On Monday, May 17th at 5pm team members from the Shirt Off My Back Campaign (SOMB) will join together with local community members at 10th St. and Piedmont Ave. to march for International Day Against Homophobia. We're asking supporters of SOMB to "Take the Shirt Off Your Back to STOP Homophobia." I know what you're thinking, what good is taking off a few shirts going to do in the epic battle against discrimination? That's a good question and I've got a great answer.

Why a clothing donation campaign is taking a stand against homophobia

The gayest city in the nation obviously has a large LGBT population, but not everyone is living in the house on the hill. In fact, a disproportionate number of LGBT residents experience poverty and homelessness, and it’s not just because of a tough economy. How many fresh, young faces do we see popping up in our city every week? A lot of LGBT youth flock to Atlanta escaping unhealthy, and even abusive, living situations back home and struggle to make it on their own. Or how about the number of people who have been fired for being openly gay or transgender? Poverty is the number one cause of homelessness, and homophobic actions are linked to the number of LGBT people who experience poverty- because of nothing more than bigotry.

A lot of different people experience poverty and homelessness and some people experience it because some ignorant fool somewhere is concerned with who those people are attracted to, or that they “look different.” I’m truly amazed that after all this time at as a national issue, LGBT rights and equality has not advanced farther than it has. It is absolutely reprehensible that youth are still being kicked out of their parent’s home because they are gay, and I see these youth in bad situations some times trying to make it in this city. These kids are really living pay check – pay check, and too many times don’t have a place to stay at night.

Shirt Off My Back Campaign is committed to directly helping the less fortunate in our communities, no matter who they are, and the low-income and homeless LGBT community in Atlanta (and especially the youth) need some attention. Homophobia isn’t just about actions, it’s also about reactions. When someone is fired for being gay, they no longer have a job. When a kid is kicked out for being gay, they no longer have a home. When a transgender person is denied housing, they are homeless. Action – reaction. Here’s another example: When you know that homophobia is connected to poverty and homelessness in the LGBT community, you join the events for International Day Against Homophobia. It all makes sense now!

Furthermore, this campaign began in the first place because of the support I received from my friends and family (yes, family) here in Atlanta’s LGBT community. And that will be an important part of the campaign’s history- it began within the gay community because the gay community is an enormous part of Atlanta charities and organizations. And it’s not just the older crowd, a lot of young adults are becoming more active in our community.

The bottom line is we have to join organizations, causes and events together to make any real impact. It makes no sense to fight improving an issue without involving people who are fighting for the same thing. SOMB wants to help the people in our communities experiencing poverty and homelessness, and the Alternative Perspectives staff and other community groups want to stop homophobia, so I got together with Betty Couvertier and Becki Jayne Harrelson to make some community magic. Campaign supporters are excited to kick off the march to the wonderful events organized at Virginia-Highland Church starting at 6pm.

So, back to the original question- how is men daring to bare chest and women in sports bras going to help stop homophobia? Have you taken a look at the campaign ads? There are some attractive young models… the same type of models marching next Monday down Piedmont Ave. in broad daylight for everyone to take notice of- “Oh look, they’re carrying signs, what does that say…” And that’s how a clothing donation campaign is connected to a march against homophobia.

International Day Against Homophobia is an international issue being brought to local attention, and Shirt Off My Back is proud to be a sponsor of the Atlanta events on May 17th. See you all out there!

Laura Gentle
SOMB Campaign Founder