Patrick Saunders, Editor of Georgia Voice

Patrick Saunders: The greatest fear about the Burkhart’s mess

This past Saturday morning in Old Fourth Ward, roughly 150 members of the city’s LGBTQ community came together in response to the revelation of Burkhart’s owner Palmer Marsh’s racist Facebook posts. They crowded into the event space not to yell, not to protest, but to lay a foundation for what to do next.

Many were probably surprised at the activity that took up the first 90 minutes of the meeting: telling everyone what their fears are about this issue. One after the other, those in the the assembled group — relatively diverse in terms of race if not gender — spoke up about what they feared. When they veered off topic, moderator and event organizer James Brian Yancey steered them back to the fear question.

Some themes emerged out of those many responses, but the dominant one was the fear that — as in past controversies with this city’s LGBTQ community — that initial anger would dissipate, the issue would fall by the wayside and people would go back to their regularly scheduled programming.

And that fear is warranted, because it happened just three years ago.

A Jan. 27 organizing meeting to address racism in Atlanta's LGBTQ community. (Photo by Patrick Saunders)
A Jan. 27 organizing meeting to address racism in Atlanta’s LGBTQ community. (Photo by Patrick Saunders)

Georgia Voice broke a story about a controversial dress code sign posted by management at Blake’s on the Park in summer 2015. Many felt that the sign was meant to discourage African-Americans from going to the bar. There was the anger, there was the outcry, there was social media hysteria … and then nothing.

The Blake’s incident was referenced several times on Saturday as an example of what not to do, of what people feared others (or maybe they themselves) will do.

I spoke to several people outside the event during a break to get their feelings on how the meeting was going.

“It’s going to take time. It’s going to take patience. It’s going to take the willingness of all of us to stick together and to stand firm to what we are saying, not just in here but wherever we go,” said A.J. Styles, who was there with Destini Monroe, one of the entertainers that resigned from Burkhart’s the previous Thursday night. “We can’t just leave it here. That’s what happens immediately a lot of times — you can have rallies and people speak up and say this and say that, but then after a while it starts to fade. It’s going to take an army full of all of us to stand firm in our truth.”

Sounds about dead-on.

Upon going back inside, people were split into three working groups: one to address supporting the entertainers; one to talk about starting an LGBTQ-owned co-op; and one to discuss the issue of racism in the community in general and possible protest actions against Burkhart’s.

It’s interesting that it took an old, straight white guy with a bad grasp of social media to get this city’s LGBTQ community to address our race issues. However we got here, let’s ride it out, no matter how hard or uncomfortable it gets. Remember that anger, that passion.

And if you’re so disgusted by some of the things that come of President Trump’s mouth (and Twitter feed) when it comes to race, this is a prime example of a hyper-local way to show that you mean it and are willing to invest more than a social media rant.

When we look back on this moment a year from now, what do you want to say that we did in response? What do you want to say that you did?