Is Atlanta Really an LGBTQ Haven?

Social Studies is a series of conversations designed to make some noise and simultaneously cut through it. It’s an attempt to pull at the cultural, political, and economic threads shaping Atlanta's future. It’s intellectual and intersectional. And, most importantly, it’s necessary. A collaboration between the Center for Civic Innovation and Creative Loafing, Social Studies is a free, monthly conversation to engage the public around current issues.

This month's conversation, "Is Atlanta Really an LGBTQ Haven?", was presented by the Center for Civic Innovation, Creative Loafing Atlanta, and WUSSY MAG on Wednesday, July 13. Zaida Jones-Sanchez of WUSSY Mag moderated a conversation between Taylor Alxndr of Southern Fried Queer Pride, Cheryl Courtney-Evans of Trans Individual Living Their Truth (TILTT), Dr. David Holland of the Fulton County PrEP Clinic, Officer Erik King of the Atlanta Police Department, and Officer Cynthia Ramirez of MARTA.

To start the night off, Rohit Malhotra, the Executive Director of the Center for Civic Innovation, addressed the crowd on the role of Atlanta as a central place not only for entrepreneurs, but also for social justice activists and change-makers alike. However, the challenge facing Atlanta is that people aren't talking to one another about the ongoing issues in our city. "The truth is, solving social problems is a part of economic growth and development," said Malhotra. He emphasized that solving social problems through economic development through an increasing number of different partnerships in Atlanta will lead to a more equitable city for everyone. One way to begin this process is through the conversations we have with each other.  

The moderator for the evening, Zaida Jones-Sanchez, the Features Editor for WUSSY MAG, began Wednesday night's conversation by diving into the political struggles of the LGBTQ community by asking, "How do we embrace our own political efficacy in a conservative area?"

"I think the queer and trans communities have stepped up…Voting has became a method for survival in my opinion," responded Alxndr. However, Evans added that "we have to get more involved in the politics of this day. We need to assist in the communities at large and put in people who gather our interests as well as people from our own communities."

Dr. Holland brought up the role of allies for the LGBTQ community. He said, "There are a lot of allies out there; we are not alone. It's important for us to work really hard to bring in other people that are not LGBTQ but agree with our basic human rights." Officer Ramirez, however, also brought up that the LGBTQ community still needs to focus on educating the people within their own networks. "We still have to educate and come together as a community. You have to start with your friends and family and think, 'How can I tone this down and educate?'"

The conversation then shifted towards the larger role of allies, in both straight and LGBTQ communities. "My challenge, historically speaking, is that trans women have been excluded from gay rallies. We know that still exists, but does the burden lie on trans people or on their peers?" asked Jones-Sanchez. 

"I thoroughly believe in holding allies accountable, including LGBQ allies. We need to fact check our allies regardless," replied Alxndr.

Evans shared that she has dealt with this gap in the acronym for years. "I have tried to bridge the gap. But, each one teach one, you know. We have to speak for ourselves and say, ‘Don't lie to me.’”

In terms of accessible healthcare, Jones-Sanchez remarked that, "Fulton County has made great strides with the openings of a free clinic, but a lot of queers have concerns that it is still exclusive.”

Dr. Holland absolutely believes that their concerns are valid. "I think there is a lot of truth in that. For people who are HIV Positive, the system is disjointed. If you have insurance, it's fine. If not, it's a nightmare to navigate the system. There's a commissioned task force that has been organized to address these issues - the goal of ending AIDS in Fulton County. Prevention may include taking a pill every day to prevent HIV, but there is a lack of knowledge about it. The other side is identifying people with HIV/AIDS who don't know that they have it. Getting people identified and on medication has a lot of tangible benefits," he shared.

Towards the end of the evening, Jones-Sanchez focused more on the relationship between the LGBTQ community and police departments. "Can we actually say that ATL's guardians have committed to us?" asked Jones-Sanchez.

Officer Ramirez emphasized that there is a lot of ongoing emphasis on education in order to shatter ignorance and uphold confidence within the department. "We are going to have classes for our officers, so hopefully members of the trans community will be able to teach and educate our officers."

Alxndr constantly questions how much police culture and the community at large respects the rights of trans folks. "People are starting to question…But I think it's gonna take a lot more internal critiquing. I went to high school in Griffin, and I started my high school's first Gay-Straight Alliance. I'm glad there are more groups now, but back then, there were none. Thankfully, it's happening though. And I think as we go on, queer Atlantans - we need to be more questionable.

The places we inhabit- questioning these things and asking why…that’s gonna be a foundation for us to really be a queer Mecca.

Officer King mentioned the role of policy within police departments. "There's a bad rep of doing the same things over and over again. We need to keep moving. In terms of training and police, when we realized that we were leaving out the trans community, we looked at other police departments to find out what we could do. So when we started doing training, we realized we have to include folks from the community. I try to be the best ally I can with the community, but one thing I don't like is when I get beaten up when another department has issues. We have to be heading towards the same direction."

To watch a video of the evening and access related resources, click here.