A group of some 30 activists gathered at My Sisters' Room on Feb. 28 to air their frustrations about what they wish to see happening in Atlanta's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
Organized by MSR owners and wife-wife team Susan Musselwhite and Patryce Yeiser along with party promoter and singer Barry Brandon, the forum's topics included racism and segregation, transgender people being left out, and the need for LGBT groups to collaborate with other groups at all times — not just when something is needed.
"I've been involved in Atlanta's LGBT community a long time and what I see is we are resource rich and collaboration poor," said Imani Evans, founder and executive director of Women Healing Women, a nonprofit that provides services to survivors of domestic and sexual abuse.
Atlanta LGBT forum touches on racism, collaboration
“We should become ambassadors. Change is intentional. So be an ambassador to other people’s programs — not when you want something,” she said.
Musselwhite and Yeiser said they wanted to offer their bar as a venue for the town hall because the lesbian bar typically attracts a younger crowd which is not as familiar with LGBT organizations and what they can do to help fight for equality.
“I’m 48 and have been [operating a bar] for 14 years and I see all the time how the younger generation needs to be educated,” Musselwhite said.
She added that the venue also wants to get back to helping non-profits more as it has in the past by holding fundraisers and also listing on its website organizations it supports.
Barry Brandon, who organized the party Bedlam at MSR for several months but is now going to different venues with the party, said he was struck by how segregated Atlanta is.
“I was born in south Florida and lived in New York for a couple years. I have never lived or visited a city that is so segregated. Why is that? I don’t understand the mentality. How can we change that?” he asked. “You have Gay Pride, Black Pride, Latino Pride.”
Lorraine Fontana, a longtime LGBT activist, said there is no such thing as reverse racism and that white people need to educate themselves on such issues as racism.
Evans said the argument about having a Gay Pride and Black Gay Pride in Atlanta has been going on “ad nauseum” for years.
“We do [have Black Gay Pride] because we still exist. We will do it as long as the need exists,” she said. “There are some times we need to talk to each other without you. Women need talk to women. Men need talk to men. White folks need to talk to other white folks. That’s just way it is. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it is also critical to come out of comfort zones. There is no sign saying only black people are allowed at Black Gay Pride.”
Blake Alford, president of the board of directors for the Southern Comfort Conference, the nation’s largest transgender conference, said he and other transgender people are still trying to find a way to fit in with the LGB community in Atlanta.
“We do want to become a part of your family. I transitioned at 56. Trans people and people of color have more in common. But we all do not communicate. I made a promise when I transitioned to not to go back into the closet and not be ashamed again. This bullshit of fighting separately ain’t working,” Alford said.
Activist Angel Serra said it is time everyone realized we are all connected to each other.
“We have to start treating ourselves like a family, a tribe, a village. We need to reach out to elders, our youth, and collaborate. And we need a space to do those things,” he said.
Events like MondoHomo, a queer arts and music fest held each year over Memorial Day weekend, are also meant to bring people of all backgrounds together, said Kiki Carr, a founder of the event.
Those attending the meeting said there should be more discussions in the future. MSR is already planning to have a monthly party to benefit a local nonprofit group.