At­lanta drag icon Di­a­mond Lil dies at 80

GA Voice - - Newsbriefs -

At­lanta drag leg­end Di­a­mond Lil has passed away at age 80. The an­nounce­ment was made on the en­ter­tainer’s of­fi­cial Face­book page on Aug. 9.

Lil had been bat­tling cancer and was put in hospice care in June. While she lived a pub­lic life on­stage, friends say she wanted to keep her health is­sues pri­vate.

Lil was born in Sa­van­nah, Ge­or­gia on De­cem­ber 28, 1935. As a young child, she sang on Sa­van­nah ra­dio, and she dressed in drag for the first time when she was five years old. She per­formed pub­licly for the first time in drag at age 18, do­ing the song “Three Let­ters” by Ruth Brown.

“I tore up three let­ters in front of the au­di­ence,” Lil told Ge­or­gia Voice in an in­ter­view from last Au­gust.

Lil gained fame early for re­gal­ing the sailors docked at the Sa­van­nah port by singing and danc­ing on the ships in the har­bor, where the sailors would pick her up and throw her in the air, ac­cord­ing to At­lanta LGBT his­to­rian Dave Hay­ward. How­ever, she ex­pe­ri­enced a great deal of ha­rass­ment as well for be­ing gen­der non­con­form­ing in the 1950s South. Not only was she dis­charged from the Na­tional Guard, she was also ar­rested on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions for what she wore.

From the Sa­van­nah port into At­lanta’s heart

Lil came into At­lanta’s life af­ter a move in the early 1960s and pro­ceeded to per­form in the gay bars of the time, in­clud­ing Mrs. P’s on Ponce de Leon Av­enue and Chuck’s Rathskel­lar and Rose Room on Mon­roe Drive. She was called the “Queen of the Juke­boxes” as she was fea­tured on juke­boxes around the South­east—unique among fe­male im­per­son­ators as she of­ten per­formed in her own voice and com­posed her own songs. She was a ma­jor in­flu­ence on the per­form­ers that rose up in her wake, in­clud­ing Jayne County (who at­trib­uted her per­form­ing ca­reer to Di­a­mond), and was also a clear in­flu­ence on drag stars like RuPaul and Lady Bunny, who both started in At­lanta.

While not a po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist, she gen­er­ously per­formed ben­e­fits for the Ge­or­gia Gay Lib­er­a­tion Front. The en­ter­tainer also per­formed at other ben­e­fits over the years, in­clud­ing for the Com­mit­tee on Gay Ed­u­ca­tion at the Uni­ver­sity of Ge­or­gia in 1972, when she sang “Stand By Your Man.” Hay­ward tells Ge­or­gia Voice that UGA of­fi­cials did all they could to throw the COGE off cam­pus, but that Lil’s no­to­ri­ety and the stand­ing-room only crowd helped en­sure that the group had the fi­nan­cial back­ing and the high pub­lic pro­file nec­es­sary to keep it go­ing.

A per­former un­til the end

Lil con­tin­ued to per­form through­out At­lanta in the decades that fol­lowed, in­clud­ing at Manuel’s Tav­ern and Mixx. In re­cent years, Lil scooped up sev­eral no­table awards. Ge­or­gia Voice read­ers voted Lil as Best Icon in the 2014 Ge­or­gia Voice Best of At­lanta awards. And in 2015, At­lanta Pride and Touch­ing Up Our Roots hon­ored her in the first ever Our Found­ing Valen­tines event cel­e­brat­ing LGBT pi­o­neers, trail­blaz­ers, and com­mu­nity builders.

Till nearly the very end, Lil could be seen at var­i­ous events around town, al­ways with one of her CDs at hand ready to sell. And just this April, she gave wed­ding ad­vice for cou­ples for Ge­or­gia Voice’s Wed­ding Is­sue. Lil had said that her all-time fa­vorite song to per­form was her orig­i­nal song “Cab­bage­town Katie.”

Rather poignantly, when asked by Ge­or­gia Voice last year what she had learned about her­self as a per­former over the years, she replied, “There comes a time when it’s time to hang up your skirts.”

Kasim Reed ap­points trans ac­tivist Tracee McDaniel to At­lanta Cit­i­zen Re­view Board

Mayor Kasim Reed has made a bold step to­wards the in­clu­sion of trans­gen­der At­lantans in city govern­ment with the re­cent ap­point­ment of Tracee McDaniel to the At­lanta Cit­i­zens Re­view Board.

“I am pleased to ap­point McDaniel to serve on the At­lanta Cit­i­zen Re­view Board,” said Mayor Reed. “As a life-long ad­vo­cate for the trans­gen­der com­mu­nity, Ms. McDaniel will bring an im­por­tant per­spec­tive and a life­time of ex­pe­ri­ence to this role. It is al­ways es­sen­tial to have mi­nor­ity voices in the room, and our LGBTQ com­mu­nity has a tremen­dous stake in pos­i­tive po­lice-com­mu­nity re­la­tions.”

“Reed had been hold­ing out for a trans­gen­der per­son to fill that role,” re­ports CBS46.

McDaniel re­acted to the ap­point­ment on her Face­book page: “I knew from an early age that I wanted to make pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tions to my com­mu­nity. It’s my in­ten­tion to rep­re­sent our com­mu­nity well, to the best of my abil­ity,” she said.

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