War vet, activist Charles Stevens dies.
Charles Stevens, 88, of Decatur, a beloved Georgia gay activist and military veteran, died May 4 peacefully in his sleep.
A memorial service was set for Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Phillip Rush Center.
Stevens was a United States Navy veteran of World War II and the Korean conflict. He was a life member of the Georgia Chapter of American Veterans for Equal Rights (AVER) and also a longtime member of Atlanta Prime Timers, an organization for older gay and bisexual men and their loved ones.
Stevens was also well-known for riding in a jeep with other members of AVER at the front of the Atlanta Pride parade as part of the color guard.
Many friends posted to social media and to Stevens’ Facebook page to express their love and admiration, including Danny Ingram, past national president and past Georgia president of AVER.
“I have never met a more honorable, generous, or dedicated individual,” Ingram wrote.
Stevens is also being praised for his dedication to community activism, which included the fight to overturn the ban on gay people serving in the military.
Georgia Voice spoke to Stevens several times over the years. In 2011, for a story about Atlanta’s aging LGBT population, Stevens spoke about growing old and staying active in the community. From that story: [Stevens] pulls out a yellow Post-It note from his worn brown leather wallet to show a handwritten list of all the organizations he’s involved with: American Veterans for Equal Rights, Servicemembers Legal Defense Fund, Atlanta History Center, Atlanta Botanical Gardens (he volunteers on weekends), Atlanta Prime Timers (for older gay men), and he’s on the board of his condo association as well.
“I can’t remember them all,” he said with a smile.
Stevens moved to Atlanta in 1958 while working for the fabric manufacturer Scalamandré, a high-end fabric and textile company based in New York.
“It was a gay-friendly industry so it was easy to be gay,” he said. “I didn’t come out until I was 25, but by the time I was 13 or 14 I knew there was something different.”
With Prime Timers, Stevens created a buddy system so everyone has a buddy to check in on every day, whether through the internet or by phone.
“There was one time when a member was hurt for several days in his home before someone inquired about him and he was checked on,” Stevens said.
He worries for other older LGBT people, especially those without much money.
“I’m concerned housing is too costly for many on a limited income. I live alone in a condo complex where there are 246 units and there are 30 gay people living there, I’m guessing,” he said. “Most of us live alone.”
Stevens is happy to grow old as an openly gay man.
“I wouldn’t want to be younger again,” he said.
Charles Stevens riding at the front of the 2014 Atlanta Pride parade with members of the Georgia chapter of American Veterans for Equal Rights. (Photo courtesy AVER)