Atlanta LGBT Civil Rights March participants urged to play role in upcoming elections

“[Georgia] is about to have the most conservative state legislature in the country — [Republicans] are about to have a 120 constitutional majority which means they don’t need Democrats to vote,” said state Rep. Simone Bell (D-Atlanta), who is up for re-election this year.

She urged gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people who live in Cobb County, southwest Atlanta, Bainbridge and other rural areas of the state to reach out to their state representative “and let them know you exist.”

“We also have allies, those who see us a whole people,” Bell said. “We have to keep a certain elevated standard so people take us seriously. And on July 31, question [your state representative] about your rights and how they feel about you and then go out to the polls and make it known.”

Georgia has four openly gay state representatives, all Democrats: Bell, Karla Drenner, Rashad Taylor and Keisha Waites. Last week, longtime LGBT advocate and political strategist Ken Britt announced he was running for the District 56 seat.

Danny Ingram, the national president of American Veterans for Equal Rights, gave a stirring speech that had the crowd clapping and cheering as he held up his pocket-sized U.S. Constitution and said all people, including LGBT people, deserve the rights afforded in the document.

“If you hear people say I love my county, then you pull out this document and you say this is your country, this is the definition of the United States of America and this tells what you are to be about when you serve the people of the United States of America,” Ingram said.

“What does [the Constitution] say about lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender rights? It says the same thing as it says about women’s rights and the same thing it says about African American rights. It says that everyone is equal,” Ingram added to cheers and applause.

Tracee McDaniel, a transgender activist and founder and CEO of the Juxtaposed Center for Transformation, said transgender people cannot be forgotten.

“We’re not asking for special treatment or any special handouts but we unapologetically insist upon fairness and equality based upon our humanity,” she said.

Also speaking was Brit Prince, a member of the newly organized JustUsATL youth group.

“I stand before you as a humble sample of Georgia’s queer youth. The attack on civil rights doesn’t recognize differences in age,” Prince said.

The world is in crisis when the leaders in Washington, D.C., are fearful of giving LGBT their rights because of political backlash,” said gay activist Devin Barrington Ward.

Ward also brought up the Feb. 4 attack on Brandon White, a black gay man. White was attacked by a group of gang members as he stepped outside a convenience store in southwest Atlanta and who repeatedly called White “faggot.”

Ward, who faced heat from some in the LGBT communities for saying White was a liar because he said he did not know his attackers, brought the issue up again at the rally, saying, “Whether [White] knew his attackers are not, a crime was committed and he deserves justice.”

Ward then went on to say that the men attacked White because they feared being “outed” as gay and were willing to commit a felony by assaulting White and risk the rest of their lives simply because they were afraid of the stigma associated with being gay.

White has consistently said he did not know his attackers. The attack is currently being investigated as a possible hate crime by federal and local authorities.

Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, wrapped up the list of speakers to stress that LGBT people cannot take on a victim mentality. If people do, then you have let the oppressors win.

Dusty Wenk, organizer of the march and rally, said she was thrilled with how the event went.

“The speeches were very powerful. The people have been motivated,” she said.

Athens, Ga., also held a march that attracted some 75 people.

Top photo: Leading the Atlanta LGBT Civil Rights March on Saturday were,from left, Dusty Wenk, march and rally organizer; Pastor Paul Turner of Gentle Spirit Christian Church; and transgender activist Tracee McDaniel. (by Dyana Bagby)