As LGBTQ people out and proud in Atlanta today, we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. Pride is a time to celebrate that history, and pedaling is a good way to do it.
“There’s always something else to learn,” says Charlie Paine, your guide on Atlanta’s new Queer History Bicycle Tour.
Offered by Bicycle Tours of Atlanta, this leisurely bike ride trails through several in-town neighborhoods and covers about a century of important LGBTQ people, places and events. Themes include the AIDS crisis, religion, drag history, the fight for civil rights, and the contributions of LGBTQ residents to Atlanta history.
There’s a lot to cover, so keeping the tour at three hours and nine miles has been a priority for Paine and Bicycle Tours of Atlanta company owner Robyn Elliott, who had the idea to start an LGBTQ bike history tour about three years ago, at about the same time she started offering a civil rights bike tour.
“You can’t talk about civil rights and social justice just inside the black and white story,” Elliott said. “It’s important for me to tell all of our history and not just those parts of history that make people comfortable.”
She had the idea for the tour, but not who would run it, until she met Paine through mutual friends.
“After talking with him, I realized that he would be the perfect person to make this happen,” Elliot said.
Paine chairs Historic Atlanta’s LGBTQ History Preservation Committee, which works to raise awareness of — and save sites associated with — LGBTQ history.
So, what can you expect to learn on the tour? As is the case for so much LGBTQ history, if you didn’t live it, you probably don’t know it.
“When we go to Inman Park, we talk about Robert Griggs, the guy most people talk about when they think of Inman Park, but he also was gay,” Elliott said. “We want to highlight people who, maybe their achievements were known, but who they were wasn’t.”
Griggs, an Atlanta designer who died in 2009, began the restoration of Inman Park in the 1960s when he bought a run-down house on Euclid Avenue and fixed it up. He later won a Governor’s Award for Historic Preservation.
The tour also goes to a house at 811 Ponce de Leon Place NE, the “scene of the crime” in what became the landmark case Bowers v. Hardwick. The crime at the time was two men having consensual sex. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and how the story unfolded is truly flabbergasting today.
There’s also a stop to learn about Coretta Scott King’s involvement in LGBTQ rights and some other heavy topics. But the heavy parts are balanced by healthy doses of what I’ll call “drag magic.”
“RuPaul comes up on the tour at the Atlanta Eagle because most places that have a tie to him have either been demolished or significantly altered,” Paine said. “Many people attribute the beginning of his career experimenting with drag to that building.”
RuPaul Charles moved to Atlanta when he was 15 and later started go-go dancing in the building most recently home to the Atlanta Eagle. At the time, it was called the Celebrity Club.
It’s impossible not to have fun when talking about go-go dancers, drag and nightlife in general.
“People interact with each other and bring their own fun, too,” Elliott said of the tour.
And let’s not forget the endorphins! It just makes you feel good to finish those hills and coast down the other side.
“We do want to make sure it’s something everyone can enjoy, so we did, at one point, shift the route just a little bit so it was less hilly,” Paine said. “I do think we’ve narrowed down the route, and I’m very excited to go out there every time.”
Bicycle Tours of Atlanta provides the bikes, helmets and snacks. Electric bikes are also available for an upcharge. Prepare for a moderate workout and a celebration of this less-explored side of Atlanta’s history, something outside the usual Atlanta tour.
“Most people don’t know any of this unless you happened to grow up in the city when it was happening and you were part of the LGBTQ community,” Elliot said.
And even then, there’s always something else to learn!
Atlanta’s Queer History Bike Tour costs $65 a person and is offered select weekends throughout the year. To register and for more information, visit BikeToursAtl.com.