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LGBT Heroes Project: Laura Gentle and the Atlanta Eagle Raid

October 28, 2009 By: jaysays Category: Featured, LGBT Heroes Project

Laura GentleLaura 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.

JeffSchadeAfter 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.

LGBT HERO | Frank Voci: White Knot Marches for Equality

October 03, 2009 By: geekgirl Category: Featured, LGBT Heroes Project

whiteknotAs part of our Heroes project for October’s LGBT History Month, we are delighted that Frank Voci accepted our invitation to write a blog about why he started White Knot for Equality. You might remember seeing actors from the movie Milk wearing white knots at the Academy Awards.  If you are attending the National Equality March, we encourage you to wear a White Knot not only for yourself but also for others who could not attend. And make a few extra knots to hand out and make new friends. Why knot?

White Knot Marches for Equality

By: Frank Voci

The National Equality March on October 11 has been a short-time in planning, but a long-time coming.  Much like my own involvement in the new Equal Rights Movement.

I had always been a donor, but never an activist.  Who had the time?!

But when Prop 8 in California passed, my activist gene was activated. I needed to do something, so I started what has become a national awareness campaign called White Knot for Equality After noticing the post-election street protests dying down, I realized we needed a way to keep the conversation going in our homes, work, places of worship, schools.  I wanted to create an easy, universal way of staying visible in everyday life.  Ribbon campaigns are nothing new, and as I searched for an easy to make symbol that was unique, I happened to tie a piece of ribbon in a knot.  It clicked.  Everyone should be able to tie the knot.

That simple act–making and wearing a White Knot–quickly became for many others who had never been active a way of instantly organizing to fight for equality. Every day I see the power of visibility, the importance of speaking out, and the value of organizing. And that’s why I am marching in Washington DC and urging the thousands of White Knot wearers across the country to join me.

The National Equality March will be an incredibly visible event that will reach millions through the media coverage. But more importantly, the March is the launching pad for the next stage of grassroots organizing that will with everyone’s great effort unite our individual and state-centric struggles in a single powerful movement for full equality. What do we want?  Equal protection under the law in all matters governed by civil law in all fifty states. This is more than a philosophy.  It’s a demand.  And there is a tremendous amount of work to be done to achieve it.

That work is being done right now. Groups around the country have started organizing in all 435 Congressional Districts. We will win equality by demanding it directly of our lawmakers.  LGBT people and our allies are already working together for the common goal of complete equality. This is why the March is so important. It is the impetus to set up a powerful network of local organizers.  As Cleve Jones has said, we will think Federally, but act locally.

How can you be a part of this? If you can, organize groups to travel to DC for the March.  At home, start organizing in your local community or look for organizations that already exist, many of which have set up Facebook Pages.

And of course, you can wear a White Knot to the March and wherever you go in your community to show your support for equality and hopefully spark some conversation.

White Knot for Equality is a non-profit organization devoted to fighting for marriage equality and overall equality for LGBT people. The White Knot symbol has quickly become the symbol for marriage equality and can be found in more than 1300 cities around the world (all 50 states and 25 other countries). Our goal is to create conversations that need to happen to change hearts and minds.