Diamond Lil, 80
Barney Simms devoted much of his life to making Atlanta the city it is today, working as a community activist to improve neighborhoods, and serving on several city boards and commissions to help guide the strategic themes of Atlanta’s growth. On April 9, Simms was robbed and gunned down in his southwest Atlanta home in a murder that rocked the city.
More than 2,000 people attended Simms’s funeral at Antioch Baptist Church North, where Simms was a member for 45 years, and was eulogized by U.S. Rep. John Lewis and former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin.
“I don’t think he ever realized how significant he had become,” Antioch pastor Cameron Alexander said at the service. “He wasn’t an elected official so he didn’t try to become important. He just became that because he cared about people.
“Some people come into a room and you forget they were ever there, “Alexander added. “Other people come into a room and they never leave. Barney never left.”
Michael Smith, 22
Born in 1939, the drag performer known as Diamond Lil had witnessed her native Georgia advance by light years when it came to accepting LGBT culture, and she played no small part in that growth. Diamond Lil performed her first drag act at the age of 18, gained fame regaling the sailors docked at the Savannah port in the late ’50s, and was part of the gritty queer Atlanta scene that birthed RuPaul and Lady Bunny, and set Midtown on course as the hippest neighborhood in the South.
“No longer will I lie upon a tear-stained bed, staring through burglar bars in a basement hovel, while a world gone mad passes me by,” read the Facebook post that announced that Diamond Lil had succumbed to lung cancer. “You can have your drabness, loneliness, bleakness, desperation; but hang it all up; for I, DIAMOND LIL, will not be caged in the twilight zone any longer.”
Lady Chablis, 59