Death be­fore dis­honor

GA Voice - - National Lgbt Pride -

The line that forms out­side of Bull­dogs on week­ends tells a story of gay fear, progress and hope. In­stead of oral his­tory, it’s a bit of “aura” his­tory: in­di­vid­u­als oc­cu­py­ing a space and writ­ing a nar­ra­tive that spans gen­er­a­tions.

For about 15 years, the guys who stand out­side Bull­dogs wait­ing to en­ter the cozy hip-hop club nes­tled be­neath the Mid­town sky­scrapers have been part of the most con­spic­u­ous ex­pres­sion of black gay man­hood in At­lanta. Nowhere have masses of black gay men been as con­sis­tently vis­i­ble to gen­eral passers-by than those lined up be­neath the rain­bow flag at 893 Peachtree St.

When I moved to At­lanta in the early 2000s, street cruis­ing seemed to be a big­ger part of Mid­town’s nightlife than it is to­day, with mid­night traf­fic so dense that the pa­rade of cars along Peachtree Street was as vi­brant as most of the sur­round­ing clubs. Back then, the scene out­side of Bull­dogs was al­most like a ho­mo­sex­ual sa­fari, as cars filled with black het­ero­sex­u­als crept down Peachtree Street and folks craned out­side of win­dows to gawk at, and oc­ca­sion­ally heckle, the un­fa­mil­iar phe­nom­e­non of black gay men.

The de­mo­graph­ics of At­lanta and cul­ture of Mid­town have changed since then, but be­muse­ment still seems a pop­u­lar re­ac­tion when the straight white mil­len­ni­als who now pre­dom­i­nate the neigh­bor­hood re­al­ize that the throngs of black men they might oth­er­wise fear are harm­less, highly fash­ion­able gay men. You can see the anx­i­ety melt from some peo­ple’s faces.

At the front of the line is a se­cu­rity guard, his­tor­i­cally les­bian, who checks IDs and pats down pa­trons to make sure no one brings a weapon into the bar. Sud­denly any an­noy­ance I might’ve had about the length and pace of the line at Bull­dogs is re­placed by grat­i­tude for some­one do­ing any­thing to make sure At­lanta does not en­dure the type of tragedy that shat­tered Or­lando.

I’ve wor­ried about the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of LGBT clubs since my ear­li­est days of par­ty­ing. I re­mem­ber look­ing down into the crowded dance pit of Back­street in the months after “I’ve wor­ried about the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of LGBT clubs since my ear­li­est days of par­ty­ing. I re­mem­ber look­ing down into the crowded dance pit of Back­street in the months after 9/11 and trem­bling at the thought of how easy a tar­get we were for any­one who wanted to lash out against what they con­sid­ered Amer­i­can deca­dence and de­prav­ity.” 9/11 and trem­bling at the thought of how easy a tar­get we were for any­one who wanted to lash out against what they con­sid­ered Amer­i­can deca­dence and de­prav­ity.

Just a few months ago, with the re­li­gious lib­erty de­bate tak­ing place dur­ing an ex­cep­tion­ally an­gry era of Amer­i­can dis­course (a bit­ter­ness fu­eled by racism and ho­mo­pho­bia), I was wait­ing to get into Bull­dogs and had the hor­ri­fy­ing fear of some­one driv­ing down Peachtree and fir­ing upon the lineup of black gay men. It’s ter­ri­fy­ing to con­sider that there is no gun law or pro-LGBT ini­tia­tive that can pre­vent such an at­tack.

How­ever, as I inched to­ward the front door of Bull­dogs, I was in­spired by the strength of those who stood be­side me, and those who have waited in that line through­out the years. Un­like in the past, I didn’t see any Bull­dogs pa­trons fac­ing the wall or oth­er­wise stand­ing in a way clearly in­tended to hide their face from the cars pass­ing down Peachtree.

Des­per­ate for hope after the over­whelm­ing trauma of the Or­lando shoot­ing, I find so­lace be­liev­ing that, whether at Pulse or any LGBT night­club in Amer­ica, any vic­tims of anti-gay vi­o­lence likely won’t ex­pe­ri­ence death with­out hav­ing em­braced the wor­thi­ness of our lives. Ryan Lee is an At­lanta writer.

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