If you want the job done right, you have to do it yourself. This proverb is more fitting today than ever, given the fight for equal rights. This spirit of queer liberation can be found in the streets of Atlanta, where today’s debate is about combating the racism, classism, and transphobia found in elite local communities, including the gay community.
Activists Liliana Bakhtiari and Tracee McDaniel discussed their experiences working to create justice for local oppressed communities. Liliana Bakharti made national headlines in 2017 when she launched her campaign for Atlanta City Council.
Since then, Bakhtiari, now an employee of Planned Parenthood, has continued to publicly support LGBTQ rights, access to education, reproductive healthcare, and the rights of immigrant communities.
“My work in the community has been everything I said I would do when I was running for council,” she said.
In the fall of 2018, Bakhtiari came up with the idea of creating the “Hope For Georgia Bus” to inspire people in the community to vote for Democratic candidates and support various progressive social causes.
The “Hope For Georgia Bus” was a response to the “Deportation Bus” used by Michael Williams to criminalize undocumented immigrants in his campaign for governor a few months prior. Williams, by the way, is now in jail on charges of Insurance Fraud, according to USA Today. I guess the deportation bus did get to hold at least one criminal after all.
Bakhtiari has long served as a source of stability in Atlanta’s marginalized communities, often times showing up to help someone in need through word-of-mouth.
“I get calls asking for help with anything ranging from housing, assault victims, people not having food, people who can’t afford gifts for Christmas,” Bakhtiari said.
When asked about the importance of activism and political organizing, Bakhtiari stressed the importance of empowering people who are often ignored by the political process. “Because politics has betrayed us for so long we see involvement in it as a betrayal of our values,” Bakhtiari said, explaining that she disagrees, believing queer and brown people deserve and require a voice in political dealings.
“Nobody knows what we need better than us,” Bakhtiari said. When asked about how LGBTQ people can work to create positive change, Bakhtiari offered this.
“We are doing it through marches, through building communities, by creating our own spaces and giving a voice to those often not seen as polished enough to be in politics,” she said. “We do it by being broke together and finding ways to survive together. We do it by creating our own organizations and making our voices known. We do it through a diversity of tactics.”
Bakhtiari expressed that she attempted to run her campaign by involving groups normally ignored by the wealthy and politically powerful. “One of the things I had to do when campaigning was prove I was a viable candidate, even though I didn’t have the name, money or background,” she said.
She expressed that there is a divide in the queer community in Atlanta, one caused by unintentional ignorance and social privilege. “A lot of gay Atlanta is white cisgender male – the politically active community with means is typically white men,” Bakhtiari said.
Older, affluent white gay men simply do not face the struggles of Atlanta’s queer youth, who often fight through poverty, homelessness, racism, and transphobia. “Just because you’re gay doesn’t mean you’re progressive,” she said. “The reason that divide exists is because of people with privilege who don’t see things from minorities [point of] view. It’s always difficult to humanize yourself to people who haven’t gone through what you have.”
Things are changing, though. “I’ve been invited to organizations that are seen as white and cisgender and that are opening up spaces by giving Trans, brown people voices,” Bakhtiari said.
While marginalized people are allowed to be exhausted and are not obligated to teach about or defend themselves to those with more privilege, it is painful work that must be done by someone.
“We must work together to work through trauma and find common ground with developers and conservatives,” she said, adding that “The younger generation can take it back by showing up, not by waiting.”
Alongside Bakhtiari is local activist, Tracee McDaniel, known for her history of championing Trans rights. She founded Transgender organization Juxtaposed Center for Transformation, lobbied Congress for increased HIV/AIDS funding and protection from employment discrimination, served on Advisory Boards for the Atlanta Police Department and the Center for Civil and Human Rights, which she is still on.
Currently, McDaniel serves as a volunteer Executive Board Director for the Trans Housing Atlanta Program, which provides housing assistance to Trans and non-trans people in need. She also serves on Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ LGBTQ Advisory Council, which advises Bottoms on issues that impact our community.
“I strongly believe that if we’re not willing to show up, participate and advocate for ourselves, we can’t complain when others don’t,” McDaniel said when asked about the importance of organizing for queer rights.
“Don’t be afraid to get and stay involved. Generations before us have fought against conservative – dehumanizing values and have made it better for us to take the baton and run the next leg of the marathon. It’s now up to us to do our part.”
McDaniel also spoke on Atlanta’s divide in queer experiences. “There’s no denying that it exists,” McDaniel said. “It’s essential that we get involved regardless of what our socioeconomic backgrounds are, We can’t afford to remain silent and passive, our very lives depend upon using our voices to ensure equity for Trans and Gender non-Conforming people. Our involvement and voices are very necessary and as important as others. Always remember, Human Rights are Trans Rights, Trans Rights are Human Rights.”