Gay activist speaks out on civil rights center

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The proposed gay-inclusive Center for Civil & Human Rights in downtown Atlanta gained a little more national exposure this week when the Wall Street Journal took a look at fundraising for the initiative in the midst of a recession and the election of a black president.

The center has about half of the $120 million it needs, though backers are finding it’s getting more difficult to make the case for another temple to civil rights. To help, the exhibit space will be split among the classic story of the 1950s and 60s civil rights movement, the Revolution to World War II and the “modern era” starting in the 1970s. That’s where the gay content comes into play, though that now seems to be drawing some fire.

Atlanta gay-rights activist Dave Hayward criticized the little material on gay, lesbian and transgender activism he found in the rollout of content. “I couldn’t believe there was almost nothing there,” says Mr. Hayward, of Touching Up Our Roots Inc.

Navigating all this has been tricky. Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and other backers bluntly told critics of the site selection that there was no feasible alternative and that the traffic from the adjacent tourist stops was critical to the center’s financial success.

The center added Mr. Hayward to its global advisory board and added material on gay activist Winston Johnson, of Atlanta, who is credited with influencing the late Coretta Scott King to become one of the first African-American civil-rights leaders to endorse gay rights.

The expanded focus has widened the donor pool.

imageThe center’s executive director, Doug Shipman (photo), said gay and lesbian content will be included in the center in “a couple of different places.” He made that commitment last September when the center broke ground on its downtown site. (View a Project Q Atlanta photo album from the event.)

“You have both a historical piece and a contemporary piece. You’ll see that in exhibitions and in programming. We have very specially outlined how we want to tackle the issues.”


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