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Bustling, brash, and vigorous, the city of Atlanta has been a symbol of opportunity and growth in the evolving "New South" for over a hundred years. Though many residents of the city share the conservative values associated with the Southern states, modern Atlanta has a pronounced progressive side as well, as evidenced by its large and active population.

In the three and a half decades since the Stonewall rebellion of 1969, queer presence in Atlanta has developed from an almost invisible enclave to one of the largest gay communities in the nation.

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Modern Atlanta, often called the Gate City of the South, has a population of almost 420,000, but the metropolitan area has a population in excess of 4,500,000, making it the ninth largest metropolitan area in the United States.


Unlike many cities, which spring up naturally on traveled trade routes or sheltered harbors, the city of Atlanta was planned and developed as the industrial revolution swept through the southern U.S. Long before white settlers took over the lands of north central Georgia, Creek and Cherokee Indians had lived in a settlement on the Chattahoochee River called Standing Peachtree. When the native people were forced out and marched west on the Trail of Tears, their village was replaced by a U.S. Army garrison called Fort Peachtree.

In 1836, as the development of the steam locomotive led to the creation of a railroad network throughout the new nation, the Western and Atlantic Railroad of the State of Georgia began to seek out a location for the terminus of its new line. They chose a spot on the Piedmont plateau near old Fort Peachtree and named the new town Terminus. Later renamed Marthasville (after the Georgia governor's daughter), then Atlanta, the new railroad town thrived. Within thirty years of its founding, its population had grown to almost 10,000.

In 1864, as the bloody fighting of the Civil War drew to its end, the town was burned almost to the ground, but it was quickly rebuilt, and by 1870 had grown to over 22,000 residents. Over half of these were African Americans, and, though Atlanta has had its share of racial tension, the city has long been home to a thriving and prosperous Black community, including several respected historically Black colleges and universities.

A dynamic railroad boomtown like the early Atlanta no doubt attracted a variety of non-conforming rebels. Though there were certainly gay residents in Atlanta before Stonewall, there is little evidence of their lives or community.

In 2005, gay archivist Wesley Chenault curated a collection of the city's early gay history called The Unspoken Past: Atlanta Lesbian and Gay History, 1940-1970, at the Atlanta History Center. A compilation of personal letters and photographs with oral histories, the exhibit documents the largely underground culture of pre-Stonewall gay men and lesbians in a conservative society. For these early queers, socializing at private parties, softball games, or a table at a local straight restaurant was a radical act of courage.

Post-Stonewall Atlanta

After the gay liberation movement began, Atlanta's gay men and lesbians quickly became more visible. The movement of affluent whites to the suburbs created affordable city neighborhoods where working-class people of color, students, and gay men and lesbians began to congregate. By the early 1970s, recognizable gay neighborhoods had formed in the city's Midtown, Little Five Points, and Candler Park districts.

Atlanta's first Gay Pride march, organized by the Georgia Gay Liberation Front in 1971, attracted several dozen marchers. The next year, Mayor Sam Massell appointed gay activist and journalist Charlie St. John to his Community Relations Commission. (St. John, who organized the first gay pride march, was summarily fired from his job at the Atlanta Journal Constitution for his activism.) Also in 1972, a congregation of the Metropolitan Community Church was formed.

As gay men and lesbians began to socialize more openly in a number of drag clubs, bars, and bathhouses, they also began to organize politically. The mid-1970s saw the founding of the city's first gay newspaper, the Atlanta Barb, and the opening of the gay bookstore Christopher's Kind and of the feminist bookstore Charis Books. The Gay Center opened in 1976.

By 1976, over 1,000 people attended Atlanta's Gay Pride celebration. In 1977, First Tuesday, a gay political organization, was founded. In 1978, 4,000 queers marched on the Southern Baptist Convention, then meeting in Atlanta, to protest the presence of anti-gay agitator Anita Bryant.

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