Monica Van Pelt died on January 31 / File photo

2021 in Review: Remembering Those We Lost

As the saying goes, nothing is certain but death and taxes. Unfortunately, the certainty of death touched Atlanta this year. Several influential and loved LGBTQ Atlantans passed, but their memories live on.


On January 5, Judy Colbs died at the age of 89. Colbs served as the president of PFLAG Atlanta for almost two decades, counseling, supporting, and providing surrogate parenting to young LGBTQ people who were rejected by their families. She is survived by her two daughters, Sandy and Alison; her grandchildren Nancy, Lauren, Meaghan, and Kate; and her great-grandchildren Emily, Xavier, Olivia, Sophia, Aiden, and Charlotte. Dave Hayward remembers Colbs as “tart and sharp and strict” and an “ally extraordinaire.”


On January 31, drag legend Monica Van Pelt died at the age of 46. Van Pelt, otherwise known as Christopher, is remembered as a loving husband to Jonathan Van Pelt, a lover of The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars, and an inspiration to many in the LGBTQ community and beyond. Her 30-year drag journey started when she was just 17, and during that time she was a show director, a multititle holder, Miss Atlanta Grand Diva ‘14, and Miss National at Large ‘01. Her chosen drag family consisted of LJ Van Pelt, Hayden Van Pelt, Gavin Storm, and Taylor Van Pelt, as well as Candy O’Hara. Drag photographer Just Toby remembers her as “a truly genuine person. She didn’t judge others, but simply loved people for who they were.”


On February 27, Stanley Clarke died at the age of 66. Clarke was one of the founders of the Atlanta SAGE chapter, an organization catering to LGBTQ seniors. He also served as administrative assistant to Touching Up Our Roots, Georgia’s LGBTQ story project. He is survived by his three children.


On May 11, activist Winston Johnson died at the age of 79. Johnson was a powerful and influential force in forging an alliance between the LGBTQ and civil rights movements through his friendship with Coretta Scott King. He was a loyal partner to Leon Allen for 42 years before Allen’s death in 2006, and he is survived by his brother Hjalma Johnson and his nephew Leonard. His personal archive now resides at the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript Archives and Rare Books Library at Emory University.


On July 28, Katie Janness died at the age of 40 in an apparent homicide in Piedmont Park. A bartender at Campagnolo, she was well known among Atlanta’s LGBTQ community. She is survived by her partner of six years, Emma Clark, who remembers her as “the most intelligent, humble, and beautiful person I have ever known.”