At­lanta Black Gay Upris­ing

Branden Mat­tox is ready to do the work

GA Voice - - Front Page -

By PA­TRICK SAUN­DERS

psaun­ders@the­gavoice.com

As di­rec­tor of Love Un­der Fire, At­lanta LGBT ac­tivist Branden Mat­tox worked to ad­vance the cause of mar­riage equal­ity in Ge­or­gia. Co­in­ci­den­tally, just a few weeks af­ter the U.S. Supreme Court de­cided that mat­ter, another event led Mat­tox to form a brand new move­ment.

The event in ques­tion was the dis­cov­ery of a new dress code at pop­u­lar At­lanta gay bar Blake’s on the Park on July 9. The dress code in­cluded re­stric­tions like “No hood­ies,” “No sag­ging pants,” “No ban­danas/dew-rags” and “No over­sized chains or medal­lions,” lan­guage that many in the com­mu­nity took as be­ing racially mo­ti­vated. Blake’s man­age­ment took the sign down af­ter an up­roar in the com­mu­nity, but the wari­ness re­mained.

Now Mat­tox has part­nered with oth­ers to start At­lanta Black Gay Upris­ing, with ini­tia­tives un­der­way to get black LGBT-owned busi­nesses off the ground and to honor black LGBT At­lanta history via an awards cer­e­mony.

Shift­ing fo­cus from in­ter­de­pen­dence to in­de­pen­dence

Af­ter the Blake’s in­ci­dent in July, Branden was sure of one thing.

“My first re­sponse was that this should not be just about Blake’s on the Park, be­cause I knew in my ex­pe­ri­ences with our com­mu­nity that we are very re­ac­tive,” Mat­tox tells Ge­or­gia Voice. “Some­thing hap­pens, we get ex­cited, we get stirred up and then that pas­sion and energy quickly burns off. Then we, in short or­der, re­turn back to busi­ness as usual.”

Mat­tox and Gee Ses­sion-Smalls, co-founder of The Gen­tle­men’s Foun­da­tion and the one who dis­cov­ered the dress code sign and posted it to so­cial media that July evening, con­sulted with Ge­or­gia Equal­ity ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Jeff Graham about a con­struc­tive re­sponse to the is­sue of racial di­vi­sion in At­lanta’s LGBT com­mu­nity.

Oc­to­ber 16, 2015

Branden Mat­tox was moved to start At­lanta Black Gay Upris­ing af­ter the dress code sign in­ci­dent at Blake’s on the Park in July. (Photo by Pa­trick Saun­ders)

While Mat­tox lauds Graham’s ef­forts in par­tic­u­lar, over­all he did not see the progress he hoped to achieve on the is­sue. So he started putting more ef­fort into in­de­pen­dence rather than in­ter­de­pen­dence, i.e. fo­cus­ing on build­ing up the black LGBT com­mu­nity in At­lanta in­stead of try­ing to bring to­gether the black LGBT com­mu­nity with other races.

“We need to stop look­ing for those gay peo­ple who are not black to be able to solve our prob­lems. Yes, there are those who are out there who have tried to help solve our prob­lems and I com­mend them but if you need a steak cooked a cer­tain way, you’ve got to cook it your­self,” Mat­tox says.

Hence, At­lanta Black Gay Upris­ing, which Mat­tox makes a point to say is a move­ment and not an or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Venue, At­lanta black LGBT history awards in the works

Mat­tox is aware of the re­ac­tions peo­ple have to the word “upris­ing” and re­al­izes peo­ple will think the move­ment is a mil­i­tant or vi­o­lent one. Not so, he says, call­ing it more of a cre­ative, non­vi­o­lent upris­ing.

One of the ini­tia­tives is The Bald­win Pro­ject, named af­ter the late black gay writer James Bald­win. Mat­tox’s goal with the pro­ject is to put to­gether a fund­ing net­work to get black LGBT-owned busi­nesses off the ground in At­lanta.

He is al­most done putting to­gether a board of di­rec­tors for the pro­ject, and they had their first event on Oct. 15, a book club called the Suc­cess So­ci­ety Book Club of Black LGBT At­lanta, which fo­cuses on mo­ti­va­tional and busi­ness books.

“[The book club] is so we can con­di­tion our minds for en­ter­prise, be­cause that’s im­por­tant,” Mat­tox says. “I think that it pro­vides a demon­stra­tion to black gay peo­ple in gen­eral that we can start our own busi­nesses, that we can sup­port one another and prac­tice group eco­nom­ics.”

Miko Evans, founder and CEO of tal­ent agency and pro­duc­tion com­pany Meak Pro­duc­tions, is putting to­gether an awards cer­e­mony that will honor At­lanta’s black LGBT history.

And Chris Ford, a lo­cal black gay pro­moter, has started a crowd­fund­ing ef­fort to cre­ate a venue for At­lanta’s black LGBT com­mu­nity. By day the venue, which will be called Fu­ture Un­lim­ited, will be a space for group meet­ings, HIV/AIDS test­ing and coun­sel­ing, a drop-in cen­ter for LGBT youth of color, book clubs, busi­ness work­shops, and more. By night it will be a space for wed­ding cer­e­monies and re­cep­tions, de­signer ex­hi­bi­tions and shows, view­ing par­ties and pre­mieres, pri­vate so­cial groups and meet and greet sin­gles nights.

Hold­ing out hope of heal­ing racial di­vi­sions

But while the At­lanta Black Gay Upris­ing move­ment will fo­cus solely on build­ing up At­lanta’s black LGBT com­mu­nity, Mat­tox says he hasn’t com­pletely given up on heal­ing the racial di­vi­sions within the city’s LGBT com­mu­nity, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing the ex­pected fight to come over a so-called “re­li­gious free­dom” bill and other trou­bling bills in next year’s leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

“We’re all in the same com­mu­nity. It’s about reach­ing into our com­mu­nity and what we are to­gether as a mul­ti­cul­tural peo­ple who, if for no other rea­son than be­ing gay and the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing op­pressed, have found a rea­son to come to­gether,” he says.

“Out­side of the ex­pe­ri­ence of the LGBT com­mu­nity you don’t see that hap­pen­ing. That’s the op­por­tu­nity for us to do some­thing dif­fer­ent and we have been fail­ing at that op­por­tu­nity here in At­lanta.”

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