‘Flash’ back to gay past

That event sparked a movement and led to the formation of the Georgia chapter of the Gay Liberation Front.

“The idea that an Andy Warhol film was a catalyst for gay rights in Georgia is interesting,” says Andy Ditzler, curator of the renowned Film Love series. “It was much more than an obscure film bust — it had a ripple effect on gay history in Atlanta.”

Ditzler, along with curators and historians Wesley Chenault and Joey Orr, make up the new John Q collective who will present “Memory Flash” — a performance, installation and film projection event taking place in four Atlanta locations.

Memory Flash
Saturday, April 3

The project ends with a screening of “Lonesome Cowboys” at gay bar Mixx in Ansley Mall and will include Chenault an Orr in performance parts as those who were there watching the film when it was raided.

“The idea is that spaces we walk and drive around every day have historical resonance is important,” Ditzler adds.

The project begins with a Fourth Ward Walk on Wabash Avenue where the gay male social club, The Jolly 12, would host Sunday parties hosted by Roger Hodges, known as Mother Hodges.

The second performance piece takes participants to where The Joy Lounge was once located on Ponce de Leon Avenue, east of the Ponce Hotel, now an empty lot. This spot is where Billy Jones performed his first drag persona, Phyllis Killer, in the late 1960s. But it was illegal for men at this time to appear in full drag and a lookout was utilized to warn performers when police approached.

To hide from police, performers would hide in bathroom stalls, the furnace room or even a walk-in beer cooler. On April 3, participants can experience what the performers had to endure by themselves having the opportunity to walk into a beer cooler.

And the third stop, before the final installation at Mixx, takes place at the Piedmont Park softball fields where a game between the Tomboys and the Lorelie Ladies will take place. These teams, not part of an official lesbian league of the 1960s, was a popular social outlet for lesbians to gather and build social networks.

Memory Flash
Click to enlarge (photo by Michael Page)

Athletes from the Decatur Women’s Sports League will be included in this presentation and all along the route through Atlanta’s gay past, volunteers from Flux Projects, a sponsor of Memory Flash, will be interacting with the audience, giving directions and explaining situations.

“The springboard of this project was [gay activist, former Atlanta City Council president] Cathy Woolard’s idea to have a sculpture memorial to the LGBT community, something that is permanently situated. But the community it refers to is never permanently situated,” says Orr.

“There is a lot of flux. Permanence is antithetical to the queer spirit. So we thought, what if the monument was a discourse? Even though they are temporary, we think of them as memorials.”

And while these memorials are temporary, Chenault, who curated “The Unspoken Past: Atlanta Lesbian and Gay History” for the Atlanta History Center and co-authored “says they hold more potential than a sculpture or permanent marker.

“It fits the way we see history and memory making. This is a different way of presenting the past that draws participants in — you’re not reading a book or visiting an exhibit,” he says.

“We hope people will create new memories from the real past.”

Learning about a movement’s history should not be only thought of as a serious endeavor, Orr stresses.

“While Andy, Wesley and I certainly make public art and scholarship claims about our work, we also hope it’s a way for people to engage with each other and have a good time,” he says.

“We hope that John Q is the life of the party. As soon as John Q becomes the dud who’s only interested in serious talk about history and memory, we’ll send him packing. Promise.”

Memory Flash is sponsored by Flux Projects (www.fluxprojects.org), Emory College Center for Creativity & Arts (creativity.emory.edu/center.shtml), the Lloyd E. Russell Foundation (www.lerfoundation.org) and the LUBO Fund.


Top photo: John Q Collective’s Joey Orr (far left), Andy Ditzler and Wesley Chenault present ‘Memory Flash’ next month. (Photo by Dyana Bagby)