Our top 10 most read stories list this year was dominated by HB 757 and the Pulse shooting, with some election history being made, an unwelcome blast from the past and an early-year tragedy sprinkled in. Here were the stories you clicked on in 2016, along with the story behind the stories.
Tips came rolling in to us on this one on the Tuesday evening following the Pulse shooting. “TEN or Blake’s could be the next Orlando. You think I am the type to be the next ‘shooter’? Keep hating me then,” read the tweet coming from the account of a gay Atlanta man. The previous tweet from that account read “You are all dead to me” and the headline of his Twitter profile read “I will be your the last person you will see.” Atlanta police held a press conference later that week saying that the man’s account had been hacked by another individual he was in a dispute with.
Another crazy local story in the wake of the Pulse shooting, except this time the tweet was posted by the owner of the account. On the afternoon following the shooting, a Marietta man using the account @IWillTryLater tweeted “Y’all see a Gay club shooting as a horrible tragedy. I see it as someone doing Community Service.” Another man tweeted a screenshot of the comments to Walmart’s press account, and they replied, “We don’t tolerate this kind of behavior. He no longer works for Walmart. Our hearts go out to all affected by the Orlando tragedy.”
Stories covering the HB 757 fight took up almost half the spots in our top 10 most read list this year, with this one unsurprisingly leading the others. We were watching the livestream of Gov. Deal’s press conference while putting the story together, and all signs pointed to “veto” based on his opening comments. So we tailored the story with that angle, waiting for him to say the actual words so we could put it out into the world. Once he uttered the line “For that reason, I will veto HB 757,” we hit “Publish” and watched the story explode on social media, updating it over 50 times with reactions from LGBT leaders, progressive leaders, politicians, supporters of the bill and many, many others.
This was the final act by the Legislature on HB 757, officially leaving the matter all up to Gov. Deal. It passed in the Senate 37-18, with state Sen. Greg Kirk (R-Americus), who became the face of the bill, calling it “a great day in Georgia” following the vote. Others? Not so tickled. State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) said to “get ready” for an Indiana-style boycott of Georgia, state Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) said it was “a sad day at the Capitol,” and local activists and scholars all used some variation on the word “shame,” either calling the result of the vote “shameful” or saying they were “ashamed” to live in Georgia.
As Hillary Clinton’s presidential chances faded more and more as the evening wore on on election night this year, we found some surprising news coming out of a local election in Gwinnett County. 31-year-old political newcomer Sam Park bested well-funded three-term Republican incumbent Valerie Clark in House District 101, becoming the first openly gay man to be elected to the Georgia Legislature. We published this story about 1 a.m. that night and readers flocked to it, many of them surely craving any sliver of good news as Donald Trump’s victory became imminent.
Y’all really hated HB 757. This contentious session of the Senate occurred three days after Senate Rules Committee hearing that saw the combination of the controversial First Amendment Defense Act with the Pastor Protection Act. Democrats were stymied by a Republican move to engross the bill, i.e. allow the bill to pass without any amendments, of which Democrats had several they planned to propose. There was a bizarre moment when Sen. Kirk admitted that hate groups like the KKK would be protected under his bill if they identified as faith-based. LGBT allies repeatedly spoke up for the community, with Sen. Nan Orrock calling the bill “open season” on LGBT people. After hours of debate, the bill passed 38-14 and went to the House then the Senate on the evening of March 16, where it passed both chambers and went to the governor.
Reader sympathy was in short supply after Eddie Long revealed to his congregation during a February sermon that he had considered suicide. Long made allusions to the 2010 sexual allegations by his “spiritual sons” that caused a media firestorm and threatened his reputation and standing in the faith community. Readers were quick to point out the hypocrisy of Long’s history of anti-gay preaching considering the allegations against him, with many citing the harm he’s done to LGBT youth with his words and actions. Long settled the young men’s lawsuits in 2011.
Some stories that we work on take hours, days, weeks and sometimes months to put together. And then you occasionally have stories like this, which took 20 minutes and promptly blew up. It was the weekend following the Pulse shooting and Uber smartly offered free rides to and from gay bars the Atlanta Eagle, Blake’s on the Park, Burkhart’s, My Sister’s Room and Soul Bar at Pal’s Lounge, as well as Lost-n-Found Youth and Georgia Equality’s Evening For Equality. “Like people across the world, we were deeply shocked and saddened by the recent murders at a gay nightclub in Orlando,” the company said in a statement. “The world is a brighter and better place when we are all free to be ourselves. And we want to bring people together, no matter who you are or where you’re from.”
Gov. Deal appeared at a previously scheduled event at the Capitol touting the state’s booming film industry three days after HB 757 passed in the Senate, so movies were not high on many people’s list of questions. Deal said that the measure was still “evolving” and that he wouldn’t comment on the bill until it was finalized. Meanwhile, this article mentioned the beginnings of the business backlash, with a gay-owned Decatur telecom company vowing to relocate, a gay Atlanta CEO speaking out against the bill, and former Georgia Senate Majority Leader Ronnie Chance, the Republican leader of Georgia Prospers, writing an AJC editorial against the bill. The backlash would prove to intensify in the weeks ahead.
2016 beginning with a tragedy was perhaps a taste of what the year would bring. Openly gay CNN anchor Don Lemon took the final moments of his Jan. 11 show to remember the lives of three Atlanta gay men who lost their lives in a single-vehicle crash Jan.9 on Interstate 75 in Midtown. The crash claimed the lives of Adam Bailey, 33; Cordel Fowler, 24; and Esu Manzano, 36.