On Sunday, thousands of lesbian and gay Atlantans will march up Peachtree Street and pour into Piedmont Park in an annual celebration of our pride in who we are.
Lesbian and gay residents of Atlanta, dubbed America's "Gayest City" by the Advocate magazine, have much to be proud of. Ours is one of those rare cities in the South (outside of perhaps Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) that boasts more than one neighborhood where gay and lesbian couples can walk hand-in-hand down the sidewalk on a sunny afternoon, demonstrating a casual affection that heterosexual couples take for granted. It has a still-growing infrastructure of support for gay and lesbian issues and causes that includes Georgia Equality, Positive Impact, Atlanta Executive Network, and AID Atlanta. It has a robust and highly competitive media scene that includes the Project Q website, Georgia Voice newspaper, and Fenuxe magazine, to name but a few of the players. Its political clout makes the lesbian and gay community an important factor in city elections. And Atlanta has a social scene, dominated by dozens of bars and clubs and gay-friendly restaurants, that makes it a tourist destination for lesbian and gay people from across the United States.
But at the risk of raining on Sunday's parade, I can't help but note that we gay and lesbian Atlantans also have some things to be ashamed of. We still live in a ghetto, in the Eastern European sense of the word, that constrains our freedom to be who we are and to live the full and rewarding lives that our heterosexual brothers and sisters take for granted.
There's no doubt that our ghetto, whose symbolic center is Piedmont Park, is a lovely one. The park's lawns are lush, the condo and apartment towers where many of us live are striking, and the music that spills from the bars and restaurants that welcome our dollars is entertaining. But the walls of that ghetto — political and legal — are real. In Georgia, same-sex partners do not have the right to marry. One can be fired from his or her job for being gay. The state permits medical underwriting by insurance companies, which makes it all but impossible for self-employed people with HIV, a disease with a disproportionate impact on gay men, to get health insurance. An illegal police raid on a gay bar last year has drawn limited expressions of outrage, and no real action, from elected officials. Politicians (most notably Karen Handel), who appeal to lesbian and gay voters while running for local office, feel compelled to distance themselves from us while running for a state post.
You're probably wondering why should we be ashamed. After all, others built the walls of the ghetto in which we live. We, however, are doing very little to tear them down. While we march down the gay-friendly streets of Midtown on Sunday and play this weekend in Piedmont Park, perhaps we should consider what might happen if the same energy and money spent on frolicking in our ghetto were to be devoted next year to upending a system that denies us our most basic right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Maybe next October, a gay rights march in rural South Georgia or along the mansion-lined streets of West Paces Ferry Road could commemorate our pride in a very different way.
Typical Atlanta City action - much ado about nothing. Strain at a gnat and swallow…