Up in Our House – The Atlanta Eagle Raid
Once upon a time 40 years and 3 months ago in a hamlet known as New York City raids were not uncommon. Cops would shut down Fire Island and other watering holes quite routinely. This wasn’t the first time the police hit this unassuming dive known as the Stonewall. They had no idea what they were in for. But they found out, didn’t they? Much speculation has been generated since that fateful weekend about why the children fought back on that day. Some say it was too damn hot, like some other cities I know in June. Judy Garland had died the week before so we were kinda raw. So imagine that first queen who took off her pump and turned it into a missile. The first dyke who punched back. What do you think they knew about being sick and tired of being sick and tired? And those who raised sticks, stones, fists, or as Bayard Rustin taught us, just tucked their bodies into places so that wheels would not turn!
That act of critical resistance birthed a movement! By saying no to this degradation on that night, star crossed, scarred and sacred, our foremothers and forefathers said yes to their humanity. Rose up mightily! Sashayed for freedom! They said simply --loudly no more. Not this time. There is never a right time for injustice. Never a wrong time to speak out truth, speak fire, to be free. We know something about Acting Up. Ask Dee Dee Chamblee, Paris Hatcher. Read about Tony Daniels, Harvey Milk, Fannie Lou Hamer. They will tell you. Not then. Not now. Not never.
The Atlanta Eagle is our home. My Sisters Room quite literally is our sister’s room. 708, Tower, Bulldogs Djangos is where I live and get life. We will not the haters and bigots in blue desecrate our house. Force us to lie down on our own floors in piles of glass broken by their forced entry as they joke about how “this is more fun than busting niggers with crack.”
As Sister Alice Walker wrote, “this here our juke joint”! We deserve no less than due process. If we were doing anything wrong unlawful, there is a right and lawful way to address and what happened on September 10th was neither right nor lawful. We have the right to live as freely and openly as anyone just as we are, whether we are 10 deep in the club or in our bedroom with someone deep in us.
Let me leave it with you that the world watches how you respond to tyranny. The universe weighs how much you will risk to be free and meets you measure for measure. Either your child or somebody else’s child sees how you live, takes count of high you rise up in this our time. Rise up for yourselves, for each other, for those who you see as different and also get pushed on, pushed out, pulled apart because of gender, race, income, physical ability and aspects otherwise “queer” that deviates from those who dominate.
The gay bars are not the only sites in their sights. LGBT organizers need to recognize that many of the other exotic dancing clubs recently hit by the APD “just so happen” to be located in predominantly black neighborhoods such as Pleasers on Cleveland Avenue, Goldrush on Metropolitan Parkway. What kinds of hijinks go on in these fine establishments that are unheard of at the Gold Club or the Cheetah?
Throughout the last decade we have witnessed a thinly veiled ethnic cleansing, a gradual scrubbing of lgbt establishments out of Midtown and blacks and latino residents out of intown period. Many of the mostly white buyers who regentrify lower income neighborhoods see themselves as “pioneers”, some of whom are queer. They proudly use words like “settling” when they move into neighborhoods once occupied by the Indians, I mean blacks and latinos, who are priced out of their homes or kicked out of public housing supplanted by developers plowing through the city as if it were their personal gold mine. Such demonstrations of entitlement fan the embers of homophobia and general mistrust of white folks among blacks, including those who impose “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies upon their own folk who are black and lgbtq. Local wedges of racism and homophobia abort potential collaborations between two groups who would gain so much more from being allies rather than adversaries in Atlanta.
Let us show the city to busy too hate how to live up to its nickname. We must bring power to the love we demonstrate throughout our cities, our homes. We can maintain contact with the citizens review board to ensure that they are calling for a thorough investigation and a follow up action plan from the Atlanta Police Department. This November, we need to elect a mayor we know will be willing to act on our behalf and not just talk the walk. Let us be more deliberate in how we invest our money and our time. Spend some dollars or volunteer at a bar, a bookstore, a place of worship, or a bathhouse-- any place that takes care of us. Send a card or email to Atlanta Eagle owners Robby Kelly and Richard Ramey to let them know you have their backs. Show your appreciation for APD LGBT liaison Officer Dani Lee Harris. Donate to ZAMI and Georgia Equality. Make Simone Bell a State Senator representing District 58. Support State Senator Vincent Fort not only when he proposes hate crimes legislation but also when he crusades against predatory lending which most profoundly impacts poor people of color. Tell Kecia Cunningham, Congressman Lewis, J Sheffield –thank you, for letting me be myself again, for making a place, giving me shelter, a home!
This is our city as much as anyone’s and the rewards it has derived from our presence are irrefutable. Who gives Atlanta more flavor than we who are its beautiful “strange fruit”? We expect no more than that to which our humanity entitles us. Respect.
“Your crown is already bought and paid for. All you have to do is put it on your head” – James Baldwin
A shortened version of these remarks was presented at a rally on September 18, 2009 at Atlanta City Hall