“Whoever survives a test whatever that may be must tell his story. It’s a duty.” -Elie Wiesel, Holocaust concentration camp survivor.
“Fairyland” garnered a 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes (that’s five stars) at the Sundance Film Festival in January, and it’s produced by Oscar®-winning director Sofia Coppola (best known for her film, “Lost in Translation”), and stars Oscar® winner Geena Davis and “American Idol” finalist Adam Lambert, among other luminaries.
It’s thrilling that the movie “Fairyland” is being released, based on the best-selling memoir by Alysia Abbott about growing up with her gay dad Steve Abbott.
There was a police raid on August 5, 1969, at the long-departed Ansley Mall Mini Cinema, where a showing of Andy Warhol’s “Lonesome Cowboys” — a movie found obscene because naked cowboys were sharing sleeping bags — was held. Smithsonian Magazine calls the raid Atlanta’s own Stonewall, and five weeks after Stonewall it was the catalyst to concoct the Georgia Gay Liberation Front (GGLF).
Emory graduate student Abbott was front and center in making GGLF happen, brazen because he was married, the father of Alysia, and openly gay. As an editor at The Great Speckled Bird newspaper, Abbott proselytized for LGBTQ rights and drew a cartoon for Atlanta and Georgia’s first Gay Pride in June 1971.
“Say it loud, gay is proud. An injustice to one is injustice to all!” Steve wrote. “Straight-identified sisters and brothers are joining hands with us in solidarity. You don’t have to be gay to march against gay oppression!”
Becoming one of the core collective of the GGLF in 1972, I was stunned Abbott had a wife and a daughter. Knowing him from a distance, he appeared to be the gayest of gay men, in gender nonconforming regalia and jewelry. I was afraid to be as open as he was in person and in print, but I also thought it helps to win our rights. You may be harassed, and people may curse you and throw crap at you, but you were a warrior for a worthy cause. Tragically, folks were evicted and expelled and fired and assaulted and even murdered. And still we rise.
Abbott disappeared from our marches in 1974, and later I learned his wife Barbara died in a car wreck on August 29, 1973. My mentor and Abbott’s best friend, Berl Boykin (April 7, 1944–October 6, 2018), loved recounting that he took Alysia to San Francisco and moved near the corner of Haight and Ashbury, ground zero for the hippie movement and celebrated in the musical “Hair.” I think Boykin got a vicarious high out of Abbott leaving the troubled past, starting anew and rallying to the center of it all. He was an example we could all aspire to.
My longtime friend Gus Kaufman called my attention to Alysia’s memoir, “Fairyland.” The fact that a book could come out about someone I worked with and celebrate him in all his panache staggers me. How wonderful that a gay pioneer is remembered and known to the world, as most of us don’t have sons and daughters to recall us. While Abbott passed from complications of AIDS in 1992, he lives on in a bestseller and now a major motion picture.
We are sorely tested with many of our pioneers having passed away 54 years after Stonewall. We have our own special plague with AIDS decimating our community, absconding with heroes like Abbott and his fellow founders Charlie St. John, the first openly gay political appointee here, and native Atlantan Paul Dolan, best known as Severin, our first nonbinary and crossdressing leader. Once upon a time, Severin headlined rallies in “cosmic drag,” a man in a generous mustache and beard in an evening gown warbling, “I’m Tired of Straight Men Fucking Over Me!”
One day, Severin confided in me that some guy from Athens was studying his performances. We later deduced it was most likely Fred Schneider, who founded the B-52s, and I can see Severin’s influence in their beehive hairdos, slinky sheath dresses and gender fluidity. I’m reminded of our late great drag diva Diamond Lil, who perfected camp drag, wrote her own music, sang in her own voice, and was nominated for a Grammy.
As in “Fairyland,” we tell their stories and keep them living in us. I believe in life after life, and their legends are a concrete manifestation.
They are our duty.
Dave Hayward is coordinator of Touching Up Our Roots, Georgia’s LGBTQ Story Project, and a board member of Georgia’s LGBTQ History Project.