In 1988, Richard Rhodes was elected as Georgia’s first openly gay delegate to the Democratic National Convention. He also received the most votes. When a woman came up to him and asked him what it was like to get the most votes, he told her, “They’re going to hear from the gay vote.”
Turns out that woman was a columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (at the time the staffs were combined but there were still separate printings of the Journal and the Constitution) who wrote a about what Rhodes said.
When Rhodes, now 75, went into work at the hotel Lanier Plaza on Monday, his boss told him, “You are in deep shit. They are very upset.”
“They” were the Harris Corp. out of Florida. Lanier Plaza was a subsidiary of a division of Harris Corp. and at the time a major player in the hotel industry. And someone had read the article in the Atlanta newspaper and saw that one of their employees was openly talking about being gay.
“I tried to stay out of everyone’s way for three days. I was in the accounting department and I know Georgia is a right to work state. I finally went to my boss and said, if they [Harris Corp.] decide to fire me, I intend to sue them. I said I realize I will lose, but it will be embarrassing for Harris Corp.,” Rhodes remembered.
And that was it. Nothing more was said and Rhodes worked there for five more years.
While mingling with Georgia elected officials at the convention held in Atlanta in 1988, Rhodes said he got the bug to also run for office.
“I thought, well, damned, I’m as smart as they are,” he said. So he put his hat in the race for the Georgia House of Representatives as an openly gay man — believed to be the first gay man to run for state elected office in the state — but in a crowd of 7, he finished fifth. He didn’t run for office again, but continues to remain politically involved.
Rhodes retired eight years ago as the purchasing director for the prestigious Capital City Club and today remains active in the community. He helped found the SAGE organization for older LGBT residents that meets regularly at the Phillip Rush Center. He is also an active member of St. Mark United Methodist Church.
His spirit and works in the community led the Atlanta Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce to reward him with a Lifetime Achievement Award at its gala tomorrow, Sept. 14, at its Community Awards.
“I was totally shocked,” Rhodes said when he heard he would be receiving the award.
“I never considered myself a leader, always a follower,” he said.
“I’ve always been in the background. But it goes to show you, if you live longer than anyone else you’ll win,” he added with a laugh.
The AGLCC Community Awards Dinner is Friday, Sept. 14, at the W Atlanta Midtown.
Guardian Angel Award Linda Ellis — executive director of The Health Initiative Glen Paul Freedman — board chair of Atlanta Pride Committee and Atlanta Police LGBT Advisory Committee Jeff Graham — executive director of Georgia Equality James Parker Sheffield — former director of Atlanta Pride Committee and now director of organizational development at The Health Initiative
Business Woman of the Year Marci Alt — founder of Carma Productions, the Gay Yellow Pages and Gayborhood App Karla Kreitner — owner of Kardon Events Sheila Merritt — vice president, business development at Q&A Events Barb Rowland — Realtor with Common Ground Real Estate
Business Man of the Year John Benthal — owner of Mission Motif Tyler Calkins — publisher of Fenuxe Magazine Rick Kern — managing director at MixIt Marketing Adam Rimes — CFO of Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus
Member of the Year Cleo Meyer — State Farm agent Lab Monkey Design — full-service creative agency owned by Jack Kinley, No Mas Cantina — Mexican restaurant Q&A Events — full-service event company
Top photo: Richard Rhodes enjoys regular card games at the Rush Center with other SAGE members, an organization for older LGBT residents that he helped found.