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How this former media executive created a powerful network for black gay professionals

How this former media executive created a powerful network for black gay professionals
[Illustration: Artur Tenczyński]

Media executive Emil Wilbekin founded Native Son, an advocacy and networking group for professional black gay men, to create “not just a safe space, but a beautiful space,” he says, where members of the community can celebrate their influence. Wilbekin’s three-year-old organization hosts panels and events at companies including Google and has signed on high-profile partners, such as Bloomingdale’s, with whom it has created Pride-themed hats and tees. Reminding brands that black gay professionals are often affluent consumers, Wilbekin lined up HBO, Cadillac, and Belvedere to sponsor the Native Son Awards this past February, which honored author Michael Arceneaux and choreographer George Faison. To raise awareness around the fact that black gay and bisexual men account for a quarter of new HIV diagnoses in the U.S., Native Son helped promote an interactive play about HIV last May called As Much As I Can, in partnership with drug manufacturer ViiV Healthcare. It’s an issue close to Wilbekin, who disclosed his HIV-positive status after he founded Native Son. “No one [else] is going to treat this as the national emergency that it is,” he says. “So we have to do more.”

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