Rally planned for today; vigil set for Tuesday

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imageIf you’re itching to take action, there are a handful of opportunities coming your way.

There’s a rally in Midtown today to call attention to crime and hate crimes legislation. On Tuesday, a press conference and vigil are scheduled to honor Jaheem Herrera, the 11-year-old DeKalb student who committed suicide earlier this month after facing anti-taunts and bullying from classmates.

Atlantans Together Against Crime & Cutbacks holds a rally in the heart of the gayborhood — 10th Street and Piedmont Avenue — to build awareness to what it calls the growing threat of crime in the city. The rally, the group’s fourth, is being held near the location of the high-profile attack on a gay man last month.

The group invited Georgia Equality to join the rally, though ATAC — formed by a gay man — does not support hate crimes legislation the statewide gay rights organization has lobbied lawmakers to pass. Kyle Keyser (photo), ATAC’s founder, says hate crimes legislation is “not our issue” in a post on the group’s website.

I chose to include Georgia Equality and proponents of Hate Crime legislation after residents of Midtown got organized after an alleged hate crime took place there a month ago. A Facebook group called “Take Back Midtown!” got started (now called “Take Back Georgia!”) and over a thousand people joined. Fundraisers for the alleged victim were held and people started to speak out.

ATAC doesn’t advocate hate crime legislation or not. It’s not our issue. The person who emailed is right… you have to catch the person first. There’s a lot more our city and our communities should be doing to make Atlanta safer. I’m bringing together all of Atlanta’s neighborhoods to be one voice in doing that.

As far as the inclusion of hate crime proponents in this rally, I see it as neighborhood specific. Many, many people are passionate about this issue in Midtown. I’m not here to judge it and decide which I think is better or worse for fighting crime. If people are engaged, one way or another, then they’re engaged. I want to support and foster that.

Keyser, who has been robbed at gunpoint, organized ATAC late last year in the wake of the shooting death of a Memorial Drive restaurant employee. Keyser tells Southern Voice in a profile that he wasn’t interested in activism until recently.

Seeing the response on Facebook for [The Standard bartender John] Henderson and people angered over what they perceive as a rise in violent crime in the city, Keyser said he was compelled to do something.

“Everyone’s pissed. I decided I’m gonna start something where they can go, so I came up with ATAC, bought the [web] domain name that night and threw up a one page website and said give me your email and we’ll figure out where we’ll go from here,” he said. “That’s how it started. And now seven weeks later we have 8,000 people and City Council members blowing up my telephone and coming to our rallies. They’re listening to us.”

“I feel the biggest way we can influence or make change in this city is by targeting elected officials because this is a crucial election year. Every City Council member is up for re-election, the mayor is up for election, and they are the ones who directly decide budgeting, allocation of funds for public safety,” said Keyser, who was never an outward activist until now, other than volunteering for presidential campaigns.

Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, is scheduled to speak at the rally about the need for hate crimes legislation in the state. The statewide gay rights group is also asking for volunteers to help collect names and email addresses from rally participants to build the organization’s base of support.

imageOn Tuesday, two vigils are scheduled to remember Herrera (photo), who killed himself April 16. Family members say the boy faced repeated anti-gay taunts and bullying from classmates.

At 11:30 a.m., the Faith and Community Alliance will issue a call for unity and action at Tabernacle Baptist Church on Boulevard.

The interfaith alliance works to advocate and influence public policy around LGBT issues. The alliance’s founder, Rev. Dennis Meredith, and Re. Paul M. Turner will lead the event.

At 6 p.m., a prayer vigil is scheduled at First Christian Church of Decatur on West Ponce de Leon Avenue. The event is being organized by the church and the Faith and Community Alliance to call for action to address bullying in schools.

Georgia Equality, in an email last week, urged supporters to lobby their lawmakers to support anti-bulling legislation, attend the vigil at First Christian Church and make a donation to support the group’s lobbying efforts. The group is one of several taking part in the evening vigil.

In 2008, the state Senate passed anti-bullying legislation by a vote of 54-0. A House Education Sub-committee and the full House Education Committee also passed this legislation by unanimous vote. Unfortunately, a floor vote on the bill did not take place by the end of the 2008 Session.

Urge your lawmaker to pass legislation in 2010 to protect students who are bullied or harassed because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

Photos: Keyser by Bo Shell, Southern Voice; Herrera by Curtis Compton, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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