the most vulnerable among us become the engine of turning the economy around.

With those four initiatives in mind and real agreement around them from members of the group, and real leadership from the president, the things that divide us are not unimportant but they are not as germane to the conversation there as the things that we do agree about. But I think we will be able to get a great deal done. The arguments [on the issues] that we don’t agree about will happen in other venues more than this venue. But believe me, if I see some challenge I will be vocal.

There will be things that may come up, but right now we are focused on the things that we can quickly agree about. There is a great deal of work to be done. I am always in a trust but verify mode with politicians. But I came away from that first meeting with the belief that the president intends to stand by his promise not to discriminate in this program.

Q: How did your work with Georgia Equality and your current role as director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion & Faith program prepare you for this latest post?

A: It is certainly a different scale, but the work is largely the same. I have to stay focused on the people’s lives that are affected by what I am advocating for, whether it was me saying [former Fulton County Commission Chair] Mike Kenn wasn’t truthful in his promises to our community or if I’m saying what the Pope is saying about condom use in Africa isn’t truthful. It is a little daunting to go the Whit House as opposed to going down to the Fulton County courthouse. The scale is different.

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