LGBTQ activists, lawmakers and other elected officials are speaking out, launching organizations and backing legislation to rid Georgia of its Confederate symbols — including the massive granite carving of rebel leaders at Stone Mountain Park.
Gay Atlanta attorney Dennis Collard co-founded Stone Mountain Action Coalition in 2020. The group’s mission is removing Confederate flags and renaming streets and features honoring Confederate and Ku Klux Klan figures in the park.
The Confederate carving at Stone Mountain, initiated in 1915, was completed in 1972 after a renewed push in 1964 as a response to the Civil Rights Movement.
“This is not a Confederate cemetery. This is not something that was conceived immediately after the Civil War,” Collard told Project Q Atlanta. “In 2020, we saw the issue of racial justice finally come to a head in this country, and freeing Stone Mountain from the Confederacy is an essential part of Georgia moving forward out of an era of overt government-sanctioned racism.”
Collard spoke at a Feb 3 press conference at the State Capitol in support of a trio of new bills that would prohibit Confederate monuments across the state.
Georgia has the second-highest number of symbols honoring the Confederacy and its leaders of any state in the U.S., according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Its 229 such symbols include 109 monuments, 62 highways and 23 schools.
Gay lawmakers support anti-Confederacy bills
Rep. Shelly Hutchinson, a Democrat from Snellville, filed House Bills 237 and 238 on Feb. 1. The bills would remove legal protections for Confederate monuments and prohibit the display of “monuments, memorials, plaques, markers or memorabilia related to the Confederate States of America, slave owners, or persons advocating for slavery on public property.” The legislation includes exceptions for museums and Civil War battlefields.
State Rep. Billy Mitchell, a Democrat from Stone Mountain, filed House Bill 277 on Feb. 3. It would remove language in state law that the Stone Mountain Memorial Association claims requires it to maintain Confederate imagery.
State Rep. Matthew Wilson, a Democrat from Brookhaven, attended the press conference in support of the bills. He is one of seven openly LGBTQ members of the state legislature.
“There’s this tremendous amount of dissonance between our necessary condemnation of the enslavers and traitors that built the Confederacy and the manner in which we glorify them in monuments around the state,” Wilson said.
“It’s another example of institutional discrimination, telling Black Georgians that those in power are still fighting that same war,” he added.
Wilson plans to introduce legislation that would create a study committee to explore the glorification of the Confederacy on state properties.
Supporters of the legislation include state Rep. Karla Drenner, a Democrat from Avondale Estates and the longest-serving LGBTQ member of the legislature.
“The Confederate government and its symbols exist solely to keep Black Americans in unwilling bondage,” she said. “As of June 2020, there are 201 public spaces that display them in Georgia. I join with my colleagues demanding their removal, along with renaming schools and other places.”
State Rep. Marvin Lim, a Democrat from Norcross and one of the newest LGBTQ members of the legislature, signed on as a co-sponsor of the three bills earlier this week.
“Even assuming for a second that these monuments can be divorced from slavery, how well are they actually doing the work of communicating the values we might claim today as traditionally Southern ones – like hard work, hospitality and charity,” he asked. “Are these monuments really the best representative of the best – and the not the absolute worst – of Southern values?”
The Stone Mountain Action Coalition is hosting a sit-in on Saturday at 9 a.m. at Confederate Hall at Stone Mountain Park to raise awareness about the issue and to support HB 237 and 238.
‘We don’t see Germany with Nazi flags still flying’
Doraville City Councilmember Stephe Koontz spoke out against the Confederate flags in Stone Mountain Park at a recent Stone Mountain Memorial Association meeting. She is the only openly transgender elected official in Georgia.
It’s not about history, Koontz told Project Q.
“We don’t see Germany with Nazi flags still flying. We all know what Confederate flags stand for,” Koontz said. “We saw that at the insurrection at the [U.S.] Capitol, and if that isn’t enough reason to remove those flags, I don’t know what is.”
“While I don’t know what it would feel like to be a Black person seeing those remnants of slavery, I do know what it feels like as a marginalized person to feel unwanted,” she added.
This story is made possible by a grant from Google News Initiative’s Journalism Emergency Relief Fund.