This year marks my 20th anniversary living in Atlanta. I moved here the summer before the Olympics, and I can still remember the uncertainty this Midwestern boy had before moving to the “dirty South.” I was a Northerner with some stereotypical images of the South, and I was newly out of the closet.

I had some fears walking into my new adventure. I wondered if I would be welcomed with open arms or would wake up one morning with burning crosses in my front yard.

Surprisingly, I walked right into one of the biggest, most vibrant, out and open gay communities in the country. In 1995, Midtown was a much different place from now. Locally owned hot spots like Urban Coffee Bungalow and Outwrite Bookstore were my neighbors long before all the Starbucks arose, and it seemed the only people living in Midtown were artists, progressives, the homeless and the gays. I can still remember the first day I arrived in Atlanta and drove down Piedmont through Cheshire Bridge and saw it lined with rainbow flags. I immediately felt safe, at home and for the first time in my life: empowered.

Our community’s vision, money and support are what have made Midtown and Atlanta what they are today. I have grown up a lot since those early days and it’s been fun to watch our city expand and evolve along with me, but when our state government starts proposing anti-LGBT legislation, it makes me want to withdraw all my cash and move out for good.

The LGBT community has a long history of turning undesirable neighborhoods into vibrant, thriving areas. Don’t we deserve some respect and thanks for making Atlanta one of the most desirable places in the country to live?

I often pitch Atlanta to my friends who live in other places. I am proud that we are the home of my idol, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and that we have rolling hills and winding roads that are covered with a natural canopy of trees. We have the luxury of getting to enjoy all four seasons, but with the nicest of them lasting the longest. We are only an hour away from the Blue Ridge Mountains, four hours from the beach, and have the world’s busiest airport that allows us to escape to cities all over the world. Our art, entertainment and food scenes rival any world-class city and revitalization projects like the Atlanta Beltline and Ponce City Market are connecting dozens of different neighborhoods like never before. The LGBT community has helped build all of these things that have made us the unofficial Capital Of The South, so why are we constantly fighting to be respected?

Didn’t our state government officials learn anything from last year’s Indiana “Religious Freedom” debacle? Maybe they should be reminded that they should never bite the hands that have been feeding our local economy for years or we might just bite back. I never thought I would have stayed here as long as I have,but Atlanta has become home. I know I have been very good to this city and she has been good to me. I just wish our government leaders would return the respect, back off, and say thank you to our community for helping to make Atlanta what it is today.

11 Responses

  1. M

    Bill, while you make good observations, I would hope that after 20 years you’d have recognized the political reality of this state, something that has been ingrained in my head since I was born at South Fulton Medical Center in East Point:

    Atlanta is not Georgia, and vice versa.

    Atlanta, or the concept of “Atlanta,” the city where people of color, liberals, LGBT individuals and them thar hippies, is used as political fodder for Republican Georgia legislators (who were, admittedly, conservative “Dixiecrat” Democrats 20 years ago who were NO friends to us and eventually all went GOP by 2002) who gladly patronize the city’s great businesses and attractions when they’re in town, and have Atlanta’s tax dollars flow into state coffers and back out yonder to wingnut welfare projects hither dither and yon like that BS “Go Fish” crap that Gov. Perdue started, but out on the campaign trail — even if they’re not that far from ATL or are just Republicans in the suburbs — they portray themselves as people fighting all of us in that evil evil dirty concept of “Atlanta” as Sodom of the South, who would gladly subvert the American way of life.

    Even though we are ALL around this HUGE state, from the mountains to the ocean to the cities to the suburbs to the peanut fields. From the questioning teen in Hahira to the drag queen in Savannah to the elderly gay couple in Macon to the lesbian living near Brasstown Bald.

    They’re happy to take our gay/POC/liberal dollars from Atlanta to pump up the state’s economy. But treating us fairly is another thing.

    Atlanta city leaders, and a few suburban leaders, too, to their credit, have been trying to keep crap like RFRA et al from passing, including the business community that pretty much helped to stop any really really crazy nutjob BS from passing, using backroom “come-to-Jesus” talks (the Southern synonym for “ultimatum”), but real pieces of work like Rep. Earl Ehrhart are pushing back.

    So don’t blame the majority of Atlanta proper. Don’t blame most of our city leaders. Or the business leadership apparatus.

    Blame the people all over Georgia who elect these fools who support this crap (and not all of those who have R after their names have supported this stuff; we must remember that former Rep. Mike Jacobs helped to stop RFRA last year) and blame those who would elect fairer legislators but do not bother to come out to the polls except during presidential election years.

    Reply
    • Bill Kaelin

      I agree M…I know that most if not all of the blame falls on the communities and leaders outside the ATL…should have been more clear…unfortunately word limits make me leave out some important points . 😉

      Reply
  2. ChristopherATL

    I may get a lot of hate for this but I’m going to say it anyway…The reason we have to fight so hard in the face of these oppressive “religious freedom” bills is because we are not well organized to fight in the first place. We have one of the largest gay communities per capita and in pure number in the country. We can fill a park for pride or dozens of bars on any given night…but when it comes time to protest these bills, only 150 people show up. Maybe it is fatigue from the marriage equality fight. Maybe it is because most of us were working. But it is not because we couldn’t have stopped these bills dead in their tracks by filling Liberty Plaza and bringing nationwide attention to the hateful legislation. Atlanta has EVERYTHING going for it to be the single light shining in the darkest parts of the South. But we have to promote civic engagement more than we promote the next party.

    Reply
  3. Bill Kaelin

    Agree with you Christopher! I infuriates me that here we are one of the largest LGBT communities in the country and we can’t get people to be fired up and protesting this shit. There is nothing that pisses me off more when I’m walking in our AIDS Walk and we pass Blake’s filled with queers drinking and just waving and people passing by fighting for thier survival. Wake up Atlanta…Act up…get out and protest this shit or you have nothing to complain about.

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  4. ChristopherATL

    FADA just passed the state Senate. God help us all! My anger is at an all time high and I wouldn’t be opposed to start burning some shit down! This is unacceptable!

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  5. Daniel English

    I believe the title should be amended to all of Georgia’s LGBT community deserves respect. That has always been my biggest pet peeve with LGBT groups and advocates in Atlanta. True to nature anything outside of Atlanta doesn’t exist and neither do the gays that live in the rest of the state. It kinda pisses me off as someone who fought locally to change my college in rural southern GA.

    Maybe the rest of the state which has the most voting power would actually vote in more friendly politicians if more advocacy were directed outside of Atlanta. I mean nearly every anti-LGBT author of a bill comes from some place outside of Atlanta. It seems that is the root of the problem namely turning a blind eye to the larger issues outside of the gay playground.

    Reply
      • ChristopherATL

        Bill, can you provide details of this? I would love to participate.

      • ChristopherATL

        Also, last year Elton John wrote an op ed piece for the AJC regarding McKoon’s RFRA that stalled in the house. We need national media to cover this and getting celebrity involvement with a large Twitter following would do it. It’s a long shot but do you know anyone who could make this happen? Maybe HRC? We need a strategy.

  6. Bill Kaelin

    “If passed, it will send a message to our customers, employees and visitors from across the nation that Georgia is closed for business to a specific class of people.” — IHG’s Paul Snyder (Holiday Inn, Intercontinental and Crowne Plaza hotels).

    Reply

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