Critical moments, people and places in LGBTQ Atlanta history get the spotlight in a unique way with a new queer Atlanta history bicycle tour.
The three-hour, eight-mile excursion from Bicycle Tours of Atlanta showcases pivotal points in the history of LGBTQ Atlanta activism, nightlife, politics, public health and more.
It’s the brainchild of BTA owner Robyn Elliott and Charlie Paine, chair of Historic Atlanta’s LGBTQ History Preservation Committee.
“This information can sometimes really be heavy for people,” Paine told Project Q Atlanta. “A tour like this provides this information to members of the community and the public in a format that is actually enjoyable, that allows you to explore the city in a more positive way.”
“It’s really fun,” he added.
The idea for an LGBTQ Atlanta bike tour first came to Elliott in June 2015 while taking part in the popular monthly bike ride Critical Mass. That month’s ride happened to fall on the day that the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage.
“We made our way through the celebration at the intersection of 10th and Piedmont,” she said. “I was hit by the magnitude of what had happened. I don’t remember ever seeing that much joy before. The idea of a tour came to mind because I knew there was so much I didn’t know.”
It wasn’t until Elliott met Paine at a mutual friend’s house in 2019 that she realized she had the right person to champion the project.
“His love for history, passion for preservation and personal experience would be the right mix to curate the content for this tour,” she said.
The pair began meeting the following year to talk about the history and discuss potential routes. The tour finally launched last month.
‘It provides perspective’
Stops on the Atlanta Queer History Tour include the landmark former Atlanta Eagle site, the King Center, bars that gave drag legend RuPaul his start, LGBTQ-friendly churches and lesser-known venues.
“H.M. Patterson’s funeral home [on Spring Street in Midtown] was one of the first facilities that would provide services to victims of the AIDS crisis,” Paine said.
The site that resonates more than most is at 811 Ponce de Leon Place. It’s the former home of Michael Hardwick, the gay Atlanta man whose 1982 arrest for sodomy would go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“When you start seeing how an officer of the Atlanta Police Department charged Hardwick with sodomy in his own home and it went to the Supreme Court and they upheld the sodomy law in 1986, it’s kind of baffling, especially for the younger LGBTQ generations that don’t remember this,” Paine said.
The Supreme Court overturned the case in 2003. Hardwick died of complications from AIDS in 1991.
“I believe the tour will be meaningful in different ways to different people,” Elliott said. “For some, it will be inspiring to learn who the pioneers were, who was shaking things up and who was paving the way for queer Atlantans to have a voice and place in our city.”
“For those of us who are interested in learning more about the culture and gaining a better understanding of the challenges that faced — and continue to face — our friends and loved ones in the LBGTQ+ community, it provides perspective,” she added.
Another option for LGBTQ history buffs is a burgeoning tour by Touching Up Our Roots. The project offers self-guided audio tours through downtown, Little Five Points and the Ponce de Leon Avenue corridor. The maps and audio tours are free and available at tuorqueeratlanta.org. Touching Up Our Roots is also working on a route covering the Monroe Drive and Cheshire Bridge Road corridor.
Visit Atlanta’s Queer History Bicycle Tour online for reservations and information. Bikes, helmets, snacks and bottled water are provided for the $65 fee. The next tour dates are Nov. 6, 13 and 26.