GA Voice - - FRONT PAGE -

LGBT res­i­dents, busi­ness own­ers drawn by hous­ing prices, familiar faces

By PA­TRICK SAUN­DERS pi­o­neers who helped start a trend that’s led to Stone Moun­tain Vil­lage be­com­ing an un­likely LGBT mecca in Ge­or­gia, with mem­bers of the com­mu­nity own­ing or run­ning sev­eral busi­nesses and serv­ing on var­i­ous city boards.

The trend has picked up in the last five to 10 years in par­tic­u­lar, with mem­bers of the LGBT com­mu­nity flock­ing to Stone Moun­tain Vil­lage for its more af­ford­able hous­ing, small town feel, ac­cess to Stone Moun­tain Park and, not least, see­ing some friendly faces. And now the city’s Down­town Devel­op­ment Author­ity has even made re­cruit­ment of LGBT res­i­dents and busi­nesses a peg in the city’s five-year plan. “Peo­ple shouldn’t be treated that way. It’s dif­fer­ent hav­ing a per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with some­one in your fam­ily and see­ing how they’re shunned by so­ci­ety.”

Last year, Wheeler signed on for the May­ors for the Free­dom to Marry cam­paign in sup­port of mar­riage equal­ity, join­ing 400 other may­ors across the coun­try, in­clud­ing At­lanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

You can find Mayor Wheeler grab­bing a cup of cof­fee at Cafe JAYA most morn­ings. Rory Webb owns the cof­fee­house with his part­ner of 25 years, Jeff Carey.

The cou­ple al­ways dreamed of mov­ing to a small-town type of com­mu­nity that was also wel­com­ing to them, and they didn’t think they would find it in Ge­or­gia un­til meet­ing Thomas and Hi­dalgo on a cruise.

“They re­ally sold us on tak­ing a look at Stone Moun­tain and en­sur­ing us it was re­ally di­verse and open and af­firm­ing,” Webb says.

Af­ter check­ing it out for them­selves, they bought Cafe JAYA last Fe­bru­ary and moved from Litho­nia in July.

“We im­me­di­ately fell in love with the


It was 1986 and David Thomas was en­joy­ing living in Mid­town At­lanta with his part­ner, Michael Hi­dalgo. His job as as­so­ciate direc­tor of the Ge­or­gia Coun­cil for the Arts took him all over the state, and one day it took him into a meet­ing in Stone Moun­tain Vil­lage. That’s when he no­ticed an old trol­ley car sta­tion.

“I saw this build­ing and I just got chills,” he says.

The then-mayor gave him a tour of the build­ing and, de­spite its state of poor re­pair, Thomas and Hi­dalgo talked it over and made a de­ci­sion. Thomas quit his job with the state, the cou­ple moved to Stone Moun­tain and Thomas founded ART Sta­tion. The non­profit now in­cludes a pro­fes­sional eq­uity theater com­pany, a cabaret theater, five art gal­leries and an art school.

The cou­ple was an ex­cep­tion to the rule at that time, in a land of laser shows and 10-story tall carv­ings of Con­fed­er­ate lead­ers of the Civil War. But they were also two of the LGBT MAYOR’S LATE BROTHER-IN-LAW OPENED HER EYES

Ac­cept­ing and em­brac­ing the LGBT com­mu­nity and mak­ing it part of the city’s longterm plan­ning is per­sonal for Stone Moun­tain Mayor Pat Wheeler, who has lived in the city with her hus­band for 50 years. Her late brother-in-law was gay.

“We saw how he was treated,” she says.

com­mu­nity and the peo­ple have em­braced us,” he says.

Webb was elected by the city coun­cil to serve on the Down­town Devel­op­ment Author­ity, and is also a board mem­ber of the Stone Moun­tain Vil­lage Busi­ness As­so­ci­a­tion (SMVBA). Of the six mem­bers on the board of the SMVBA, four are LGBT.


Su­san Leisure and her part­ner Brooke Martin loved the more af­ford­able hous­ing but had con­cerns about living openly as a cou­ple when they first moved to Stone Moun­tain in 2004.

“We didn’t lie to any­body, but we were hes­i­tant about let­ting peo­ple know we were a cou­ple,” Leisure says. “That lasted about three months, then we started be­ing more open. It be­came clear very quickly that that’s not an is­sue.”

Leisure is the direc­tor and Martin is the direc­tor of op­er­a­tions of AARF Pet Cen­tral, a pet sup­ply store, adop­tion cen­ter and train­ing cen­ter in Stone Moun­tain Vil­lage. Leisure, who is pres­i­dent of the SMVBA, doesn’t think it’s a co­in­ci­dence that there are so many LGBT-owned and/or op­er­ated busi­nesses con­cen­trated in Stone Moun­tain Vil­lage and that many LGBT com­mu­nity mem­bers serve in lead­er­ship po­si­tions.

“We all live in the vil­lage,” she says. “Do all the gay busi­ness own­ers live in Mid­town? Or in De­catur? We all live here so it’s re­ally crit­i­cal to us how the city de­vel­ops and not just that peo­ple come spend money in our stores. The city has done a great job mak­ing it clear to us that be­ing an out gay busi­ness owner is ac­tu­ally re­ally a good thing for the city.” ‘GAY PEO­PLE STARTED MOV­ING IN AND WE’RE BRING­ING NEW LIFE TO IT’

Chi­ro­prac­tor David Feschuk was living with his part­ner in a house in Buck­head in 2003 when they were look­ing to make a move, but the prices in At­lanta were too high.

“You could spend $250,000 and get a two-bed­room, one-bath in At­lanta and in Stone Moun­tain, the houses were a frac­tion of that,” he says.

He was familiar with the area from bik­ing, hik­ing and run­ning in Stone Moun­tain Park, but had what he calls “ma­jor con­cerns” about mov­ing there.

“I did not want to live out­side the Perime­ter,” he says.

But he and his part­ner made the move and have never looked back. He moved his chi­ro­prac­tic of­fice, The Back Shack, from Buck­head into Stone Moun­tain Vil­lage in 2008. He ex­panded into a big­ger lo­ca­tion in 2013 and now of­fers ad­di­tional ser­vices in what is now called The Heal­ing Cen­ter.

“It’s re­ally sur­pris­ing and I don’t know if it’s Stone Moun­tain Vil­lage it­self or if it’s just the way it is now with peo­ple be­ing more open,” he says. “There’s still some peo­ple here who are not open to gay peo­ple living in the vil­lage, but just like any other area Stone Moun­tain Vil­lage was a dead area, then gay peo­ple start- ed mov­ing in and we’re bring­ing new life to it.”

Feschuk’s best friend J.R. Scott lived on Pied­mont Park and liked it, but be­gan to tire of the traf­fic and high prop­erty val­ues. The openly gay re­al­tor at Bet­ter Homes and Gar­dens Real Es­tate Metro Bro­kers knew the area from vis­it­ing Feschuk, and he loves rock-climb­ing, so, well, you get the drift. One more LGBT busi­nessper­son joined the rest of the pop­u­la­tion in Stone Moun­tain.

“A lot of peo­ple move to De­catur and the houses there have got­ten more ex­pen­sive. Then the next step out is Stone Moun­tain,” says Scott, who is also an SMVBA board mem­ber.

ART Sta­tion’s Thomas points to a pact he made with his part­ner Hi­dalgo when they got to­gether 32 years ago that might help ex­plain what Stone Moun­tain Vil­lage has turned into to­day.

“When we first got to­gether, we knew we were go­ing to be to­gether a long time. So we wrote our per­sonal mission state­ments,” says Thomas, who also sits on the board of the SMVBA and the Down­town Devel­op­ment Author­ity. “One of the things was that we wanted to be an ex­am­ple of a gay cou­ple in a main­stream com­mu­nity and show we’re not weirdos.”

“Michael and I have planted a lot of seeds over the years and they’re fi­nally be­gin­ning to sprout.”

LGBT-owned and op­er­ated busi­nesses have flooded Stone Moun­tain Vil­lage in re­cent years, cre­at­ing an un­likely mecca for the com­mu­nity. (Cre­ative Com­mons photo)

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.