AC­TIVISTS IN AC­TION

Les­bian ac­tivist Lorraine Fon­tana re­flects on nearly a half-cen­tury of ac­tivism. Also in­ter­views with youth, HIV/AIDS, breast can­cer and trans ac­tivist.

GA Voice - - Front Page -

“Watch­ing the civil rights move­ment when I was a kid on TV made me feel racism was one of the key prob­lems in our coun­try. And I’ve al­ways re­ally tried to con­nect those is­sues.”

By DYANA BAGBY

She came out as les­bian in At­lanta in 1971 in the midst of “a rad­i­cal/pro­gres­sive women’s com­mu­nity.”

Lorraine Fon­tana, 68, a na­tive New Yorker, is a vet­eran queer rad­i­cal ac­tivist who moved to At­lanta in 1968 to work for VISTA as part of Pres­i­dent Lyn­don John­son’s War on Poverty. Cur­rently, she is ac­tive in many so­cial jus­tice or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing the Moral Mon­day move­ment.

She’s a found­ing mem­ber of the At­lanta Les­bian Fem­i­nist Al­liance (ALFA), which cre­ated a safe, women-only space from 1972 to 1994, then later Dykes for the Sec­ond Amer­i­can Revo­lu­tion (DARII).

For decades, Fon­tana has showed up to just about ev­ery sin­gle pro-equal­ity rally or­ga­nized in the city, and she can be counted on not only to watch, but also to make and hold up signs, take pic­tures and post to so­cial media to record the event, and re­cently has been will­ing to be ar­rested for causes she be­lieves in.

I’ve heard a lot about the ALFA house—what was it like to be there?

You can’t re­ally say “the” ALFA house be­cause there were three houses. We wanted to have a women-only space where we could have meet­ings, events, sis­ter­hood, and in­vite peo­ple there. The first ALFA house was cre­ated be­cause a bunch of us were liv­ing in a house off Mans­field Av­enue [near the Se­vananda Nat­u­ral Foods Mar­ket]. This was about 1972 or 1973. That neigh­bor­hood back then was very in­ex­pen­sive. I think we rented the whole house for $125. That house of peo­ple de­cided to break up and then we got the main one, which ev­ery­one thinks about when they think of the ALFA house, on McLen­don Av­enue. It was a du­plex. We al­ways man­aged to ar­range to have les­bians liv­ing on the other side. I lived there with my then-part­ner for a while.

Then there’s the sad part of story. We started think­ing, “Why do we keep pay­ing for rent? Why don’t we have our own house?” So some women put down pay­ment on a house in Kirk­wood. It needed a lot of work. And for the last few years of ALFA we spent so much time try­ing to get peo­ple to help fix it up. The house was us­able and we did meet there for a while, but there was never enough energy. Get­ting a house we thought would give us more energy and a place to build up our li­brary and ar­chives. ALFA closed and we had to sell the house. We used the money to pay off peo­ple who made the loans.

What does in­ter­sec­tion­al­ity of move­ments mean to you?

In­ter­sec­tion­al­ity—we didn’t have that term but it was ob­vi­ous to us those who started ALFA. We al­ways wanted to stay con­nected to other is­sues. I’ve al­ways done that. For in­stance, when in the mid-1980s BWMT [Black White Men To­gether] started projects in other cities, do­ing anti-racist work, I worked with them to get passed an anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion or­di­nance for bars ... in the city of At­lanta. It was clear from the ex­pe­ri­ences of those in the black com­mu­nity that try­ing to

Oc­to­ber 16, 2015

Lorraine Fon­tana, 68, is a vet­eran ac­tivist who con­tin­ues to at­tend marches and ral­lies for so­cial jus­tice for all peo­ple. (Photo by Dyana Bagby) get into pre­dom­i­nantly white clubs they were dis­crim­i­nated against. The bars would triple card peo­ple, say this is a pri­vate club. I was an ALFA per­son work­ing with BWMT be­cause I thought it was im­por­tant. And I would go with a group to gay bars to make sure they were fol­low­ing the or­di­nance, make sure they posted the pol­icy in the bar.

How did the is­sue of race be­come im­por­tant to you?

Watch­ing the civil rights move­ment when I was a kid on TV made me feel racism was one of the key prob­lems in our coun­try. And I’ve al­ways re­ally tried to con­nect those is­sues.

It is the key is­sue to me in de­cid­ing whether we are ever go­ing to be what our myth of Amer­ica says we are. Ev­ery­one likes to cite the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence and the Con­sti­tu­tion, but they [the doc­u­ments] don’t ap­ply to ev­ery­one. They didn’t ap­ply to women, to black peo­ple, to Na­tive Amer­i­cans. That whole con­tra­dic­tion has been with us since the be­gin­ning.

What at­tracted you to Moral Mon­day?

When Moral Mon­day came to Ge­or­gia, I thought it was won­der­ful. They had key ar­eas they wanted to fo­cus on, but saw the con­nec­tions with ev­ery­one. They were very into hav­ing peo­ple talk to each other to work to make Ge­or­gia more pro­gres­sive.

And now you’ve been ar­rested sev­eral times in civil dis­obe­di­ence ac­tions with Moral Mon­day—de­mand­ing the state re­peal its “stand your ground” law; de­mand­ing the state ex­pand Med­i­caid; protest­ing voter sup­pres­sion; and protest­ing the so-called Re­li­gious Free­dom Restora­tion Act. What was that like?

I felt like I missed out on non­vi­o­lent di­rect ac­tion when I was younger [dur­ing anti-war, anti-racist, anti-im­pe­ri­al­ist protests]. I was go­ing to a city col­lege, still liv­ing at home, and my par­ents were al­ready un­happy with me for mov­ing to At­lanta. With Moral Mon­day, I felt like I now have my chance. I’m re­tired. I would be will­ing to do so if there was a cause I very much be­lieved in. I can do it. Some peo­ple are still work­ing and some young peo­ple don’t want to start their ca­reers with a crim­i­nal record.

It’s very priv­i­leged when you do a civil dis­obe­di­ence ar­rest. You’ve con­sulted with at­tor­neys, you get out ev­ery time. We only had to pay bail once. The other times we were let out on our own re­cog­ni­zance. So you’re only in jail from 10 to 15 hours at the most. And you are with other peo­ple. What we did see was the re­al­ity of the other peo­ple who were there. You hear all kinds of sto­ries.

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