Sheila Merritt / Courtesy photo

Remembering Sheila Merritt

Last month, Atlanta lost a fierce advocate for and member of the LGBTQ community. Sheila Merritt passed away on September 17 at the age of 58 after surgery for a sudden illness.

Originally from Michigan, Sheila was well known and loved in Atlanta for her work with the LGBTQ community. Along with her professional endeavors as marketing manager for various prominent institutions, like the Georgia International Convention Center and Gateway Center Arena, she worked for a decade as project manager for Q&A Events, which represented Atlanta Pride.

Sheila was engaged with her community as president of the Atlanta Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce as well as president of the Jefferson Park Neighbors Association. Her advocacy earned her the title of Atlanta Pride Grand Marshal in 2014, and she often used her platforms to speak fiercely about and advocate for queer rights and racial justice. Sheila was an advocate not only for the LGBTQ community, but “for any underserved community,” Suzanne Baugh, her friend and former business partner, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Anyone who needed help, just anyone, she was there.”

“Tomorrow is June 1, which marks the start of Pride month,” Sheila wrote on Facebook in 2020. “Y’all know why?! Because we all mark the Stonewall Uprising as the beginning of the modern liberation for the LGBTQIAA++ movement. ’Uprising’ is a vanilla-washed synonym for RIOT … Black people have HAD ENOUGH. Get on board — or take your privilege and go sit the fuck down and shut the hell up. The rest of us have actual work to do.”

Sheila is survived by her wife, Andria “A.T.” Towne, their son Max Greene, grandson Rowan, and fur babies Cuervo and Sake, along with her sister Sue Sharp and her partner Ron Goshen; sister-in-law Cindy Towne; niece Katie Towne and her partner Chris Denham; and nephew and niece-in-law Steve and Rebecca Sharp, as well as their three children.

Sheila’s life and light touched everyone around her, and her death left a hole that will be impossible to fill.

“For those of you who didn’t know, Sheila and A.T. were one of my very first clients when I had my cleaning company during the early years of my transition,” Gabriella Claiborne, the co-founder of Transformation Journeys Worldwide, an inclusion training and consulting firm with a transgender focus, wrote on Facebook after learning of Sheila’s passing. “They were a big reason why I, a fragile and fledgling person at that time, was not only able to experience what it was like to be accepted as my authentic self, but to also be able to earn a living as the woman I was becoming. As a result of being in their home every month for the next four years, they became family to me. And when Sheila extended an invitation to join her and their family for Thanksgiving that year (because I was not welcome by my own), our relationship took on a new meaning … I can’t even begin to express the love and gratitude that I have for them. The beautiful thing is, I’m just one of many stories like mine.”

“14 years ago we bought our first home in our beloved Jefferson Park, and within one year I began to know what community was all about,” Brian D. Frey, a realtor and close friend of Sheila’s, wrote on Facebook. “I dove right in to volunteering, leadership, city involvement … you inspired me, mentored me, uplifted me and showed me what giving back was all about. Your guidance and counsel, support and encouragement along with your never ending smile set me on a course of community involvement that lives in me to this very day … Your remarkable character, never ending advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community and for humankind itself was a testament to everything you stood for and who you were.” 

You can plant Memorial Trees in honor of Sheila’s life and legacy by visiting