The Top 12 local stories of the year

Controversies and victories again marked the movement for equality in Atlanta and Georgia. Here are some of the most memorable stories of the past year.

Cheshire Bridge rezoning proposal spurs community dialogue

Gay Atlanta City Councilman Alex Wan found himself in the battle of his young political life in spring 2013 as he spearheaded a rezoning of the Cheshire Bridge corridor. The ordinance, based on a 1999 vision statement, would have forced out several popular gay-friendly businesses in order to give the area a facelift and encourage new development.

This proved to be a major point of contention for many in the LGBT community and spurred a months-long dialogue about the role of adult businesses in the fabric of gay life.

A 2005 zoning change by the City Council halted any new adult businesses from opening in the area, as well as established new regulations regarding aesthetics such as landscaping and curb appeal. Businesses up and running at the time that would have been affected, including Inserection and Southern Nights, were grandfathered in.But under Wan’s proposal, the grandfathered-in non-conforming sex and porn shops would have had to be out by 2018.

The Zoning Review Board, after hearing arguments for and against the legislation from a packed house of community members, voted against the legislation. But then in late May, it went to the Atlanta Zoning Committee, who voted in favor of the proposal by a 3-2 vote with one abstention.
That left one final stop to decide the fate of the proposal: a Jun. 3 meeting before the full City Council.

After one final plea by Wan, the council voted against the proposal by a vote of 9 to 6. The affected businesses will remain, and the longstanding effort to improve the Cheshire Bridge corridor continues.

Atlanta scores 100 on HRC’s Municipal Equality Index

Atlanta was the only city in the Deep South to receive a perfect score on the HRC’s 2013 MEI. The MEI takes into account the laws, policies and services of municipalities and rates them on inclusivity of LGBT people. HRC’s President Chad Griffin came to Atlanta Nov. 20 to personally reward Mayor Kasim Reed, the city’s LGBT liaison Robin Shahar and City Councilmember Alex Wan.

Reed called the day one of the highlights of his career and Georgia Equality’s Jeff Graham also recounted a story of how 20 years ago he was at City Hall protesting then Mayor Maynard Jackson’s veto of the city’s domestic partner benefits and how times have changed now that he was at City Hall proclaiming its achievements toward LGBT equality.

Surprising Atlanta City Council election results, big 2014 announcements

It was a busy year in local politics, with several gay candidates involved in the November elections for city council, and big announcements for 2014 statewide runs.

Mary Norwood, with a strong gay backing, returned to politics after her unsuccessful 2009 mayoral run, challenging gay-friendly incumbent Aaron Watson for the Post 2 At-Large city council seat she once held. Norwood defeated Watson in a close race.

Gay city councilman Alex Wan shook off a tough loss in the fight to pass a Cheshire Bridge rezoning proposal earlier in the year and cruised easily to a win and a second term on the city council in District 6.

In a close race and major upset, political newcomer Andre Dickens beat three-term incumbent Lamar Willis for the Post 3 At-Large seat on the city council. Willis was mired in ethics complaints and disbarred for fraud, while Dickens picked up endorsements from Shirley Franklin, Cathy Woolard, Georgia Equality and Stonewall Democrats.

In District 5, incumbent Natalyn Archibong emerged victorious after a controversial race. Archibong had sued two gay candidates, Matt Rinker and Christian Enterkin, for libel and slander.
Gay incumbent Brian Bates lost his reelection bid for the Doraville City Council. He was believed to be the first openly gay Republican elected to office in Georgia.

Democratic State Senator Jason Carter, grandson to former President Jimmy Carter, announced he would be taking on Gov. Nathan Deal in the 2014 governor’s race. Openly gay lawyer Kyle Williams then announced he would run for Carter’s state Senate seat.

And the 2014 race to fill retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss seat is filled with candidates with wildly different views on the gay community. On the Democratic side, Michelle Nunn (daughter of former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn) and Dr. Branco Radulovacki are running and both support marriage equality. The Republican side however will be filled with extreme right wing and anti-gay candidates, including Rep. Paul Broun, Rep. Phil Gingrey and former secretary of state Karen Handel.

Baton Bob arrested, threatens suit against city, angers fans

Baton Bob, whose real name is Bob Jamerson, was performing on Jun. 26 in Colony Square dressed in a white tutu and white mask to celebrate the Supreme Court striking down DOMA. But the “Ambassador of Mirth’s” celebrating did not please two security guards on the job.

A Midtown Blue officer was called, and a scuffle between the two ensued. Baton Bob was arrested and charged with two counts of simple assault and one count of obstruction of officers. Later that afternoon, a message appearing to be from Baton Bob was posted to his Facebook page explaining what happened and saying the Midtown Blue officer was very respectful. He was not released until the following day, Jun. 27.

Baton Bob is now threatening a lawsuit against the city for violating his constitutional rights, and claims he was coerced by the police into writing the Facebook post saying how well he was treated after being arrested. He and his lawyer want the city to apologize and drop the charges, or face a civil suit.

The performer’s credibility took a hit after he posted a hateful Facebook rant on the Fourth of July against a “white lesbian bitch.” The woman apparently confronted him after he turned down a request from a friend of hers earlier in the day to take a photo with him. He remained unapologetic about his behavior and choice of words.

Brushstrokes co-owner Schloeder sentenced to prison for possessing child porn

The year started harmlessly enough for gay-owned adult entertainment store Brushstrokes Pleasures, when they added an extra 500 feet of space. But by mid-July news broke that co-owner Thomas Joseph Schloeder, 47, had been sentenced to eight years and one month in federal prison after being found guilty of possession of child pornography.

Schloeder’s partner and co-owner Mark Jackson defended Schloeder in an interview with Fenuxe Magazine, saying the pictures were sent to him anonymously, the “vast majority” of which were of Schloeder being molested as a child. Jackson claimed that the only thing his partner was guilty of was not notifying the authorities when he allegedly received the file of pictures.

However, in a review of a transcript from a July 10 federal sentencing hearing, there is no mention of Jackson’s claims. The prosecutor also references a previous incarceration on a child exploitation offense by Schloeder, notes that Schloeder admitted he had been collecting child pornography since 2006, and that the images numbered in the “many, many hundreds of thousands.” Schloeder also accepted his responsibility in the crime.

Schloeder later issued a statement to Fenuxe saying he had lied to Jackson about how he received the images, but did claim he found images on a file sharing service of him being molested after being tipped off by a longtime friend who was also in the images.

Schloeder is currently serving out his sentence at low-security federal correctional institute in Ashland, Ky. He will be required to register as a sex offender upon release, and will be under supervised release for the rest of his life.

By all accounts, Jackson was not aware of Schloeder’s criminal activities until the initial arrest in November. He continues to own and operate Brushstrokes.

YouthPride troubles continue with eviction, lawsuits, lost grants

YouthPride’s tumultuous 2012 carried over into 2013 with another year of controversy. It started in January when the LGBT youth outreach organization filed a tax return that listed board members who were not involved with the group during the period covered by the return.

Eyebrows were raised in March when Executive Director Terence McPhaul’s name popped up on a list of people appointed to a working panel that would work toward reducing prostitution in the city. Within days of the announcement, after concerns about his questionable leadership practices with YouthPride came to light, McPhaul was removed from the panel.

In late June, the group was evicted from their Ashview Heights location. This was the second time the organization had been evicted in less than a year. They then moved to the Absalom Jones Episcopal Center at the Atlanta University Center.

By August, Fulton County was demanding that YouthPride reimburse nearly $19,000 of a $40,000 grant due to failure to provide services. The county took legal action against YouthPride, with the outcome pending.

The troubles continued in late August when, after a lengthy investigation into the stability of the organization, national service program AmeriCorps VISTA dropped YouthPride and discontinued any future funding.

This week, McPhaul recorded a video singing a jingle to promotoe YouthPride’s annual Mingle & Jingle event to be held at its new location which was finally revealed to be at 72 Broad St. SW in downtown Atlanta, the former location of Covenant House, a religious-based homeless shelter for youth.

Atlanta celebrates DOMA decision

Although it wasn’t a victory for Georgia, hundreds of residents gathered at the corner of 10th and Piedmont to celebrate the Supreme Court’s ruling striking down a major portion of the Defense of Marriage Act. The ruling, of course, does not allow for same-sex marriages to begin in the Peach State, but did strike a blow against anti-gay policies across the nation.

Charis Books & More vandalized with anti-gay graffiti

Lesbian-owned Charis Books & More, one of the oldest feminist bookstores in the nation, was vandalized shortly after it held an Atlanta Pride reading event at its store in Little Five Points. The graffiti included an image of a penis, the words “Creep,” “Eat mor dick” and “Fuck dikes.” Staff and volunteers painted over the ugly words with primer and a community mural is planned to take up the entire side of the business.

Rush Center, Lost-N-Found Youth expansions

In April, stakeholders of LGBT community center The Phillip Rush Center announced a six-month fundraising drive in order to pay for a 1,700 square foot extension to the home of the Health Initiative, Georgia Equality, Atlanta Pride, In The Life Atlanta, Transgender Individuals Living Their Truth, JustUs ATL and more. The center is named for the late LGBT activist Phillip Rush.

The doors were opened to the public on Nov. 16 to show off the Rush Center’s new look, which included more office space and a new event space. Also as a result, AID Atlanta opened a new satellite office in the renovated space where HIV testing will be provided, space was created for full-time navigators to help LGBT and other community members navigate the Affordable Care Act, and the Jewish LGBT community organization SOJOURN moved in.

Early in the year, Lost-N-Found Youth, an LGBT youth outreach organization, announced a $1 million capital campaign to help open a thrift shop and consignment store, drop-in center, and eventually a new housing space.

After raising the necessary funds, and with an assist from gay city councilman Alex Wan with navigating the permit process, the 13,000 square foot thrift shop and consignment store was officially open for business in mid-November.

The volunteer-led organization hopes the store raises $100,000 annually for the group. The space also serves as a drop-in center for youth who are not yet ready to come off the street, where they can be fed, take a shower, use a computer to search for jobs and more.

The $1 million capital campaign continues, with plans to break ground on a new shelter space by the end of 2014.

Gay bars stamp out smoking

This year brought a wind of change to gays bars that will not include a whiff of cigarette smoke, as many decided to change their smoking policies. The bars to alter their smoking policies included the Heretic, Jungle, My Sister’s Room, Mary’s and the Atlanta Eagle.

Mixx and Cockpit were the trailblazers, going smoke-free indoors since the day they opened several years ago. After a renovation late last year, Jungle prohibited smoking on the dance floor, instead designating a small area alongside the wall by one of the bars for smokers. TEN Atlanta opened in January smoke-free except for their patio.

Then the tidal wave started in March, when Heretic general manager Alan Collins, after much thought, announced that smoking would be limited to the pub area. The response was immediate and overwhelmingly positive, and Collins says they are considering banning smoking throughout the bar in the future. My Sister’s Room followed just a week later, specifying smoking in designated areas only on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday nights.

Mary’s put a partial ban in place later that month, prohibiting indoor smoking on weekends. The Atlanta Eagle was next up in April, as they announced smoking would be allowed on the decks only. Burkhart’s announced in May that they were going no-smoking indoors from then on.

And while not a bar, the Starbucks at Ansley Mall, affectionately nicknamed the “Bearbucks” by many, announced in May that they were extending their smoking ban to their outdoor seating area.

Quiet year for gay-friendly bills in Georgia General Assembly

After high hopes of passing an LGBT employment protection bill, the only specifically LGBT bill to pass during this year’s 40-day session of the Georgia General Assembly was a resolution honoring Atlanta Freedom Bands. Openly gay state Rep. Karla Drenner introduced the bill, and she told GA Voice it is the first resolution she has passed with the words “gay” or “LGBT” in them since taking office in 2001.

Ria Pell dead at 45
The community was shocked as news spread of the Nov. 24 death of gay chef and co-owner of Ria’s Bluebird, Ria Pell.

Pell was a beloved figure both in and outside the gay community, and gained national notoriety after winning $10,000 on the Food Network’s popular reality cooking show “Chopped.” She was also the co-founder of alternative queer art and music festival MondoHomo. More than 1,000 people attended her Nov. 30 memorial service.