Bill Kaelin

Bill Kaelin: Atlanta’s LGBT community deserves respect

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.