In A Night at the Sweet Gum Head, journalist Martin Padgett tells Atlanta’s overlooked queer history during the disco decade – Atlanta, Georgia

Atlanta, Georgia 2021-06-08 16:54:38 –

Atlanta in the 1970s suffered great contempt and police harassment of the LGBTQ + community. Changes in the city’s vitals have shifted its political importance in favor of Maynard Jackson, who was not only the city’s first black mayor, but also a solid ally to the gay community, but the opposition was 10 It lasted for a year.

To Sweet gum head night, Journalist Martin Padgett connects this context with the explanation of two main themes.Bill Smith, who helped lead the Gay Liberation Front in Georgia, works as a city commissioner and is the leading gay newspaper in the South. BarbAnd John Greenwell became a stardom leader and played as Rachel Wells at Sweet Gum Head’s nightclub. Along the way, Chesher Bridge Road Nightclub itself (owner Frank Powell’s Florida) Named after his hometown), it emerges as a symbol of the cheerful gay fantasies and revolutions of the South, capturing the essence of a ephemeral era surrounded by the Stonewall rebellion and the AIDS epidemic. ..

Why Sweet Gum Head?
I’ve lived within a or two miles of Cheshire Bridge Road since 1997 and started looking for story ideas. It’s a transition point between Backhead and Morningside and Emory, and I’ve always thought it was gutter. Whenever the other counties were dry, it was a place where you could buy alcohol, go to gay bars and strip clubs, and eat fried chicken in the colonnade.

Eventually, I started to focus on what was just outside the door. The gay community had all these bars on Cheshire Bridge Road and all of its history, but I didn’t know anything about it. When I started rereading the material, I found a night called Sweet Gum Head. I met a club. I knew almost every gay bar in the city and thought I had been there. Why didn’t I know this?

It was the space next to where I live. It closed in 1981, so I didn’t know it existed. When I started reading articles about it, they were all focused on drug shows. Atlanta is famous for drugs. But Sweet Gum’s story is also a way to track the development of Atlanta’s LGBTQ + civil rights movement. The nightclub has been open for nearly a decade between the Stonewall Rebellion and the dawn of the AIDS epidemic. Further digging, I realized that there was an important part of the history of queer that had been overlooked so far.

I forgot about the 1970s to some extent. In the 1980s, everyone was desperate to survive, stay healthy, care for their friends, and see them die. Earlier, I realized that there must have been an era of happiness, optimism and excitement. I needed to know more about it.

Talk about multiple aspects of exercise.
There is certainly controversy between the gay and queer communities on how to promote equality. Some thought that gradual and gradual change was the way to get us accepted by the outside world. And there were rebels who just wanted to light the fire. In the first few years, there was a small act of liberation that could be seen in public or holding hands at gay venues.

One of the men I interviewed, Gil Robison, said he was active in a town that had been active in citizenship and queer rights for many years, and that the 1970s was an era of inquiry and optimism. People really felt that anything could happen and they didn’t have to be bound by labels or identities. They investigated it-it went out with a full drug and “passed” as a woman or man. Or whether it’s Bill Smith and the “army of lovers” marched on the sidewalk by police because the ACLU was useless. Get permission to protest the official gay rights. When they marched on the sidewalk in 1971, they had to stop to wait for a traffic light. They had to wait for the traffic to pass. These small protests evolved into this large-scale protest in 1978 outside the Southern Baptist Convention. [which was meeting at the Georgia World Congress Center]So, 2,000 to 4,000 people protested Anita Bryant talking internally because she had to say about homosexuality. This was Atlanta’s most notable and most widely reported protest of this kind, while at the same time affecting the gay community and straight ally.

You said some stories don’t understand you yet. Do you have a sense of what they are and where to look next?
I was looking for a copy of the tape Georgia today From March 24, 1978. It was a 30-minute WSB television show hosted by Nancy Scott at the time, and all episodes were recorded within Sweet Gum Head. Also, Bill’s core mystery is always there. He died of a drug overdose just a few months before the age of 32. To date, I have overturned notes and sources and there must be something Bill left behind. I don’t think. Why did he decide to kill himself? Did he feel threatened or gave up? Did he suffer from activist burnout, as many did? Did his addiction overwhelm him and didn’t see an exit? Atlanta when he went to the New York Public Library There was this thrilling moment when I found an unnamed cassette tape about the gay hotline. I popped it in and listened to it, but it was Bill’s voice. I knew it right away. It just gives you the right kind of chills.

You write that this book is “The Story of Our Freedom.” Are you comfortable?
Always there always A space that is always created for those who have the freedom to be asserted, the voice to be asserted, and those who otherwise feel alienated. I’m really lucky because I chose Atlanta to come out. I chose this place to look for the community.

On the other hand, some queer communities feel that the city has changed and that it is no longer the place where we get together and connect. Other cities are like hijacking the Atlanta cloak. But for decades, if you were gay and lived in the south, you knew where the place was and what happened here. You were drawn to it. You came here to find yourself. And the more I read what I wrote, the more I realize that this is also my story. Because I was one of those people. For me, this is to pay back the debt, the debt of self-awareness, comfort and love.

Excerpt from Sweet gum head night

Sweet gum head night
John Greenwell (aka Rachel Wells) and Burt Reynolds (1975)

Photo courtesy of John Greenwell

Sweet gum head He turned four in 1975, old by gay bar standards, but still in the heart of the up-and-coming gay district along the hazy Cheshire Bridge Road. Feet away.

Straight neighbors had no choice but to accept the late-night crowd. Gay clubs have sprung up all over the road, a former dirt path that cut out a Confederate soldier’s farm.

The Cheshire Bridge was a wide boulevard before World War II. The GI Building has brought hundreds of new families to the newly paved streets lined with soon-built ranch houses.

Interstates opened in the 1960s and exit ramps were built to connect directly to the first liquor store found by Georgians in Dry County just inside the Fulton County border.

As the neighborhood moved to Ruche, gays and lesbians regained it, with doctors and teachers, lawyers, gay newspapers, gay bookstores, gay churches, gay massage parlors, one or two gay bars, and 6 I brought a gay bar in a place. Includes sweet gum head.

“Gay people like to be in awe of their numbers,” said Peter Winocour, owner of Mothers, a gay bar in Atlanta. time..

Sweet Gum Head was counted as one of the 10,000 discos that opened nationwide by 1975, but it wasn’t a disco that spent thousands on sound systems, luxurious bathrooms, and valet parking.

The Sweet Gum Head relied on talent. $ 25 a night drug performer and a lot of hard work. A single spinning mirror ball combines with a second mirror ball, both reflecting a blink of light on the dance floor.

During the week, a small crowd at midnight gave performers space and time to try out new numbers and refine their performances. Those who saw the show at 2 am were either drunk and couldn’t go out or had nowhere to go. Drag queens have tried experimental long-play disco tracks among their favorites and gathered hints. Over the weekend, people rushed to the club, which was built to seat only about 300 people.

Gumhead became an A-list event in the town of B-list and a magnet to visit celebrities who were the originators of gay culture.


Among the regulars Comedian Paul Lynde sat in front of the stage. Frank Powell often said he was attending school with Linde, but didn’t reveal how that was possible. One night in September, Rachel shared with Satin. I prepared for the show in a small dressing room. [DeVille]..

The crowd was noisy all night, but it became even more noisy when Harman leaned against the dressing room door. “You can’t believe who is sitting in my section,” he said. “And hurry up, I’m losing money while we’re talking. Burt Reynolds!” Rachel returned to makeup. I’ve acknowledged, She thought. As if he were coming in here. The biggest box office star around.

Reynolds, a football player from North Florida, has gay friends, goes to gay clubs, raises a gay audience, and even spurs the look of a mustache and jeans Castro clone that is popular among gay men. Called. He filled his universal charm with gender-independent affairs, like the infamous one. cosmopolitan Shooting in a nude pose that barely hides masculinity.He played brilliantly rescue— A movie in which a man’s rape quickly became a punchline for off-color jokes — But Reynolds believed that his Cosmo volume and his sexuality prevented him from being named an Oscar. Rachel. In Satin’s little dressing room, the noise turned into a hustle and bustle. “Maybe.” Satin muttered, spraying her hair to submit. Rachel wore a robe to see exactly what was going on, and stabbed a needle into the immobile blood clot that passed in front of the DJ and surrounded Reynolds. It was him.Between shooting Gator He decided to come to Atlanta with an Okefenokey Swamp to check out America’s largest drag show bar.

“What the hell! You’re Burt Reynolds!” She managed to get close to the crowd around him before putting on her next dress. “Hello, I’m Rachel Wells. I’m here. I’m participating in the show. “

Then the crowd swallowed him again.She [was getting ready] When I heard a knock on the dressing room door, I called the following number: John Austin said, “I’m getting a little crazy,” taking Bart to a small room in front of the club. “Can he hide here?” And he sat there, excitedly staggering his black hair, having a mustache, friendly, warm and witty.

Rachel was worried about the smell of cigarettes and beer and the dressing room with drag clothes scattered around, but Bart seemed to forget, fascinated her for the next 15 minutes, and Mrs. P’s leather upholstery. Rachel didn’t remember what he said to her, but she didn’t have to. This wasn’t the last time she saw him.

From the book Sweet Gum Head Nights: Drugs, Drugs, Discos, and the Gay Revolution in AtlantaCopyright © 2021 by Martin Padgett. Reprinted with permission of WW Norton.

Martin Padgett, a 2019 Lambda Literary Awards Fellow, has been writing books, features, product reviews and news for 30 years. He earned an MFA for writing Narrative Nonfiction at the University of Georgia’s Grady Journalism and Mass Communication College. He holds a PhD in History from Georgia State University.

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