Top local news of 2012: Atlanta backs marriage

When the resolution came to Mayor Kasim Reed’s desk for a signature Dec. 11, he not only signed it but came out publicly in support of gay marriage, reversing his earlier position of only supporting civil unions. His announcement also put to rest the issue he said he had been “wrestling” with for some time.

Reed met with LGBT activists in June to specifically discuss his position on marriage equality but was not quite ready to say “I do.” In a statement released on Dec. 11, Reed said he evolved on marriage equality after discussing the issue with close friends and family.

“Loving couples, regardless of their sexual orientation, should have the right to marry whomever they want,” he said.

For more on Reed’s announcement, please see Page 23.

With the council and the mayor backing marriage equality, the Atlanta Police Department followed in step on Dec. 12 by releasing an “It Gets Better” video to help LGBT youth. The video features 23 openly gay and lesbian officers.

Atlanta still had its bumps along the way in 2012, however. The city finally settled a lawsuit for $250,000 on Oct. 15 with a man who sued the city after he alleged he was denied a job with the APD because he is HIV positive.

Atlanta scored 82 out of 100 on LGBT issues in the Municipal Equality Index released by the Human Rights Campaign on Nov. 27. The city received 4 out of 8 possible points for the city’s “relationship with the LGBT community,” scoring 3/5 for the city leadership’s public position on LGBT equality and 1/3 for local pro-equality legislative or policy efforts.

Anti-gay attack on Brandon White goes viral

When Brandon White, an openly gay man, was viciously attacked on Feb. 4 in the Pittsburgh community of southwest Atlanta as his assailants yelled “faggot,” he had no idea his face would be splashed nationally across TVs and newspapers after the attackers uploaded a video of the beating to a popular hip hop website.

State lawmakers renewed efforts for a state hate crime law that fizzled again in the last days of the legislative session. The three men charged in the attack were sentenced to five years in prison in July and called the “ultimate bullies” by Fulton Superior Court Judge Jackson Bedford.

A group of LGBT activists sought to have the defendants serve probation rather than prison time in hopes of trying to curb LGBT violence without resorting to sending more people to prison.  White said he did not support their actions.

Outwrite Bookstore and Coffeehouse

Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse closes

Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse, the shop that became an unofficial community center for LGBT Atlanta, closed Jan. 26 and filed for bankruptcy.

Outwrite owner Philip Rafshoon announced in November 2011 that Outwrite would have to move from the corner of 10th Street and Piedmont Avenue because its rent was too high. He told the public that the plan was to find a cheaper location and started a “Save Outwrite Books” campaign soliciting donations for moving costs.
After filing for bankruptcy and citing total debts of more than $500,000, Rafshoon returned donations.

The closure of Outwrite, founed in 1993, left a void in Atlanta’s literary and LGBT communities. Gay variety store Brushstrokes tried to fill the gap by hosting a few readings at gay bar Mixx, while lesbian-owned feminist bookstore Charis Books & More continues a full schedule of events.

By year’s end, restaurateurs and brothers Sean and Gilbert Yeremyan, owners of neighboring Gilbert’s Café, had expanded next door to open 10th and Piedmont in the former Outwrite space.

Rafshoon to is moving on to new challenges: In January, he starts a new position as programming director for the AJC Decatur Book Festival.

Lesbians win, gay men lose in State House races

This year’s elections increased open lesbians in the Georgia General Assembly to three, but brought the number of openly gay men back to zero.

The Georgia General Assembly gained a third openly lesbian member in February, when Democrat Keisha Waites won a special election to represent House District 60.

With all seats in the Georgia legislature up for election in 2012, Waites had to face voters again in the July primaries, where she handily won over three challengers.
Rep. Karla Drenner, Georgia’s first openly gay state legislator, was unopposed for reelection in House District 86.

Rep. Simone Bell, the first openly lesbian African-American state legislator in the nation, came out on top in the Democratic primary for State House District 58 after facing Rep. Ralph Long.

The two Democratic incumbents faced off in the primary after Republican redistricting drew them into the same district. Bell then beat Republican challenger Earl Cooper in November.

Gay male candidates were less successful. The only openly gay man in the state House, Rep. Rashad Taylor, came out as gay last year while serving in the General Assembly. Taylor lost his reelection bid in House District 57 to Rep. Pat Gardner, a Democratic incumbent with a history of supporting LGBT rights — another victim of GOP redistricting.

Longtime gay political advocate Ken Britt hoped to be the first openly gay man elected to the state House, but fell short in the July primary in his bid to represent Atlanta’s House District 56.

Three other openly gay hopefuls ― state House District 101 candidate Tim Swiney in Gwinnett County, state House District 59 candidate William Phelps and Senate District 47 candidate Tim Riley in Athens ― were also unsuccessful in 2012.

But in another potentially historic race, attorney Jane Morrison proved successful in her bid for a seat on the Fulton County State Court, making her one of the first openly gay judges in Georgia and the Southeast.

YouthPride falters; LGBT youth organize

The call went out in January that if YouthPride did not raise some $40,000, the youth LGBT nonprofit would be forced to close its doors, according to Terence McPhaul, the executive director.

After the public plea for funds, it was discovered YouthPride did not have a five-member board of directors in violation of its bylaws and that a full board had not met since December 2010.

A volunteer independent task force investigated the financial and leadership struggles of YouthPride and determined the agency was deep in debt. United Pride withheld designated donor funds for two weeks in April while it investigated donor complaints.

YouthPride was forced to move from its location on Edgewood Avenue after its landlord, Inman Park United Methodist Church, sued to have the organization evicted for not paying rent for more than a year. YouthPride paid $28,000 as part of its settlement with the church and moved out on June 1. The organization reopened in the Ashview Heights area of Atlanta on June 21.

The organization currently only has three members listed as board members — Theresa Willis, Tracee McDaniel and Jordan Myers. A post on its website states YouthPride had 4,126 visits during 2012 and that “22 suicides have been prevented.”

Willis and McPhaul continue to refuse interview requests; McPhaul has punted requests to Willis, who said this week she will give an interview in February 2013.

As YouthPride seemed to be destructing at a rapid pace, several LGBT youth and former members of YouthPride decided it was time to form a youth-led organization as an option and started JustUs ATL. The organization is entirely youth-led and began by holding a town hall meeting on March 31 and shortly afterward became an official nonprofit.

The group holds regular discussion groups at Positive Impact and raised enough funds to have a booth in this year’s Atlanta Pride fest.

Anti-gay Chick-fil-A sparks national news

Chick-fil-A didn’t start opposing gay marriage and supporting anti-gay groups in 2012, but the Atlanta-based fast food chain’s stands made news this year like never before.

It started in July, when Chick-fil-A Dan Cathy bragged to a Christian media outlet that the chain was “guilty as charged” for opposing gay marriage.

Mike Huckabee, the failed GOP presidential candidate turned conservative commentator, responded with “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” Aug. 1. LGBT people then held their own national counter-protests, ranging from kiss-ins at Chick-fil-A restaurants (Aug. 3) to a day of support for Starbucks and other gay-friendly corporations (Aug. 7), and even a day dedicating to backing locally owned “gay-loving” businesses instead (Aug. 8).

Students at Atlanta’s Emory University also protested Chick-fil-A’s presence in a campus food court. In late August, members of Emory’s LGBT alumni group GALA sent letters opposing the relationship and students began posting flyers in protest.

In October, leaders from seven student LGBT groups sent a letter to Emory administrators decrying the ongoing presence of Chick-fil-A, and in December, the full Student Government Association voted to denounce the chain as a campus vendor.

University officials, however, have not taken any public steps to end the relationship.

Big changes for Atlanta Pride, Black Gay Pride

Georgia’s two largest Pride festivals cited big changes in 2012 as each drew tens of thousands of happy (and gay!) revelers.

Atlanta Pride saw a change in leadership as James Sheffield stepped down in February for a new role with the Health Initiative, which works on LGBT wellness issues. The Pride board appointed Buck Cooke, a longtime Pride volunteer and former co-chair of the entertainment committee, as interim executive director.

October’s festival drew rave reviews from the Pride board, which pronounced it one of the largest ever as crowds packed Piedmont Park for headliners including Amy Ray, Andy Bell of Erasure and Rita Ora. In November, the Pride board surprised exactly no one by announcing — after accepting resumes for two weeks — it had hired Cooke as the permanent executive director.

Atlanta’s Black Gay Pride, billed as the largest such celebration in the world, drew its usual throngs over Labor Day Weekend, but with a new event to bring everyone together on Sunday in Piedmont Park.

Sponsored by Traxx Girls and the Vision Community Foundation, the festival drew thousands who enjoyed vendors and free live entertainment, including gospel singing, a hair competition, a J-Sette competition, headliner KeKe Wyatt and more.

Leadership changes at AID Atlanta

AID Atlanta, the Southeast’s oldest and largest HIV organization, turned 30 this year, while also undergoing a shift in top leadership.

Tracy Elliott resigned as executive director of AID Atlanta in June after serving five years at the helm. At the time, the board announced Elliot’s position would be filled by the AID Atlanta leadership team until a new executive director was hired.

Shortly after Elliot’s resignation, however, Jon Santos, the development director and a member of that leadership team, also resigned to take a position with Jerusalem House.

At the end of November, AID Atlanta announced it had hired lesbian politico Cathy Woolard as interim executive director.

Woolard became Georgia’s first openly gay elected official when she won the District 6 seat on the Atlanta City Council in 1997; four years later, she was elected as the first woman and first openly gay person to serve as City Council president. She ran for Congress in 2004, losing to Cynthia McKinney.

Her nonprofit experience includes work with HRC, lobbying for Georgia Equality and serving as Executive Vice President for Global Advocacy and External Relations for CARE.


Top photo: Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed signs a marriage equality resolution introduced by City Councilmember Alex Wan (left), who is gay. (by Sonji Jacobs)