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|Local historian recalls first Atlanta Pride march|
|by Dave Hayward|
|June 22, 2012 00:00|
I recall reading about the Stonewall riot in the New York Times in June 1969, and thinking, “Cool. We finally fought back. It’s about time.”
I was deeply closeted at the time, working as a cub reporter for my hometown newspaper in New Hampshire, where there was (and is) no gay life visible to any kind of queer eye.
In September, I was heading back to George Washington University in Washington, D.C., the essence of urbanity. Our joke was motorists would drive into the heart of the campus and holler out, “Where’s George Washington University?!” There was nothing openly gay in all that concrete and clay, either.
The best I could do was furtively abscond to the gay bars downtown, until, praise God, the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) began in D.C., in January 1970. GLF emerged full blown because of the Stonewall riot, the catalyst for all sorts of startups, including my favorite “Dykes and Tykes.”
After graduation, in late 1971, I immigrated to Atlanta and immersed myself in the Gay Liberation Front here. It’s quaint to me now that we assumed “gay” spoke for everyone. Even our unofficial transgender leader, Paul “Severin” Dolan, acquiesced to being “gay.”
Not so much our lesbian sisters, who founded the Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance (ALFA) in 1972, often fostering “womyn only” space, including a house in Little Five Points that was off limits to men except on special occasions. I felt both honored and besmirched when I was allowed in.
Yet a married bisexual woman, Judy Lambert, was a major proponent of gay liberation as the co-chair with GLF founder Bill Smith. Meanwhile, Judy’s macho husband, Phil, was exploring boys’ nights out with our men’s consciousness-raising cell groups. Primarily we rapped radical politics, and excoriated sexist objectification and looksist standards that made other gay men props. We wanted to passionately love our brothers, and not just get off with them.
In this witches brew we conjured the 1972 Atlanta Gay Pride, the first Pride march in the streets, because our “city too busy to hate” denied a permit to march for the first Pride in 1971. In ‘71 the 125 demonstrators “marched” on the sidewalks and stopped for every traffic light, according to activist Berl Boykin, one of the founders of GLF in 1969.
GLF stalwart Charlie St. John insured the ‘72 Pride had a bona fide permit, and when asked “How closely will the marchers march together?” he retorted “Very closely!” Soon after, St. John became Georgia’s first openly gay anything, when Mayor Sam Massell appointed him to the Community Relations Commission in the fall of ‘72.
Leading the ‘72 March, Bill Smith made a major splash brandishing his white man’s Afro and his dark rimmed glasses to look like the albino Stokely Carmichael of geeks. On TV newscasts across the metro area, he bellowed “What do we want?” “Gay rights!” “When do we want them?” “NOW!” The New York of the South cowered, but Bill kept his accountant’s job at City Hall, though no one would speak to him the day after.
The two major gay bars of the day, the Sweet Gum Head and the Cove, disapproved of Gay Pride, too, and escorted us out when we leafleted their businesses. Gay Pride was just too radical for business interests. But ultimately, as we can see, we all came around.
Dave Hayward is the co-founder with Berl Boykin of Touching Up Our Roots, Inc.: Georgia’s LGBT History Project.
Top photo: The first Atlanta Gay Pride March was organized by the Gay Liberation Front in 1972. (courtesy photo)
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