Parties and Pride - 1970 to 1979

During the 1970s new gay rights groups formed, such as the Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance and the Georgia Gay Alliance, while an explosion of bars, restaurants, lounges, bookstores, centers, and sports and recreation teams met the social and cultural needs of gay women and men. Publicly, the line between socializing and politics blurred during the 1970s. Bars often hosted fundraisers and political and religious meetings, sponsored sports teams, and featured drag shows where bawdy humor met sharp political satire. Signature annual events, among them the Phyllis Killer Oscar Awards, Miss Gay Atlanta Pageant, and Mr. Gay Atlanta Pageant, became significant social institutions. Increasingly, gay Atlantans evoked the notion of pride at rallies in Piedmont Park and onstage at popular bars like the Sweet Gum Head. What was initially a public political expression also became a cause for celebration.

Throughout the 1970s, gay Atlantans developed a political voice through newspapers and magazines, while also founding cultural institutions that fostered greater awareness of national LGBT issues and concerns. Bill Smith started Atlanta’s first gay newspaper, the Atlanta Barb, later the Barb, in 1974; in January 1976, Richard Kavanaugh launched Cruise magazine. The former covered a spectrum of political and cultural issues, while the latter served as a monthly guide to the city’s gay bars and social activities. Charis Books and More, an independent feminist bookstore, opened in Little Five Points in 1974 and featured books aimed at lesbian readers. By the end of the decade, it was joined by Christopher’s Kind, a bookstore catering to a mostly gay male readership.

A sign of the evolving political landscape, in the summer of 1977, Atlanta mayor Maynard Jackson issued a proclamation for “Civil Liberties Day” rather than “Gay Pride Day,” which he had supported the year before. This name change was intended to appease a vocal constituency of religious conservatives, most notably a group called Citizens for Decency. When Miami-Dade County passed a gay rights ordinance in 1977, Anita Bryant, beauty queen and Florida orange juice spokesperson, emerged as the leader of the fight to repeal the legislation. The “Save Our Children” campaign was carried out by fundamentalist Christians and social conservatives and became a flashpoint in the emerging culture wars, energizing activists on both the right and the left across the country. In Atlanta, activists organized orange juice boycotts and invoked Bryant’s name and image derisively in pride marches and public protests.

Gay Atlantans increasingly addressed local concerns, while engaging in the emerging national movement. The first national March on Washington for gay and lesbian equality took place on October 14, 1979. Organized in response to several high-profile events, including the assassination of the openly gay San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk and Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children” campaign, Atlantans joined the march. At the local and national level that year, gay women and men commemorated the tenth anniversary of the Stonewall uprising and demonstrated the powerful symbolism of community. Nonetheless, at various points thoughout the decade white lesbians and African American gay women and men found themselves excluded from predominately white male community organizations and popular gathering places and created seperate spaces to socialize and organize.