A Queer Southern Sanctuary: LGBTQ and Hispanic Migrations and Activism in Atlanta, 1970–2011

Friday, January 4, 2013: 2:50 PM
Balcony J (New Orleans Marriott)
Wesley Chenault, Virginia Commonwealth University
In 2011 Georgia followed Arizona in passing some of the nation’s most punitive immigration laws, a response to its rapidly growing Hispanic population. In Atlanta, the state’s capital and most populous city, numerous social justice organizations, such as Southerners on New Ground (SONG), mobilized LGBTQ businesses, churches, and organizations through the creation of “sanctuary zones” and “Georgia Buy Spots.” This form of queer community activism recognized the basic denial of human dignity at the heart of both anti-LGBTQ and anti-immigration legislation, at the same time that it heightened visibility of the city’s emergent Hispanic LGBTQ community. Since the 1970s, Atlanta’s once biracial composition has dramatically diversified ethnically and racially, a change also reflected among Atlanta's queer populace and activism. This paper places these events and changes within the broader context of the development of LGBTQ activism in Atlanta, as well as the national and local events that have contributed to Georgia becoming one of the fastest growing states for migrating Hispanics. The 1996 Olympics, NAFTA, tourism, transportation, and suburbanization are but a few of the forces that have altered and continue to affect the city’s environs and populace, in ways both large and small, and that partially explain why LGBTQ women and men of numerous creeds and colors continue to call Atlanta home, making it a queer Southern sanctuary in a sometimes hostile state.