Hamilton, Ga., Mayor Pro Tem Ransom Farley was around 11 or 12 years old when his grandmother told him he was “special.”
He realized what that meant a couple of years later when he thought he liked a girl. His mother asked him why he was “wasting that girl’s time” if he didn’t really want her. He asked his grandfather about it.
“And he told me, ‘Junior, you don’t have the right to mess with nobody’s emotions. If you don’t mean them no good, you need to leave them alone. You think this girl is who you want, but she’s not.’ That was it,” Farley told Project Q Atlanta.
He realized he was gay. That was in the mid-1960s.
In the five-plus decades since, Farley left Hamilton, went to college, served in the U.S. Navy on a submarine and aircraft carrier on multiple continents, worked as a nurse in D.C. and in multiple roles at an Atlanta bathhouse, returned to Hamilton on his mother’s orders and got elected to the city council.
Farley also made national headlines earlier this year after helping uncover body camera footage showing Hamilton’s police chief making racist comments about slavery and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. The town later ousted the chief and another police officer.
And Farley’s not nearly done making waves. The 70-year-old is considering a run for the town’s top job.
From Hamilton to Antarctica
Farley was born in Hamilton in 1951. The town — which counted about 400 residents at the time — sits on about three square miles of land and is roughly 25 miles north of Columbus.
Farley said he didn’t hide his sexual orientation after coming out in his late teens. He was young, Black, out and proud in small-town Georgia in the final years of the civil rights movement.
“I walked the streets of Hamilton just like everybody else,” he said. “Everybody knew who I was and nobody made a big deal out of nothing. I never hid it.”
He graduated high school in 1969 and went to Western Kentucky University, dropped out and worked for Mammoth Cave National Park. Then he joined the U.S. Navy. He was the only Black sailor in a class of 80 during basic training.
“I was thinking I’d have to do battle with these boys from the South and I didn’t,” he said. “These white boys shielded me and made sure that I graduated. I’ve been lucky all my life.”
He served on the USS Bluefish submarine and the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier. He went from places as balmy as the Philippines to as frigid as Antarctica.
Farley worked at a hospital in Washington, D.C., after leaving the Navy, bounced around a few other places, got his nursing degree and worked at a nursing home. And he sowed his oats.
“You know how it is when you’re young and hot,” he said. “I was experiencing sex and everything, running amok.”
Atlanta and a health scare
Atlanta came calling for Farley in 1990. He took a job as a maintenance man at Flex Spas in Midtown soon after arriving.
“I had never seen so many fine men walking around naked,” he said. “I had my share of fun there.”
He earned promotions to clerk and then assistant manager in his 15 years there.
“Sex and drugs go together, and we could not have people doing drugs in the club,” he said. “If I caught you on drugs or with drugs I didn’t call the police, but I would throw you out of the club.”
Farley had a heart attack in 2005, which triggered his return home to Hamilton.
“My momma insisted that I come home,” he said.
Fed up with how Hamilton treated its Black residents , Farley ran for city council in 2014 and won.
“Nobody was representing the Blacks,” he said. “When I looked at it, it wasn’t nobody’s fault but ours that we were not represented. We let four councilmen and a mayor decide what was going to happen to us.”
Since Farley won his council seat, the city hired its first Black female clerk and first Black police officers.
“Hamiliton ain’t never had no Black policemen,” he said. “The only time a Black woman was in city hall she was cleaning up.”
Farley was appointed mayor pro tem in 2018.
‘If you’re a racist, own it’
Hamilton hit the national headlines for all the wrong reasons earlier this year.
A city employee found body camera footage of the police chief using a racial slur while making lewd comments about Bottoms and Stacey Abrams. The footage also caught an officer making racist statements about slavery. The footage was recorded as the two prepared to patrol a Black Lives Matter rally.
The city employee showed the footage to Farley.
“I had known [the police chief] for about 10 years,” he said. “I was flabbergasted.”
Farley alerted the city attorney and city administrator about the video. The mayor and the city council met that night to discuss the incident. The police chief resigned, and the officer was fired.
“I own the fact that I am Black and I am gay,” Farley told the New York Times. “If you’re a bigot, if you’re a racist, own it.”
Farley is up for re-election to council in 2023, but he’s considering a new post.
“If I listen to the people, they’re saying they want me to run for mayor,” he said. “They want me to be the first Black mayor in Hamilton.”
“I told them I don’t know at this time. At my age you don’t know about my health. I got a chance to think about it,” he added.
‘I’m who I am’
Sixty years after his grandmother first told him he was special, Ransom Farley is now Hamilton’s resident LGBTQ elder statesman.
Young LGBTQ people in Hamilton often visit him and bring him trinkets.
“They want to know how the hell I did it,” he said. “Nobody’s given me hell for it. It makes me feel good that this young crowd thinks enough to ask me questions. It really does. And it keeps me young in a way. I love it.”
“I’ve caught more hell here in Hamilton being Black than I have about being gay,” he added.
Farley said the older LGBTQ crowd in Hamilton asks him why the younger ones always come around. He tells them it’s because he’s just being himself.
“Two things I will not do,” he said. “I will not apologize to nobody for being Black and I will not apologize for being gay. I’m who I am. All my life I’ve laid it out there. Everywhere I’ve went I’ve laid it out there.”
“It’s in your hands now. You can choose to do whatever you want with it. You should never lie about who you are and what you are. You can own it in a good way or in a bad way. I choose to own mine in a good way.”