Atlanta LGBT pioneers to be honored at inaugural event

The Atlanta Pride Committee today announced a new annual event to honor the city’s LGBT trailblazers. The inaugural event, Our Founding Valentines: Celebrating Our Pioneers, is in partnership with Touching Up Our Roots and will take place Thursday, Feb. 12 at No Mas! Cantina.

The first group of elders to be honored at the inaugural event will be Franklin Abbott, Berl Boykin, Mary Louise Covington, Diamond Lil, Maria Helena Dolan and Reverend Erin Swenson.

“We wanted to honor the people who came before us to help create such a vibrant, thriving and diverse community in Atlanta,” said Atlanta Pride Committee Executive Director Buck Cooke in a press release. “These folks were organizing marches, participating in demonstrations, and creating LGBTQ culture in our city when it was truly radical and revolutionary and, in many ways, unsafe because of the opposition they faced from the establishment.”

Dave Hayward of Touching Up Our Roots says, “Sharing our stories and recognizing our pioneers makes us realize how far we’ve come.  It’s amazing to me that we started out marching on the sidewalks for our first Pride in 1971 – and ‘the city too busy to hate’ refusing us a permit to march –  and now Atlanta Pride completely takes over Midtown for a weekend.”

Informational panels will be displayed during the event so that people can learn more about each of the honorees. See biographies of each of the honorees below courtesy of Dave Hayward at Touching Up Our Roots.


Psychotherapist Franklin Abbott is one of the founders of the south’s Radical Faeries. As a writer and a poet, he evokes the subject-subject consciousness of the Faeries, as an alternative to the physical objectification of many gay men in gay male culture.

Also a founder of Gay Spirit Visions, Franklin has published three anthologies on men and gender and two books of poetry, and co-founded the Atlanta Queer Literary Festival. Many lgbt writers owe their recognition to Franklin, who hosts numerous public readings and events.


Present at the creation of the Georgia Gay Liberation Front in August 1969, Berl Boykin is one of our first activists, and the first openly gay playwright in Georgia. Newly emboldened by the Stonewall riots six weeks before, lgbt people organized the GGLF when the Atlanta police raided a screening of Andy Warhol’s “Lonesome Cowboys”, and interrogated and photographed everyone in the audience.

Serving as a marshal for Atlanta’s first Pride March in 1971, Berl shepherded the 125 marchers down the sidewalks when the city refused the GLF a permit to march. Then on July 14, 1971, Berl and the late Bill Smith and the late Klaus

Smith lobbied Governor Jimmy Carter to come out for lgbt rights legislation – to a chorus of Carter’s resounding “Nos!” It must be noted that President Carter has since come around.


Lifelong disturber of the universe Mary Louise Covington is a native New Yorker, Native American, and African American radical activist. Long immersed in the New Left, Mary Louise and her comrades carried food – and clothing – to the protestors jailed the night of the riots at the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969. “New York’s finest” especially humiliated the drag queens and cross dressers by stripping them naked and throwing them in the cells.

As a lesbian mother of three daughters, Mary Louise helped organize one of the first lesbian mothers groups, Dykes and Tykes. For many years, she also worked closely alongside human rights icon Attorney William Kunstler, subject of the documentary “Disturbing The Universe.”


Maria Helena Dolan is a primal force in expanding Atlanta Pride from the mid-1970s on. For many years in rallies right before the Pride marches, Maria’s fiery rhetoric galvanized our community to hit the streets to proclaim our human and civil rights.

At the 1978 Anita Bryant protest at the Southern Baptist Convention at the World Congress Center,

Maria set off pandemonium when she declared “I come to you today as a defiant dyke!”, and her speech was picked up by media worldwide.

Of all her acts of civil disobedience, Maria is especially proud of “dying” on the steps of the Supreme Court in October 1987, the day after the second National March on Washington for LGBT Rights. She and the late Ray Kluka and scores of others laid their bodies down to protest the Court upholding USA sodomy statutes in the 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick case, finally reversed in 2003.

Maria is a widely published author and columnist who embraces her Italian, Irish and Latina heritage.


Diamond Lil brings female impersonation to new heights, singing and song writing and recording in her own voice. First performing on Savannah radio in the 1940s as a little boy, in the 1950s Diamond entertained the sailors “who would throw me in the air” as she sang and danced on the ships docked in Savannah’s harbor.

Threatened with long term jail time for numerous harassment arrests, Diamond settled in Atlanta in the 1960s and became a major cultural influence, inspiring musicians like Ru Paul, Fred Schneider and the B-52s, and singer Jayne County (and perhaps ever Michael Stipe and REM).

Headlining many benefits for lgbt causes, Diamond especially helped the University of Georgia’s first lgbt student group, the Committee on Gay Education, survive in the 1970s, when she performed torch songs like “Stand By Your Man” to thunderous applause at benefits. Ultimately after long court fights, the UGA gave up on throwing the COGE off campus.


Reverend Erin Swenson is the first minister in a mainstream denomination to stay a minister, when she retained her ordination with the Presbyterian church despite protests that “this would be the first time in Christendom” that such an action would be taken.

For many years a licensed psychotherapist and counselor and chaplain, Reverend Swenson became known for her innovative work with couples on the verge of divorce, when “there can be major breakthroughs.” Currently she specializes in the area of transgender diversity in the workplace and helps companies adapt to transgender concerns.

A participant in the Human Rights Campaign’s Clergy Call on Capitol Hill, Erin serves on the Religion Council for the Human Rights Campaign, headquartered in Washington, D.C.

Our Founding Valentines: Celebrating Our Pioneers
Thursday, Feb. 12 from 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
No Mas! Cantina
Atlanta Pride will accept donations to help defray event costs.