From an historic LGBTQ win by Kim Jackson to lesbian police chief Erica Shields stepping down from her position, 2020 was a news-making year for LGBTQ Georgians. Take a walk down memory lane with us as we reminisce on the biggest local news stories of 2020.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ office and the City of Atlanta launched the city’s first-ever biennial report on LGBTQ affairs, detailing the city’s accomplishments, LGBTQ-related priorities over the past two years, and funds allocated towards the LGBTQ community over the past two years.
The month-by-month review listed a number of huge accomplishments, including Mayor Bottoms establishing the first-ever Mayor’s Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in January 2018; naming Malik Brown as Atlanta’s first LGBTQ Affairs Coordinator in March 2018; hosting the first citywide recognition of the Stonewall Inn riots in June 2018; and sitting down for an interview with the Georgia Voice in April 2019 to discuss her plans to combat HIV/AIDS in Atlanta.
These achievements stem from the Mayor’s LGBTQ Advisory Board focus on five priority pillars related to the LGBTQ community. These pillars, as detailed in the report, are LGBTQ youth; LGBTQ arts, entertainment, and culture; trans affairs; LGBTQ health; and LGBTQ economic and community development.
Gov. Brian Kemp Releases Coronavirus Reopening Plan
April 21, 2020
Governor Brian Kemp announced that several businesses would be allowed to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, body art studios, barbers, cosmetologists, hair designers, nail care artists, estheticians and their respective schools, and massage therapists were allowed to reopen on Friday, April 24 “due to favorable data and more testing,” Kemp said.
Additionally, movie theaters, private social clubs, and dine-in restaurants were allowed to reopen on Monday, April 27. These businesses will remain subject to social distancing and sanitation mandates, however. Bars, nightclubs, amusement parks, and live performance venues will remain closed.
The decision garnered ample criticism against Kemp. “Georgia is already lagging behind on testing and our health care providers don’t have enough [Personal Protective Equipment] because Kemp has failed again and again at handling this crisis,” the Georgia Democrats tweeted. “Today’s choice will endanger more Georgians’ lives.”
Out Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields Resigns Following Police Shooting of Rayshard Brooks
June 14, 2020
Out lesbian Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields resigned from her position following the police killing of Rayshard Brooks in Downtown Atlanta.
Brooks, a 27-year-old Black man, was shot and killed by police on June 13 after falling asleep at the wheel in a Wendy’s drive-thru. After failing a field sobriety test, officers attempted to place him in custody. According to the director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Vic Reynolds, Brooks then ran away “four, five, six, seven parking spaces” before turning around and pointing a Taser at the officer. “At that point the officer retrieves his weapon from his holster and discharges it, striking Brooks,” Reynolds said.
“Chief Erica Shields has been a solid member of APD for over two decades and has a deep and abiding love for the people of Atlanta,” Bottoms said in a statement. “And because of her desire that Atlanta be a model of what meaningful reform should look like across this country Chief Shields has offered to immediately step aside as Police Chief so that the city may move forward with urgency and rebuilding the trust so desperately needed throughout our communities.”
“For more than two decades, I have served alongside some of the finest men and women in the Atlanta Police Department,” Shields said in a statement following her resignation. “Out of a deep and abiding love for this City and this department, I offered to step aside as police chief. APD has my full support, and Mayor Bottoms has my support on the future direction of this department. I have faith in the Mayor, and it is time for the city to move forward and build trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”
Advocates Say Georgia’s New Hate Crimes Law is Tainted by Police Protection Bill
June 30, 2020
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed a landmark hate crimes bill into law, which includes language protecting LGBTQ victims.
HB426, which was passed by the Georgia legislature last on Jun 23, mandates enhanced sentencing for people convicted of targeting a victim due to their “actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability, or physical disability,” The law went into effect on July 1.
Prior to the bill’s passage, Georgia was one of only four states without a hate crimes law, along with South Carolina, Wyoming, and Arkansas.
The bill comes after the murder of Ahmaud Arbery by two white men in Brunswick, as well as the murder of Rayshard Brooks by Atlanta police. However, according to a statement released by the Georgia NAACP, an additional bill was passed in the same legislative package as HB426 that creates enhanced penalties for people who allegedly target law enforcement and first responders for their employment status.
The NAACP said the police protection measure would “further create a toxic divide in our state while further fueling the criminalization and violence against Black people.” Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, also stands in opposition to the inclusion.
“Though we stand in full support of all law enforcement, we believe that HB838 is more dangerous to our community than HB426 is good,” Cooper-Jones said. “To see the legislature prioritize HB838 instead of repealing citizen’s arrest is heartbreaking and does not do justice for my son.”
Coronavirus Pandemic Moves Atlanta Pride 2020 Online
July 1, 2020
The Atlanta Pride Committee announced that the 2020 Pride Festival, originally scheduled for October 10 and 11, would not be held in person due to the coronavirus pandemic. The in-person festival, one of the largest in the Southeast, moved online with virtual programming centered around the scheduled dates in October.
“We regret to announce that we will not be able to hold the 2020 Pride Festival in person, due to the ongoing pandemic,” said Jamie Fergerson, the executive director of the Atlanta Pride Committee. “The health and wellbeing of our community is always our top priority, especially for the most marginalized in our community including queer and transgender folks who we know are less likely to have access to safe and competent primary care, LGBTQ elders, those living with HIV, cancer, or immunodeficiencies who are at increased risk. This was the main factor in our decision.”
“By moving the Atlanta Pride Festival online, we will ensure that LGBTQ people can still experience the joy and togetherness of our 50th Annual Pride Festival, and we hope to welcome new people to take part in wherever they are,” Fergerson continued. “We will continue to develop online programs throughout the year, culminating in our first virtual Pride Festival to bring us together to celebrate.”
LGBTQ Ally and Civil Rights Hero Rep. John Lewis Dies at 80
July 18, 2020
Civil rights hero and staunch LGBTQ ally John Lewis died at the age of 80 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
Lewis, who served 17 terms in Congress as a Democratic Representative of Atlanta, was born to sharecroppers in Troy, Alabama in the ’40s. He was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and helped organize the March on Washington, the civil rights march where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. Lewis was the last survivor of the “Big Six,” a group of history-making civil rights activists led by Dr. King.
In his later years, Lewis cosponsored and advocated for a number of LGBTQ rights bills, including the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, Respect for Marriage Act, and the Early Treatment for HIV Act.
Savannah Church is First in the Country to Leave the Methodist Denomination over LGBTQ Issues
September 5, 2020
A church in Savannah, Georgia, became the first in the country to officially disaffiliate itself from the United Methodist Church over LGBTQ rights.
The new Asbury Memorial Church (formerly Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church) is now nondenominational. The disaffiliation came after a vote by the congregation back in September 2019, where 309 members voted in favor of leaving the denomination, widely defeating the seven members in opposition.
The South Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church voted to officially allow the disaffiliation of Asbury from the denomination in a virtual meeting on August 15.
The church has been long known to be a safe space for LGBTQ folks. Rev. Billy Hester came to Asbury in 1993 to breathe new life into the church and consequently solidify the church as being LGBTQ-friendly by introducing theater. Asbury began blocking, staging, and performing dozens of religious musicals, including the popular “God on Broadway” show, with auditions open to the Savannah community.
“A lot of those folks were gay, and so most of them didn’t have a church home,” Hester told USA Today. “So, when these people came to do the shows, they started singing in the choir and things like that, so we became known as a very safe place for people to land. That’s how it started growing.”
Kim Jackson Becomes First LGBTQ State Senator in Georgia
November 4, 2020
Rev. Kim Jackson won her election, making history as Georgia’s first ever openly LGBTQ State Senator. Jackson, who represents District 41, took home the victory in a landslide, winning 79 percent of the votes and beating out her Republican opponent William Freeman, who won just 21 percent.
With her win, Jackson becomes the third Black LGBTQ woman to serve on a state senate in the country.
Jackson, who was the first out person of color to be ordained as an Episcopal priest in Atlanta, ran on a platform of fighting for a comprehensive anti-discrimination bill, which would protect Georgians from discrimination on the bases of race, gender, sex, sexual orientation, religion, and ability. She also promised to introduce criminal justice reform, expand Medicaid, and protect voter rights.