Born on April 7, 1944 in Miami, Florida, lifetime activist Berl Boykin entered Emory University in the fall of 1961 when he was 17. After hosting a man in his dorm room in the winter of 1963, Berl was expelled from Emory, but continued to agitate for LGBTQ rights along with Emory student body president, the late Steve Abbott, subject of the memoir “Fairyland.”
Berl passed away this Saturday October 6, 2018.
A pioneer for human and civil rights in Georgia, he joined Atlanta native, the late Shelby Cullum, to petition the Georgia General Assembly and Atlanta City Hall for LGBTQ rights on behalf of the Georgia Mattachine Society.
Following the August 1969 police raid on the Ansley Mall showing of Andy Warhol’s “Lonesome Cowboys,” Berl and a host of others founded the Georgia Gay Liberation Front in October 1969. As the first marshal for Atlanta’s first Pride march in June 1971, Berl says, there were 125 marchers. I know — I counted them twice!” While the City of Atlanta refused the GGLF a permit for the march, Berl asked the Atlanta ACLU to help only to be told, “You are not a minority.”
On July 14, 1971, Berl, along with Klaus and Bill Smith (both late), met with Governor Jimmy Carter to press for LGBTQ rights and freedoms to an emphatic, “no!” In December 2004, Berl and I helped Carter partly redeem himself by cajoling him to come out for same-sex civil unions.
As a staff member for Atlanta’s alternative newspaper “The Great Speckled Bird,” Berl wrote and published both as a journalist and as a poet, and acted and directed in plays and music videos. For many years, Berl was the chief drama critic for WABE 90.1, the local NPR afﬁliate.
[Our thanks to Dave Hayward who, along with Mr. Boykin, co-founded Touching Up Our Roots, Inc.: Georgia’s LGBTQ Story Project. Our deepest condolences to Mr. Hayward and all the friends and family of Mr. Boykin. May his soul rest in power and his work continue to affect change in our state and beyond.]