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|Is direct action making a comeback in gay Georgia?|
|by Dyana Bagby|
|January 21, 2011 00:00|
It was dubbed “Queerlicious Mouths Unite” and was intended to make a strong statement to Gov. Nathan Deal that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are here and queer, so get used to it.
The plan was for same-sex couples to attend Deal’s inauguration and publicly kiss as the new governor, a Republican, took his oath. But the Jan. 10 protest was canceled as the worst snowstorm to hit Georgia in a decade also canceled many of Deal’s inauguration events.
“The intended message was that we wanted to seriously remind Deal and the general public of the queer community, our seat at the table and that we are Georgians, too,” said Jess Morgan, an organizer of the canceled event with the Queer Justice League, MondoHomo, Savannah’s Queer Power Movement and GetEQUAL.
When asked via telephone about the planned kiss-in and if Deal would comment about it, spokesperson Brian Robinson said bluntly, “We celebrate the First Amendment” and abruptly hung up.
‘Activism has to happen’
The plan was a flash-mob style where people would have entered the Capitol and then come together to kiss while others held rainbow flags. Approximately a dozen couples were expected to participate, according to organizers.
Deal’s anti-gay campaign — among the worst in the state’s history — in the Republican gubernatorial primary angered many gay people living in Atlanta and throughout the state. In one tactic that drew ire, he attacked opponent Karen Handel for her alleged support of YouthPride, an organization Deal said “promotes homosexuality” to children as young as 13. YouthPride is a nonprofit agency which provides support to LGBT young people, including a safe meeting space as well as support groups.
As a member of the U.S. House, Deal received scores of zeros on congressional scorecards on LGBT issues compiled by the Human Rights Campaign.
“We all know Deal is one of the worst picks for our state … activism has to happen,” Morgan said.
Deal was not endorsed by any LGBT groups and Georgia Equality, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy organization, launched a “No Deal” campaign against the then-candidate, stating in pledge that, “If elected governor, Nathan Deal would be a danger to the well-being of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Georgians. He has already run the most anti-LGBT campaign in Georgia history and hopes our community and our allies will be so discouraged we will not vote in November.”
Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality and a former Atlanta ACT UP activist in the early 1990s, said he was not very familiar with the planned protest of Deal’s inauguration.
“It’s hard to gauge how it would have gone,” Graham said about the planned direct action. “A lot of it depends on the goals.”
Graham now walks the halls of the state Capitol instead of handcuffing himself to a health department’s fence to protest discrimination against people with AIDS. He lobbies lawmakers from within and understands the art of negotiation. He still believes there is a place for direct action on the outside — such as the “Queerlicious Mouths Unite” — but only if well-defined goals are set and a clear message is made.
In December, Graham and Georgia Equality organized a rally within the Capitol to ask Deal to include $5 million in the state’s budget for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program. The money would be used to end the waiting list for the program that provides life-saving drugs to people with no health insurance or who can’t get them any other way.
Without new funding, the ADAP waiting list is expected to grow to 1,300 people by spring, Graham said. Since the waiting list was implemented July 1, there have been 30 people added each week.
After Graham spoke about the approximate 800 people throughout the state that need these drugs, some 1,200 postcards filled out by residents asking for the end of the ADAP waiting list were hand-delivered to Deal’s office to make a specific statement.
State Rep. Simone Bell (D-Atlanta), told the GA Voice last year that she understands the need for protests outside the Capitol, but knows there has to be a combination of demonstrations and working within the system for change to occur.
“I think one thing that’s become painfully clear to me is that if you’re outside the Capitol rallying, no one knows you’re out there because inside those walls it’s a whole different world going on and you’re really secluded from what’s happening outside. You really have to make an effort to stay connected to people outside fighting for their rights,” she said.
While disappointing to learn, Bell said the lesson is also encouraging.
“I know I made the right decision [to run for office]. I know the urging I had to be at the table is the right thing to do. I have an understanding of how important it is to agitate from the outside, but then also to be able to make adjustments needed to be a part of conversations that happen on the inside,” she said last year.
Seeking to be next generation of ‘ACT UP’?
When planning “Queerlicious Mouths Unite,” Art Izzard, a member of the Queer Justice League, said now was a time for more street activism, for LGBT people to begin acting up again to be heard.
“I think the Eagle raid sparked this,” he said in early January. “We want to strive to be like ACT UP.”
In the days following the Atlanta Police Department’s illegal raid on the gay bar, several protests were organized. A federal lawsuit by many of the patrons in the bar when it was raided Sept. 10, 2010, was finally settled last month for $1.025 million.
Jeff Schade, a founder of QJL, said the kiss-in was meant to be a peaceful demonstration, but one that would have ensured visibility.
“Through future actions, we will continue to put pressure on our elected officials for full social and legal equality,” he said. “We believe using our community as political pawns is completely shameful and we simply will not allow it to continue.”
Morgan said he and the other organizers of the Queerlicious Mouths Unite are planning future direct actions that will not only address homophobia but discrimination against other marginalized communities.
“I’m always planning on ways to better the community. Deal is not only a homophobe but he stomps on other communities,” he said.
“We also have solidarity with other economically and politically marginalized people. We require direct actions and other activism.”
The next meeting of the Queer Justice League is Feb. 8 to plan further events and a location and time will be posted on the group’s Facebook page in the near future.
Top photo: Members of the Queer Justice League and numerous other LGBT activists and allies took part in a protest of the National Organization for Marriage’s ‘Summer for Marriage Tour’ when it stopped in Atlanta in August. (by Dyana Bagby)
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