Remembering Atlanta Pride’s radical roots (or why early organizers got thrown out of gay bars)

Activist Dave Hayward recalls his time with the Georgia Gay Liberation Front in the early 1970s

Dave Hayward Atlanta
Dave Hayward (right) with Greg James and Elizabeth Monahan at the 1996 Olympics

Photograph courtesy of Dave Hayward

Dave Bryant Hayward, along with the late Berl Boykin, are cofounders of the nonprofit Touching Up Our Roots, Inc.: Georgia’s LGBTQ Story Project. Serving in countless LGBTQ+ rights groups, Hayward is a journalist whose work has appeared in publications such as the Advocate, OUT Magazine, and Frontiers magazine. He has interviewed many early gay rights advocates for National Public Radio’s Story Corps Project and is currently guest editor of a history of Atlanta Pride for the Georgia Voice.

In an instant I was the Yankee carpetbagger. Newly arrived in Atlanta from Washington, D.C., I joined Georgia’s Gay Liberation Front in October 1971. I bragged about helping start the GLF at George Washington University, but co-chair Bill Smith quickly set me straight about living here. He admonished, “David, if you go down to Five Points and shout out Sherman’s name, you will be torn limb from limb!” I thought, What did Sherman have to do with it? I had seen Gone With The Wind once, but who was still smarting about the Civil War?

The GGLF was not the D.C. GLF. Back in Washington, we had never had a leader in a charcoal gray, three-piece suit cajole us in tones of molasses and magnolia. I did realize that you’re only a Southerner if you were born in the South. I committed to reconstruct.

There was another prominent good old boy present, Shelby Cullum, who scandalized his Morningside family not only by being openly gay, but also by delivering petitions to the Capitol and City Hall to abolish Georgia’s sodomy law. He and a young friend, Berl Boykin, comprised the sum total of the Georgia Mattachine Society in the 1960s.

The GGLF erupted after the August 5, 1969 police raid on the Ansley Mall Mini Cinema showing of Andy Warhol’s Lonesome Cowboys. My surrogate sister, Abby Drue, now head of the Ben Marion Institute for Social Justice, was grilled by the police: Does your husband know where you are? Our dear Abby pleaded the Fifth.

Radicals also crowded the GGLF. Bill Smith’s co-chair was a bisexual married woman, Judy Lambert, who explored free love with her husband, Phil, who lived in Maryland. Our indoctrination was weekly consciousness-raising cell groups, where we inveighed against racism, sexism, ageism, and lookism—to the befuddlement of the larger community. When I chastised the Metropolitan Community Church in 1972, claiming their male beauty pageant was sexist, they stared at me, dumbfounded.

Radical of radicals was Atlanta native Severin (aka Paul Dolan), who pursued “cosmic drag” in a black-and-white evening gown, wearing a big black mustache. Severin headlined our events, warbling in a wavering alto, “I’m Tired of Straight Men F***ing Over Me!” Inevitably, he and Bill Smith collided after our successful 1972 Pride March, and Severin formed a short-lived splinter group, FLAME: Feminist League Against the Macho Empire.

Our 1972 Pride was the first march in the streets, as the 1971 gathering was refused a permit by “the City Too Busy to Hate.” The event was saturated with media. Bill Smith had his 15 minutes of fame on TV, haranguing, What do we want? Gay Rights! When do we want them? Now! When he crept into his accountant’s job at City Hall the next day, everyone stared straight ahead, but he kept his job.

We staged 1972 with scant support from the gay bars and even—in the Cove on Monroe Drive and Sweet Gum Head at Cheshire Bridge—violent resistance. We don’t want any of that radical shit in our bars! threatened manager Frank Powell when we asked if we could pass out leaflets about Pride. He kept his word, as I saw my friend Kevin pitched through the saloon doors of the Cove onto the concrete. I volunteered to patrol the parking lot, as I was not going to be thrown out of a gay bar.

But as in all fairy tales, there is a happy ending. Mayor Sam Massell appointed GGLF stalwart Charlie St. John to the Community Relations Commission in September 1972, our first openly gay anything as our first political appointee. Bill Smith succeeded him in 1973, and, as our gay godfather Stephen Sondheim says, we’re still here.