Best of Atlanta: People


Best Male Activist
Chandler Bearden

Chandler Bearden  heads up community outreach for the MISTER project at Positive Impact (, an organization that provides culturally competent mental health resources and prevention services to those affected by HIV. He also served as Mr. Atlanta Eagle 2010, educating others about the leather community, HIV and other issues (and looking hot doing it). Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality ( placed second; third went to Rick Westbrook of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence ( and the East Point Possums.

Best Female Activist
Linda Ellis

Linda Ellis has been at the helm of the Atlanta Lesbian Health Initiative ( since 2002, helping the organization grow from once focusing just on cancer support to now providing a range of  health information, support and community-building for women who partner with women. Prior to leading the Health Initiative, Ellis served as the first executive director of YouthPride, working with LGBT young people. Barb Rowland ( of Common Ground Real Estate Group placed second. Sheila Merritt of Q&A Events  (, who serves on the board and is a past president of the Atlanta Lesbian & Gay Chamber of Commerce, placed third.

Best Transgender Activist
Tristan Skye

Tristan Skye is the creater and founder of TransQueerNation (, a popular transgender social networking site, with his partner, Sicily Skye. From blogs to videos, the duo works to educate others in the transgender community, including on Skye’s process of “natural transitioning” from female to male without injecting testosterone. Second place went to James Parker Sheffield, executive director of the Atlanta Pride Committee ( Third place went to Tracee McDaniel, founder of the Juxtaposed Center for Transformation (

Best OTP Activist
Rick Westbrook

Sure, you see activist Rick Westbrook (and his alter-ego, Rapture Divine Cox) at plenty of “ITP” – that is, Inside the Perimeter – events. But our readers also love him as the best OTP activist for his work with the East Point Possums, the charity drag show in East Point, Ga., that this year raised funds for Atlanta Pride and Positive Impact’s MISTER project. Second place went to Sarah Jane Riggle of PFLAG Valdosta. Alan Braden of Augusta Pride ( placed third.

Best Local Athlete
Gary Durden

Gary Durden joined the Atlanta Bucks ( in 2007 and now serves as president of the gay rugby club. In the spring, he served as point person as UK rugby star Ben Cohen, perhaps the first straight professional athlete to make LGBT rights his main cause, visited Atlanta and spent several days with the Bucks and local fans to launch his Acceptance Tour 2011.  Second place went to Anne “Sarge” Barr, founder of the thriving Decatur Women’s Sports League (, which unites women for friendly competition and raises funds for the Atlanta Lesbian Health Initiative.

Best Business Person
Philip Rafshoon

Philip Rafshoon opened Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse ( in 1993, and the store has served as a community hub ever since. Besides yummy food and drinks and a full stock of LGBT and other reading material, the store hosts multiple author readings ranging from local voices to national names. Second place went to Bill Kaelin of Bill Kaelin: Marketing, Events, Consulting ( Third went to Mark Jackson and Tom Schloeder, owners of Brushstrokes/Sensory Overload and Capulets/Brushstrokes Pleasures (, which for more than two decades have been Atlanta’s source for gay gifts, rainbow flags, t-shirts, books, DVDs, adult items and much more.

Best Politician
Ga. Rep. Simone Bell (D-Atlanta)

State Rep. Simone Bell ( won a special election in 2009 to become the second openly gay person to serve in the Georgia General Assembly, and the first openly lesbian African-American state legislator in the country. Bell was elected unopposed for a full term in November 2010, and has been a voice for progressive issues at the Gold Dome, including speaking out against the state’s new immigration law. U.S. Rep. John Lewis (, a civil rights icon and longtime outspoken LGBT rights ally, placed second. Atlanta City Councilmember Alex Wan (, who represents District 6 and is the first openly gay man to serve on the council, placed a close third.

Best Straight Ally
U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.)

From speaking out on behalf of gay and lesbian rights on the floor of Congress to joining in the Atlanta Pride parade, U.S. Rep. John Lewis ( has proved time and again that he is an unwavering ally for LGBT people in Georgia and beyond. Second place went to UK rugby star Ben Cohen, the straight professional athlete who came to Atlanta this spring to launch his StandUp Foundation to counter anti-LGBT bullying. Former Atlanta City Councilmember Mary Norwood, who gained extensive gay support when she ran for mayor in 2009, placed third.

Local Icon
Atlanta Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence

The Atlanta Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, also known as the Flaming Sugarbaker Sisters (, is billed as “an order of 21st century nuns dedicated to the manifestation of cosmic joy through freedom of expression, chartable acts, community outreach, and social activism.” Since launching in 2009, they have been a very visible presence at community events, helping to educate and entertain LGBT Atlantans at numerous events, as well as their own. Second place went to gay environmental and progressive activist Angel Poventud (, who was named the 2010 Cox Conserves Hero. Third went to Georgia Equality lobbyist and former Atlanta City Council President Cathy Woolard, who became the state’s first openly gay elected official when she won a seat on the Atlanta City Council in 1997.

Biggest Foe
Republican Party of Georgia

The three finalists for the biggest foe for LGBT rights have three letters in common: GOP. The Republican Party of Georgia ( placed first. GOP presidential hopeful and former Georgia Congressman Newt Gingrich ( placed second, no doubt in part due to his zeal in opposing gay marriage while engaging in serial marriages of his own. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal ( placed third, after appealing strongly to homophobia during his primary election campaign.


Top photo: Chandler Bearden of Positive Impact’s MISTER Project was named the 2011 Best Male Activist by GA Voice readers (by Bo Shell)