ATLANTA -- Sue Hyde, Director of the Creating Change Conference, stands in the Hyatt Atlanta ballroom. The large, empty room will become the center of activity over the next week as 3,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender activists come to Atlanta.
"What we have achieved from the time I was born to the time I am standing here talking to you is astonishing," Hyde said. "I never expected it. Even though I spent my entire life working for it, I never thought we would be here now."
The conference comes after a year of national landmark decisions and intense local debate on gay issues.
In May, President Obama's declared support for same sex marriage. "I've just concluded that, for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and confirm I think same sex couples should be able to get married," Obama said in an interview on ABC. The Atlanta City Council later passed a similar resolution of support. Mayor Reed signed it and voiced his own support.
Comments from Chick-fil-A CEO, Dan Cathy, in support of traditional marriage started a firestorm of backlash and support. "Chick-fil-A is focused on families. We've always been that way," he later told 11Alive News. The national coverage was centered here in Atlanta where the debate played out over several weeks.
Then, on Monday, President Obama again addressed the issue in his inauguration speech, first referring to "our gay brothers and sisters" adding "We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths, that all of us are created equal, is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall...".
Selma, Alabama is considered the birthplace of the civil rights movement. Seneca Falls is the upstate New York site of the first women's rights convention. Stonewall refers to a gay bar in Greenwich Village where patrons fought back during a 1969 police raid (serving alcohol to gay people was illegal at the time). Riots lasted for five nights. The New York Daily News carried the headline 'Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees are Stinging Mad.' The first Gay Pride marches in 1970 marked the anniversary of the first night of riots. Many gay pride events around the country still occur the final weekend in June to commemorate Stonewall. Atlanta's Gay Pride festival is in October to coincide with National Coming Out Day.
"It was like a light going on," Hyde said. "Like, I see you now." She called Obama's earlier declaration of support "a thunderclap."
Georgia is one of 30 states where same sex marriage is explicitly illegal. Hyde says grassroots efforts have made a difference in past votes on gay marriage, workplace discrimination, and partner benefits. That's what this week is about, building political clout.
There is no Georgia legislation introduced right now that specifically addresses lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights issues. Any such legislation would likely struggle to even come to a vote under the gold dome. Still, Hyde says the South will become a focus in the coming years.
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"The South is important, because if we can win the South, we can win," Hyde said. It's the focus of the events centered around Hyatt Atlanta through Sunday. "This is all about building the capacity of our movement, by building the skill sets and the confidence of the leaders who will go home and make it happen."