Alex Wan looked gay Sunday. In the sense that he was walking in the Atlanta Pride parade, waving a rainbow flag, wearing a blue feather boa and prancing down Peachtree in a way that made me think, Oh yeah, Alex Wan is gay.
It’s often been easy to forget that we’ve had openly LGBT council members in Atlanta since Cathy Woolard broke the barrier in 1997. While Woolard’s victory christened District 6 as “the gay seat” on the Atlanta City Council, and the jurisdiction spans Midtown, the three successive lesbian and gay occupants of the seat have been “post-gay” officeholders.
Woolard and her successor, Anne Fauver, were both considered policy heavyweights and able council members, but neither showed leadership on LGBT issues that arose while they were in office: the preservation of Midtown’s LGBT culture (and affordable housing) during the economic and demographic makeover the neighborhood has undergone this century; discrimination complaints from LGBT citizens against private businesses or the Atlanta Police Department; or city and state legislation impacting same-sex couples, including perfunctory opposition during Georgia’s anti-gay marriage amendment fight in 2004.
It’s understandable that openly LGBT elected officials would want to establish that they serve all constituents and are not fixated only on LGBT issues, but if proving that leaves them mute on our issues, it makes the importance of having openly LGBT officeholders more symbolic than practical.
Wan was likewise silent during the swell of public opposition to the state’s so-called “religious liberty” bill earlier this year, after accusations of racial discrimination at a prominent Midtown gay bar, throughout the creation of the Rainbow Crosswalks and the debate about whether they should be washed away after Pride. Aside from the electoral go-go boys he enlists to hold campaign signs outside Ansley Mall, the only interest Wan has shown in LGBT residents was his failed plan to wreak gentrification upon Cheshire Bridge Road by replacing its gay clubs and sex shops with more “respectable” businesses and resi- “It’s understandable that openly LGBT elected officials want to establish that they serve all constituents and are not fixated only on LGBT issues, but if proving that leaves them mute on our issues, it makes the importance of having openly LGBT officeholders more symbolic than practical.” dents—essentially, to Midtown-ize the strip.
With an influx of families and young heterosexual professionals, the Midtown that Wan represents isn’t perceived as the same gayborhood it was in the past, meaning it might not be considered politically responsible for Wan to champion LGBT issues. However, as the council’s only openly gay member, Wan’s leadership is desperately needed on a gay issue that affects all parts of the city.
Earlier this year, Atlanta was ranked among the top cities in the United States for HIV transmissions, with black gay men bearing the worst of the epidemic. While most HIV policy is carried out by county and state governments, the silence from Wan and other Atlanta officials while a crisis rages within the city limits is negligent and indefensible.
At one point during Sunday’s parade, a UHaul truck lumbered down Peachtree Street, “decorated” with a lone poster board featuring the logo for Stand Up 2 HIV, a community initiative. The Stand Up 2 HIV campaign has done much to fight the spread and stigma of HIV in Atlanta, but its parade entry offered a disheartening visualization of how little is being done to save gay men of all ages and ethnicities.
Still, that lonely sign affixed to a rental truck felt like more effort on the issue than has been done by Atlanta’s sole openly gay council member.
Ryan Lee is an Atlanta writer.