2021 was a big year for LGBTQ news in Atlanta and beyond. This year, LGBTQ people made history, Atlanta got a new mayor, and the city maintained its dedication to LGBTQ Atlantans. However, the year wasn’t all rosy: Pride was canceled, voting rights were attacked, and tragedy struck LGBTQ people and businesses.
Relive the highs and lows of 2021 by taking a walk down memory lane with the biggest stories of this year.
Pete Buttigieg was confirmed as the transportation secretary by the Senate, making him the first openly gay person to be confirmed to a Cabinet position. Buttigieg was approved with a 86-13 vote, according to NBC News. At 39 years old, he also makes history as the youngest transportation secretary.
“We need to build our economy back, better than ever, and the Department of Transportation can play a central role in this,” Buttigieg said during his confirmation hearing.
The Human Rights Campaign celebrated Buttigieg’s historic appointment.
“Congratulations to Secretary Pete Buttigieg on his historic confirmation,” HRC President Alphonso David said in a press release. “This confirmation breaks through a barrier that has existed for too long, where LGBTQ identity served as an impediment to nomination or confirmation at the highest level of government. Let this important moment for our movement serve as a reminder to every LGBTQ young person: you too can serve your country in any capacity you earn the qualifications to hold. President Biden promised to deliver an administration representative of the diversity of this nation, and this confirmation is a significant achievement toward that goal. I look forward to working with Secretary Pete Buttigieg and the entire Biden cabinet.”
Videos shared to social media showed Rep. Park Cannon being arrested by Georgia State Troopers at the Capitol after she demanded she see Governor Brian Kemp sign SB202, a bill enabling stricter voter suppression, into law.
The arrest came after Georgia state senate passed SB202. The bill included a shortened absentee ballot request timeline, new restrictions for drop box locations, and the criminalization of “line warming,” the practice of helping voters who waiting in line in severe weather conditions.
A video shared to Reddit showed Cannon requesting she be in the room while Kemp signed the bill into law. One onlooker can be heard saying, “The Governor is signing a bill that affects all Georgians. Why is he doing it in private, and why is he trying to keep elected officials who are representing us out of the process?”
Cannon then knocked on Kemp’s door and was arrested by Capitol police. Cannon was forcibly removed by police, while onlookers and other protestors repeatedly asked, “Why are you arresting her?”
Cannon announced via Twitter at 12:30am on March 26 that she had been released from jail, saying she was “not the first Georgian to be arrested for fighting suppression” and wouldn’t be the last. According to NBC News, she was bonded out of Fulton County Jail on a $6,000 signature bond.
According to police, Cannon was charged with two misdemeanors under state law: obstruction of law enforcement and preventing or disrupting General Assembly.
She released the following statement Friday morning:
“Voting is a constitutional right guaranteed to every person over the age of 18 born not only in Georgia but in every corner of the United States. To limit that right is to go against our Constitution and the ideals of the Founding Fathers that Conservative Georgians hold so dear. So, it confuses and concerns me that those same Conservative Lawmakers that are now fighting so hard to limit and suppress the voting rights of all Georgians, but specifically black and brown voters, a population of voters who have historically been disenfranchised in this state. SB202 will tighten voter ID requirements, a problem that already disproportionately affects black and brown voters, and will also restrict where, how, and when voters may return absentee ballots, a system used overwhelmingly by all Georgia voters this last year due to the COVID-19 crisis. I will not stand by while our voting rights are threatened across this state, the state I swore an oath to represent with integrity, honesty, and respect for the millions of people who live and work in this community. Thank you for all the love and support I’ve received, as [it] has come from all parts of Georgia, the US, and the world. I will continue to fight for the rights of Georgians from far and wide, but today I ask for privacy for myself and my family as I heal from this experience, so that I may continue this fight again.”
The National LGBT Media Association (NGMA), composed of the 12 largest LGBTQ publications in the nation including Georgia Voice, passed a resolution banning meeting in the state of Georgia.
The nation’s largest LGBTQ media association resolved to not hold any of its future meetings in the State of Georgia due to the recent passage of voter suppression laws which primarily affect communities of color.
“With these laws, it is now easier to get a gun in Georgia than to vote.” said Leo Cusimano, cochair of NGMA. NGMA and its members, which include members in Georgia, will be boycotting all future meetings in the state until it creates fair election laws that ensure all people have equal and fair access to vote.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced that she would not run for reelection via a letter posted to social media on May 6, then elaborated on her decision at a press conference on May 7.
“I wish I could tell you that there was a moment or there was a ‘thing,’ but when you have faith, and you pray for God’s wisdom and guidance in the same way that it is very clear to me almost five years ago that I should run for Mayor of Atlanta, it is abundantly clear to me today that it is time to pass the baton on to someone else,” Bottoms said during the press conference.
Bottoms came under scrutiny after the rise in crimes, especially homicides, in the city. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “authorities investigated 157 homicides last year, the most since 1996, and the violence remains unrelenting. Homicides are up roughly 60 percent from this time last year.” The most recent involved a shooting that left two dead, one of whom was a 15-year-old. Bottoms also came under fire for the handling of the police shooting of Rayshard Brooks in June 2020 in the parking lot of a Wendy’s.
Despite the city’s rising crime rate, Bottoms began her career on a high note and full of optimism. For the LGBTQ community, Bottoms was a supporter early on. In 2018, she appointed the city’s first LGBTQ Affairs Coordinator and formed an LGBTQ Advisory Board, both put in place to advise the mayor on LGBTQ issues. Bottoms’ leadership also caught the attention of now President Joe Biden when she supported him early on in the presidential election.
An openly gay Asian man was found bleeding from his head and barely breathing on train tracks in Buckhead. Joshua Dowd, 28, was rushed to Grady Hospital after he was found on train tracks near Piedmont and Lakeshore Drive by a man walking in the area. The man who called the police said there was no one else near the scene.
His partner of three-and-a-half years, Colin Kelly, told CBS 46 that Dowd was found in an area “he would [not] typically be in.” According to Kelly, Dowd went out with friends in Midtown on Saturday night before separating from the group.
In an update interview with Georgia Voice on December 5, Kelly said that Dowd has made “promising” progress: he is no longer in a coma, his memory is improving, and he continues to “elevate and gain a better understanding of the world around him.” On December 9, Dowd was discharged from the Shepherd Center and will continue his healing at their condo in Dunwoody while going to Shepherd’s outpatient program Pathways.
“We’re thrilled to have him home,” Kelly said. “For the first month-and-a-half at Shepherd, I could be the only person to hold and embrace him. Everyone else had to be more than six feet away. In mid-October his mom was able to come in because of reduced COVID-19 protocols. Finally, everyone that loves him will be able to give him a hug.”
As for the criminal case, Kelly said he believes “that we’re not going to get anything fruitful out of it.”
“Two or three days after it happened, they finally came and picked up his phone, and they’ve held it ever since,” he said. “I finally just got confirmation that they’re going to return his phone to us… They haven’t, between then and now, given any updates that led me to believe that they’re close to finding who did this.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has joined Atlanta police in the investigation surrounding the murder of Katie Janness, 40, and her dog in Piedmont Park, according to 11 Alive.
Janness, who was a member of Atlanta’s LGBTQ community and a bartender at the LGBTQ-owned Campagnolo, was found stabbed to death in the park on Wednesday (July 28) after walking her dog Bowie, who was also killed. According to the AJC, Janness was found by her partner of six years, Emma Clark, after she tracked her with her phone’s GPS.
“Today, I lost the love of my life and baby boy,” Clark said in a post shared to a GoFundMe page. “It was tragic. She was the most intelligent, kind, humble, and beautiful person I have ever known. I wanted to spend every second with her. [Bowie] was the sweetest, most loyal companion. My heart is so very broken, my world will never be the same.”
On September 20, the Piedmont Park Conservancy launched a new safety initiative in response to the murder. The Safe Haven Fund provides funding towards new safety initiatives for Piedmont Park, allowing the park to implement strategies recommended by the City of Atlanta and other public safety experts.
Only a week after a large fire damaged a bridge on Cheshire Bridge Road, a gay-owned restaurant in the area caught on fire. Las Margaritas, owned by Oscar Valdivieso and his mother Marta, was engulfed in flames.
A total of 30 firefighters put the fire out. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined, but an investigation is under way. Fire officials say that no injuries have been reported.
Michele Michael Pettis, the owner’s sister, told Channel 2 Action News that they have plans to rebuild and reopen the restaurant, but until they assess the damage, they won’t know how long it will take.
On August 17, the fire was determined by investigators to have been intentionally set. Fire investigators released surveillance photos of a person of interest who was seen near the restaurant at the time of the fire. Sgt. Cortez Stafford told the AJC that the person caught on camera, who has not yet been identified, “may have set this fire.”
August 25, 2021 Amid the exponential COVID-19 case growth in Georgia and the ongoing public health emergency, the Atlanta Pride Committee (APC) announced that they canceled the Atlanta Pride Festival and Parade scheduled for October 9-10, 2021.
The Board of Directors along with the Executive Director, Jamie Fergerson, consulted with Atlanta Pride Medical Directors, Dr. Jason Schneider, and Dr. Eliot Blum, as well as renowned and internationally respected public health expert Dr. Carlos del Rio, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, leaders of local hospital systems, and other public health officials. After these consultations a review of public health data and confirming the City of Atlanta’s moratorium on issuing Class ‘A’ permits, the organization made the decision to cancel the 2021 Atlanta Pride Festival and Parade.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has released their 2021 Municipal Equality Index (MEI), an annual report scoring cities across the U.S. on their dedication to LGBTQ equality.
This year, 506 cities were scored on five areas: non-discrimination laws, municipality as employer, municipal services, law enforcement, and leadership on LGBTQ equality. 110 of the cities scored a perfect score of 100, including Atlanta.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms celebrated the perfect score in a statement posted to Facebook.
“Our Administration has made it a priority to ensure Atlanta is a more equitable and inclusive city for our LGBTQ community,” she said. “Thank you to HRC for recognizing our efforts, and thank you to our City officials, LGBTQ Advisory Board, and partners for their counsel and support in moving equality forward for LGBTQ Atlantans.
Atlanta technically received a score of 112, receiving a perfect standard score as well as 12 bonus “flex points” for having all-gender single occupancy facilities; city employee domestic partner benefits; youth bullying prevention policy for city services; services for/support of LGBTQ youth, people with HIV/AIDS, and the transgender community; and openly LGBTQ elected or appointed municipal leaders. This makes 2021 not only the 9th year in a row Atlanta has received a perfect score, but also its highest score yet.
Other cities in Georgia didn’t fare as well. Decatur received an 86, Savannah scored an 80, Athens-Clarke County received a 68, Columbus scored a 58, Sandy Springs received a 33, Augusta-Richmond County received a 28, Avondale Estates received an 18, North Druid Hills received a 7, and Roswell received a 5.
Following the runoff election in Atlanta, several LGBTQ and allied candidates won their races.
Winning 63.7 percent of the vote, Andre Dickens will replace Keisha Lance Bottoms as Mayor of Atlanta. Dickens was elected in 2013 to the Post 3 at-large seat on the Atlanta City Council.
Liliana Bakhtiari won her runoff election for a seat on the City Council representing District 5 with 68 percent of the vote according to 11 Alive. With her win, she has become the first LGBTQ Muslim to be elected to office in Georgia.
Keisha Waites won her runoff for the Post 3 at-large seat on the City Council with 53 percent of the vote. With Alex Wan, who won his election to represent District 6 on Election Day, there are now three LGBTQ councilmembers – the most to ever serve on the Atlanta City Council at the same time.
Khalid Kamau made history by defeating incumbent Bill Edwards for Mayor of South Fulton with 59 percent of the vote, making him the city’s first LGBTQ mayor and the sixth in Georgia.