Post-gay politi­cians

GA Voice - - LGBT Atlanta -

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.

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