LGBT Heroes Project: Laura Gentle and the Atlanta Eagle Raid
Laura Gentle was the first straight Co-President in Lambda’s some 35-year history and was also heavily involved in women’s rights as the founder of the University of West Georgia’s first feminist organization that fostered straight, lesbian and bi-sexual feminist ideology.
After moving to Midtown, she lent support to many LGBT and civil rights organizations, including: the Stonewall Democrats, Georgia Equality, AID Atlanta and YouthPride through financial contributions and volunteering.
Later, she took a step back from her activism work, but after the Eagle bar was raided by Atlanta police and over 60 patrons were detained without cause, she went back to work and helped organize many protests and community events to fight back against such discrimination. She states:
I felt I needed to stand up as an ally to draw the straight community into this issue as I feel it effects everyone who loves Midtown and doesn’t want it change for the worse.
But Laura Gentle’s work hasn’t been without consequence, including controversy from the very community she is attempting to help. Jeff Schade, a Georgia resident who has worked closely with Ms. Gentle since the Eagle raid, has written the following about his experiences with Laura. I’m sure you will see, as I have, that she truly embodies the purpose and spirit of the LGBT Heroes Project:
Laura Gentle. That name has become suddenly synonymous with conflict. A name that often stirs up a love or hate reaction. Here, in Atlanta, in our already fractured LGBT community, Ms. Gentle has become a lightning rod of controversy for her staunch commitment to LGBT activism while being, as she will say “a heterosexual ally”. Some, who generally know little about her or her motives, rightly view Ms. Gentle as an outsider. They view her as a threat to their perfectly fostered “activism”, the old-style politics that has existed since the Act-Up days, since Stonewall. Her radical approaches to community organizing represent a threat not only to them, but to their tightly controlled views on what is and what is not an appropriate action. After all, what could a twenty-something straight girl know about equality? What could Laura Gentle, the heterosexual, possibly understand about Stonewall, AIDS, and the LGBT community?
Ms. Gentle will tell you of her days in Lambda Legal, when she marched for LGBT equality. She will tell you of the times that she was yelled at, called vile names, and made to be target practice for the football team. She will tell you these stories, and often times you can see that so many years later it is still difficult for her. Those experiences, the realness, despite the fact that she was marching for a cause to which she did not belong, it was a cause for which she did (and still does) strongly identify. As she has recounted this story to me, I can look in her eyes and see a passion that overtakes her already fiery personality.
This passion pervades every interaction I have had with Ms. Gentle. While I knew “of” her and “of” her work previously, I first became involved in her following the raid by the Atlanta Police Department on the Atlanta Eagle (a local leather bar). Ms. Gentle and I along with several others organized a series of community rallies and meetings in order to keep the LGBT community informed, and put pressure on the police department to answer to their actions. Even as she has had to answer questions as to her motives, and faced accusations as to her status as an outsider, Laura has pressed on. For someone with little to gain in this fight, that passion has continuously amazed me.
I have always said that until every person, regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity, is seen as equal, then I will continue to fight. I see that same drive when I look at Ms. Gentle and it inspires me. I know there have been times I’ve contemplated giving up and just going back to my quiet life, but in the short time I’ve known her, Laura has made it pretty clear that I won’t ever be able to do that.
After receiving a nomination for Ms. Gentle as an LGBT Hero, I began researching her work in Atlanta and stumbled upon a facebook note written by guest blogger, Jeff Schade. He outlined why he supports Laura’s work in spite of all the controversy surrounding her. I asked that he provide the above for a first person perspective and he graciously agreed. Thank you Jeff for helping recognize our LGBT Heroes.