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Five Queer Atlantans Over 50 to Know

When it comes to finding older role models, Atlanta is home to so many incredible and inspiring members of the elder LGBTQ community. If you’re looking for some people to turn to, here are five Atlantans over 50 who have been making a difference for decades.


Mary Anne Adams

Mary Anne Adams, MSW, is a 69-year-old Black lesbian activist, social worker, and public health researcher at Georgia State University, where she has done work in LGBTQ health, HIV/AIDS, breast cancer, and childhood mental health.

She is the founder and Executive Director of ZAMI NOBLA, the National Organization of Black Lesbians on Aging. ZAMI NOBLA is dedicated to building a base of power nationwide for Black lesbians 40 years and older, focusing on service, advocacy, and community action research.

“I looked around and didn’t see any viable entities in Atlanta working on aging issues in the LGBT community, particularly with Black lesbians,” Adams told Georgia Voice in 2016. “So, aging myself, I had a dog in this fight … We were very intentional about making sure this was a national organization based here in the South because there’s so much work being done in the South, so much working being done in [Atlanta] that is never acknowledged.”


Lorraine Fontana

Lorraine Fontana is a 77-year-old lesbian activist and founder of the Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance, one of the oldest and longest-running lesbian feminist organizations in the country. The organization was founded in 1972 in response to a frustration with the lack of inclusion in the Gay Liberation Front and Atlanta Women’s Liberation. She also served as the ALFA representative to the National Anti-Klan Network and worked with Black White Men Together to pass an anti-racist, anti-discrimination ordinance in bars across Atlanta in the ‘80s.

“Intersectionality — we didn’t have that term [when we founded ALFA] but it was obvious to those who started ALFA,” she told Georgia Voice in 2015. “We always wanted to stay connected to other issues. I’ve always done that … It was clear from the experiences of those in the Black community trying to get into predominantly white clubs that they were discriminated against. The bars would triple card people, say this is a private club. I was an ALFA person working with BWMT because I thought it was important. And I would go with a group to gay bars to make sure they were following the ordinance, make sure they posted the policy in the bar.”

Despite being in her mid-70s, Fontana is still an active member of the community and can be found at protests and demonstrations across Atlanta. She is involved with the Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition, Charis Books, the Atlanta Grandmothers for Peace, SAGE Atlanta, and Southerners on New Ground.


David Cowan

If you’ve been to an accessible event hosted by Atlanta Pride or the City of Atlanta, chances are you recognize David Cowan. Cowan is a deaf and gay American Sign Language interpreter who has become a mainstay interpreter at Pride events and has interpreted conferences held by Governor Brian Kemp, the 2017 Women’s March, and Black Lives Matter and anti-Trump rallies.

“I have interpreted and worked with marginalized groups of people. I enjoy working with these groups who share the same principles as ours,” he told Georgia Voice in 2017. “For example, American Sign Language is our language. No more language appropriation for profits. No more cultural appropriation. No more language deprivation. As for Atlanta Pride, Black Lives Matter, Anti-Trump, Women’s March, it’s really all about equality. No more oppression based on our skin color, our gender, our differences, our languages, and our sexual orientation.”


DeeDee Chamblee

DeeDee Chamblee is an HIV/AIDS activist and the founder of LaGender, a nonprofit for and by trans women of color. Chamblee founded LaGender in 2001 to address the needs of trans Atlantans surrounding issues like HIV/AIDS, homelessness, incarceration, mental health, and violence.

Chamblee was the first Black trans woman to be honored by former President Barack Obama; she was selected as a “Champion of Change” during the commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. She was also the first trans woman inducted into the 2020 Leading Women’s Society, an honor bestowed upon HIV-positive women nominated by their communities.


Rickie Smith

Rickie Smith is the President of In The Life Atlanta, which has been the official organizer of Atlanta Black Pride for over 25 years.

“[Atlanta Black Gay Pride is] about educating our people, getting our people registered to vote and remembering the community where you live,” he told Georgia Voice in 2016. “Once the music stops in the club, we’ve still gotta live in this community. This is not so much about the nightlife, it’s about our life in general. Somebody needs to stop and take a look at what’s going on around us and how we can shape the landscape of what’s going on around us … It’s important to realize you need a reason to celebrate Pride. Find out what you need to be proud about instead of just dancing in the street.”