LGBT Community Working Within UGA and Athens-Clarke CountyPosted: April 3, 2014
Athens, apart from being recognized as a college town, is known for being a culturally diverse place with a progressive society. The downtown Athens area even has a reputation for having a bar or club for every social “scene.”
But what about the Lesbian, Gay, bi-sexual, and transgender community, commonly known as the LGBT community? Athens has a large and active LGBT community, but has no official place to gather outside of the LGBT Resource Center on the UGA campus.
Athens-Clarke County and the University of Georgia both show support for the LGBT community, but there seems to be some sort of disconnect between the community and the two institutions. Athens-Clarke County offers full domestic partnership benefits for city and county workers, however the University of Georgia does not. The university has an official LGBT resource center, whereas Athens-Clarke County lacks any official center for members of the LGBT community and has not had an official “gay-friendly” establishment in 5 years.
County and City workers in Athens-Clarke County are eligible for domestic partnership benefits if the couple meets a few stated requirements. However, the University of Georgia only offers a select few domestic partner benefits for its members, which only went into affect January 2014.
“UGA has a an anti-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation,” stated Josh Fletcher, Senior Coordinator for the UGA LGBT Resource Center, “But UGA does not offer domestic partnership benefits and Athens-Clarke County does, so it can get a little tricky. If you work in the county you can receive those privileges, but if you work at UGA you cannot.”
According to the Human Rights Campaign Athens-Clarke County is one of three locations in Georgia that offers domestic partnership benefits for county and city workers. However, among southern universities, UGA is one of the less progressive that does not offer its faculty full domestic partnership benefits.
GLOBES is an organization at UGA started in 1994 for LGBT staff, faculty members, and graduate students. The organization began conversations with the university in 1994 about domestic partnership benefits. However it took over a decade before anything changed on the issue.
In 2005 UGA faculty and staff member’s domestic partners were eligible for “soft benefits.” Some of these benefits include purchasing a UGA card, riding the bus, and attending UGA events – benefits that don’t have a financial impact on the university itself.
This past year UGA launched its new open enrollment plan, which offered a few more benefits for domestic partnerships. This new plan went into effect January 1, 2014.
UGA domestic partners can now receive dental insurance, life insurance, vision insurance, and accidental death and dismemberment insurance, according to the University of Georgia Human Resources website.
“It is an improvement to have access to these benefits,” said Deidre Kane a UGA GLOBES member, “But that still leaves out healthcare, which is, of course, the larger component.”
Although UGA does not offer full domestic partnership benefits, the university does have a place for its members of the LGBT community to gather freely.
The LGBT Resource Center located in 221 Memorial Hall on the UGA campus offers LGTB students a place to collect, gain support, and develop resources in a non-discriminatory atmosphere. The LGBT Resource Center hosts events and special programs throughout the year to educate the LGBT community, and bring its members together.
“We have Ally Visibility Week in the fall. This year it focused on the It Gets Better Campaign, but we framed it as “dawgs making it better.” This program asked what are we dawgs doing to actively make things better for the LGBT community here on campus. We had a great turnout for that.”
LGBT groups within the community such as AIDS Athens also hold local events, but the community has not had an official LGBT establishment in five years.
Boneshakers, a former staple in the Athens gay community, closed its doors in 2005. A string of unsuccessful gay friendly bars followed, leaving the Athens social scene without an official gay bar in 2009.
Justin Davis, a senior Psychology major from Alpharetta, Ga. and openly gay male was eager to come to UGA in August 2010 and take in all the classic city had to offer. “Even though I was younger and couldn’t get into bars, I remember asking my older friends if there were any gay clubs or bars and was shocked to find out that there wasn’t a single one.”
Although a LGBT friendly bar or club may not be coming to Athens anytime soon, members from the community and from the university have recently begun working together to get an LGBT community center established in the area.
“There is an effort on the way to start a community center called Common Ground,” said Deidre Kane, “There is an activist on campus, Ricky Roberts, that has been spearheading that effort to create such a location. There are definitely others who feel that a community space would be helpful and useful to have in many ways.
While the Athens community may currently lack an official location for members of the LGBT community to gather, that has not stopped the members of this group from doing so.
Once a month the Georgia Bar, located at 159 W Clayton Street, hosts a gay friendly night called “Ga(y) Bar.” The monthly event was organized in 2011 by LGBT members from Athens, as well as LGBT UGA students to give the gay community in Athens a place to gather and form a strong sense of community.
At one of Georgia Bar’s “Gay(y) Bar” nights you can find local Athens members of the LGBT community, LGBT UGA students, and their allies in a very accepting and high energy atmosphere.
Another progressive establishment for the LGBT community in Athens-Clarke County is Our Hope Metropolitan Community Church, which gathers on Sundays at the Episcopal Student Center at 908 S Lumpkin Street.
The church is headed by Reverend Renee DuBose, pastor of the church and advocate for the LGBT community. Dubose, an out lesbian, started Our Hope MCC in August 1999 and has since been an active member and supporter of the LGBT community in Athens-Clarke County.
“I started the church because it was something I felt strongly about,” Said DuBose, “I really felt the need for there to be a place for queer people to worship.”
DuBose previously served on the UGA LGBT Resource Center advisory board, is an advisor for AIDS Athens, is one of three advisors for Athens Pride, and has worked closely with GLOBES and UGA. DuBose is often a guest speaker in classes around the UGA campus, speaking messages of advocacy for the LGBT community.
“Athens has a great LGBT group,” said DuBose, “There’s a lot of diversity in the group and there’s also just an overall general respect for each other even though we’re all involved in and doing different things.”