Facing down Trump’s America with understandable concerns and fears, let’s give thanks for gay Atlanta’s sturdy community backbone as they continue to press on.
By James Parker Sheffield
IT CAN FEEL IMPOSSIBLE TO BREAK out the southern gay wit and offer a laugh in the face of hardship. Now is definitely one of those times. After more than 15 years of working in LGBTQ Atlanta, I’ve never felt as shaken and worried for the future as I do right now.
While laughter has escaped me for the moment, there’s one thing that hasn’t: My incredibly deep belief in the community volunteers, advocates, activists, service providers and fighting spirit of Atlanta Queers.
In honor of that, I would like to offer a small, very sincere message: Thank you.
I KNOW YOU’RE TIRED. You made calls, knock on doors, organized massive collaborative efforts, and put in unimaginable hours. Not only did you rise to the challenge, you believed in Georgia’s potential to create change. Even national leaders and pundits said of our state, “maybe in 10 years, but definitely not now,” and you raised those expectations.
I know your heart feels broken and your spirit battered, but hear this: Your work made a difference. Your impact was felt across the country. The enthusiasm with which you worked pulled the attention of the national media, and your results proved beyond worthy of the airtime.
On Nov. 8, Sam Park became the first openly gay man elected to our state legislature. What’s more, he unseated a Republican incumbent in Gwinnett County, who supported the anti-LGBTQ so-called “religious freedom” bill in the General Assembly. You turned traditionally ‘Red’ Gwinnett and Cobb counties ‘Blue’ by pushing voters to see hate-filled speech for what it is: actual hate. You’ve helped build a groundswell to propel us into the coming years knowing that we are indeed tough enough to win.
I KNOW YOU’RE SCARED. As someone that works in the community fulltime, I’m scared, too. It has never been an easy task to work for LGBTQ people in the Southeast. Even in our Atlanta bubble, we understand how desperate the situation already was for so many under the rainbow even before the election.
Lack of healthcare options, homelessness, suicide, unemployment, workplace harassment, and hate-inspired violence against us are still situations we try to help people work through on a regular basis. Now that there’s so much uncertainty around what will happen next, we are carrying that sick feeling in our guts begging the question, “what will happen to the most vulnerable among us?”
Some of you who get up everyday to fight for LGBTQ people and rights are also living some of the harsher realities of queer life.
As you fight for housing for others, you also have to fight for your own. As you fight for HIV meds to remain (or become) accessible to others, you also have to fight for your own. As you lift up those tempted to take their own lives, you privately have to assuage your own desperation.
You face a tremendous juggling act that will never receive the level of gratitude you truly deserve. Yet, with pressure and fears mounting, you’re still out there fighting.
WHILE THE COUNTRY QUICKLY MOVES to normalize what happened on Nov. 8, you’re spreading the message that this is not a typical partisan party loss. You’re unapologetically explaining that our community isn’t scared because the Democrats lost; we’re scared by what the winning administration is pushing for.
We’re scared by those with historically racist, misogynistic, transphobic and homophobic legislative records being in positions of power. We’re scared of “outsiders,” who are hailed by the KKK and Neo-Nazis, having the ear of the president. We’re scared, because the protection against some of these deplorable sentiments becoming actions can feel paper-thin.
Even those of you desperately longing for place of retreat are taking no time to grieve. The people that needed you a week ago need you even more today, so you go to work.
It’s an amazing act of sacrifice. I am so proud to stand with each of you. Your resilience pushes me to get out of bed in the morning.
You have my gratitude, my admiration, and my heart.
James Parker Sheffield is Director of Organizational Development at the Health Initiative, a statewide LGBT health advocacy organization in Atlanta.