2017 In Memoriam

2017 In Memoriam: Georgia’s LGBT community lost activists, artists, valued everyday citizens

There has been an overwhelming frequency of homicides against transgender Americans in 2017, with an average of more than two murders per month nationally. Unfortunately, Georgia was at the forefront of this alarming epidemic, both in terms of numbers and the diversity of threats, with four transgender residents killed by strangers, intimate partners and law enforcement.

The year also saw the passing of groundbreaking local LGBT politicians and artists, gracious philanthropists and longtime nemeses. Here are a few of the notable deaths of 2017:

Bishop Eddie LongBishop Eddie Long

Bishop Eddie Long, who led 25,000 followers through Atlanta in a march against same-sex marriage in 2004, and a few years later settled lawsuits from several young men who accused him of romantically grooming them as minors, died Jan. 15 after a sudden battle against what New Birth Missionary Baptist Church officials described as “an aggressive form of cancer.”

Long had largely receded from public life after the sex scandal until he appeared in an online video, looking gaunt and frail, a few months before his death.

Joan GarnerJoan Garner

Joan Garner deployed the same grit and optimism that resulted in her being the first openly LGBT politician elected to the Fulton County Commission in 2010 in her battle against breast cancer, which she succumbed to April 18. A longtime activist for LGBT equality, Garner was also a powerhouse for progressive causes, and her death was mourned by many Democratic politicians.

Garner is survived by her wife, Fulton County State Court Judge Jane Morrison.

Rowan Feldhaus, Lambda Legal client.Rowan Feldhaus

Augusta resident Rowan Feldhaus sought to change his legal name via a routine court process in 2016, but was denied the name change by a transphobic judge. Along with the help of Lambda Legal, Feldhaus appealed the judge’s denial, and in January the Georgia Court of Appeals unanimously reversed the lower court’s order.

On May 16, Feldhaus underwent surgery related to his transition, and died after going into shock and losing oxygen to his brain.

Earl English

Earl English had a larger-than-life charisma, which made it all the harder for his friends, family and co-workers to understand why his life would end as brutally as it did May 16. DeKalb County police found the 28-year-old gay man inside his home with a plastic bag over his head and gunshot wound in his arm. Police ruled English’s death a homicide, but as of October had made no progress in identifying any suspects.

“He was the type of person if you knew him you loved him,” English’s friend, Tubyous Hawes told the AJC.

Ava Le'Ray BarrinAva Le’Ray Barrin

Athens resident Ava Le’Ray Barrin was shot to death on June 25 when an argument between two groups of transgender friends escalated into gunfire.

“I remember a girl who loved to make people laugh,” one of Barrin’s friends wrote in an online obituary. “A girl who gave me the strength and the courage to find myself … and will remain my beautiful angel.”

Tee Tee Dangerfield Tee Tee Dangerfield

Transgender East Point resident Tee Tee Dangerfield, 32, was shot and killed in her car July 31, and police have arrested a suspect they say was captured on surveillance cameras with Dangerfield just before her murder.

Dangerfield was remembered as a skilled server and union shop steward, whose airport co-workers organized one of two local memorial services.

Rebecca RansonRebecca Ranson

In 1984, the groundbreaking Atlanta lesbian playwright Rebecca Ranson wrote “Warren,” one of the first plays to deal with the then-nascent AIDS crisis, with a portion of the proceeds supporting urgently needed research.

“Her writing always included this honest effort to fight for people and their humanity and voices, not just the LGBT community,” 7 Stages’ artistic director Heidi Howard told artsatl.com after Ranson died from Alzheimer’s disease Sept. 4.

Scout Schultz

On Sept. 16, Georgia Tech police received calls of a person on campus with a weapon, and soon four officers were surrounding senior Scout Schultz, ordering them to put down a multipurpose tool that included a small knife. Schultz, who identified as bisexual and nonbinary and served as president of the university’s Pride Alliance organization, reportedly refused to drop the tool, while telling the officers, “Shoot me.”

Video footage from that night shows Schultz, who had previously attempted suicide, slowly advancing in the direction of one of the officers before being shot and killed by police. Schultz’s family and peers have described their death as “suicide-by-cop,” and an illustration of the need for more mental health resources for Tech students.

Candace TownsCandace Towns

Candace Towns’s plans to meet her friend Malaysa Monroe fell through on Oct. 28, and three days later Bibb County police found Towns’s body, the transgender Macon resident having been shot and killed.

“If I needed anything she would give it to me,” Monroe told the Macon Telegraph. “She would give me the clothes off her back.”

Antron-Reshaud OlukayodeAntron-Reshaud Olukayode

“I just want to be able to fight in a very creative way, that I can leave my mark on here,” Atlanta resident Antron-Reshaud Olukayode told TheBody.com about living with HIV. “When I do leave — and say that I fought the good fight, and I left some color for the world.”

The poet, painter and self-described “artivist” departed this world Nov. 12, having decorated it with his bright aura.

Pamm BurdettPamm Burdett

Pamm Burdett did her best to keep good deeds under the radar, but those familiar with her work on behalf of the Lloyd E. Russell Foundation knew Burdett’s generosity and commitment to LGBT Atlanta were boundless.

She helped fund the early days of Georgia Voice, was instrumental in the creation of The Phillip Rush Center and aided countless causes and individuals throughout LGBT Atlanta. Burdett died Nov. 17 after an extended illness.