Patrick Saunders: Full-circle moments as Georgia Voice celebrates seventh anniversary

One Monday morning in mid-November 2009, staffers from Southern Voice arrived to work to find the locks changed and a sign on the door saying that the paper’s parent companies, Window Media and Unite Media, closed down. A couple weeks later, those same staffers, along with anxious LGBT community members from around the city, crammed into the sanctuary of First Existentialist Congregation in Candler Park to find out the next steps – if there were any.

Southern Voice publisher Chris Cash and editor Laura Douglas-Brown announced the creation of a new publication, but it was up to those assembled to pick a name for it. Three were written on a dry-erase board: GA Independent, GA Compass and GA Voice. A show of hands revealed an overwhelming choice.

“And we have a new name,” Cash announced.

And that’s where GA Voice – now spelled Georgia Voice after a 2015 rebranding – was born. The first issue came out the following March, and we mark that occasion in our current issue by celebrating our seventh anniversary.

I was in the crowd that night at First Existentialist, not as a former SOVO staffer, but as a reporter covering the event for Creative Loafing, which I was freelancing for at the time. Georgia Voice’s leaders and I circled each other for a few years after that in the hopes that we could work together and that finally happened in January 2014. So it’s kind of a full-circle moment writing about this anniversary as editor of the paper in 2017.

Looking back on what things were like when Georgia Voice first came out in 2010 versus now, what’s most striking is where we were in terms of marriage equality. Same-sex couples could legally marry in just five states across the nation that year. By 2013, that number was up to 15 states, then it made a massive jump to 35 states in 2014. The following year, of course, the Supreme Court ruled that marriage equality was the law of the land in all 50.

Another notable difference is the conversation around transgender issues – as in, there finally is one of significance. Greater visibility of lesbian, gay and bisexual people was a major factor in people coming around to gay marriage, and you can see the same factor at play as more and more trans people come out. But with that visibility comes danger, as we’ve seen by the number of murders of trans people – especially trans women of color – in recent years.

And now, after eight years of forward momentum and progress in a number of areas under President Obama, we’re at risk of stumbling backward under President Trump.

While there is anxiety that comes with such uncertainty, I know that no matter what comes our way in the following months and years, our community will do what those former SOVO staffers did after being shut down – keep going.