Three Atlanta-area LGBT elected officials and a prominent LGBT political activist will donate their papers to Emory University’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL). The donations will be announced at a screening of the award-winning documentary “Breaking Through” beginning at 6:30 pm on Thursday, Nov. 14 in the Jones Room at Emory’s Robert W. Woodruff Library. A panel discussion will follow the screening.
Georgia State Rep. Karla Drenner, Atlanta City Council member Alex Wan, Doraville City Council member Brian Bates, and Atlanta political activist Ken Britt have agreed to give their papers to MARBL. The four were also involved in the documentary, a chronicle of the personal struggles and professional triumphs of LGBT elected officials across the country. Britt served as executive producer of “Breaking Through” and Drenner, Bates and Wan appear in the film. The four will participate in a panel discussion after the documentary along with Cindy L. Abel, the film’s director/producer, and Michael Bruno, the editor/director of photography.
“These gifts break new ground within our LGBT collections,” says Randy Gue, curator of Modern Political and Historical Collections. “MARBL is committed to being a nationally recognized center for collections that document LGBT history, culture, politics, print culture, and public health initiatives in Atlanta, Georgia and the South. These collections are our first commitments of LGBT elected officials. I can’t think of a better group of people to inaugurate this part of our collections.”
Wan, who is also the director of development for the Emory Libraries, is accustomed to asking people to donate their personal papers to MARBL, and they’re usually humbled to be asked. He says Drenner, Bates and Britt were no different. “The first reaction was along the lines of, ‘Why would anyone be interested in anything I have?’ ” Wan recalls. “I told them, ‘We may not realize what role we play right now, but 50 years from now, this information will be very important in understanding the progress we made, being among the first LGBT elected officials.”
Drenner became the first LGBT elected official to win a seat in the Georgia House of Representatives in 2000. Wan is the first openly gay man, and the first Asian American, elected to Atlanta City Council in 2009. Brian Bates, elected to the Doraville City Council in 2007, is believed to be the first openly gay Republican elected to an office in the Southeast. Britt is a gay political activist, visible on the Atlanta political scene for the last 30 years and known as “Atlanta’s gay godfather” for his active support of LGBT candidates.
“Because Emory University has been at the forefront of LGBT rights in Georgia colleges since the early 1990s, it was easy to choose to place my papers here,” Drenner said by email. “As the first openly gay legislator elected in the Deep South, I hope that researchers will gain an appreciation of the contradictions involved in fighting for the right of gay people to be who we are and love who we love, in the midst of Southern good manners. It was odd to fight against discrimination by the people who often would tell me it was ‘not meant personally.’ ”
MARBL is currently staging an exhibit, “Building a Movement in the Southeast: LGBT Collections in MARBL,” which features materials from various LGBT collections, in the MARBL Gallery on level 10 of the Woodruff Library.
The Robert W. Woodruff Library is located at 540 Asbury Circle in Atlanta, 30322. Parking is available in the Fishburne deck.
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