A Statement on Ethics and Project Scope

How do you tell the story of modern queer Atlanta through the experience of one individual? The short answer is you can’t. You must ethically acknowledge its limitations as such: a single story. As John Berger famously writes, “Never again will a single story be told as though it’s the only one.”[1] Though this project centers Dave Hayward’s experience as refracted through the prism of his creation—the Touching Up Our Roots Story Tour—it neither attempts nor aims to tell a complete story of queer Atlanta in the last fifty years. Though I am aware of the power dynamic between the role of the public/oral historian and the subject of the narrative, I have approached my project managerial role as a conduit for Hayward’s storytelling.[2] Recently, Dave Hayward celebrated his seventy-second birthday. Though my initial critical impulse was to push the project to be more representative, inclusive, and intersectional to align with my own ethics, I ultimately understood that a responsible first step must be to document and preserve in a digital format Dave Hayward’s memories as composed in his Story Tour. In his work on digital epistemology, Jonas Ingvarsson advises, “When interfaces are regarded as productive meeting places rather than as representations of something already finished, we can start to realize the imaginary potential of digital tools.”[3] The #TUOR Project, then, functions less as a finished product of tidy narratives than a productive meeting place that has initially brought two gay men of different generations into conversation with one another about the queer past. It is my hope as project manager that the project will continue to serve as a productive meeting place for queer Atlantans seeking to tell a fuller, more diverse, and inclusive story of our city. As Audre Lorde states in “Difference and Survival,” “As you acknowledge your difference and examine how you wish to use it and for what—the creative power of difference explored—then you can focus it toward a future which we must each commit ourselves to in some particular way if it is to come to pass at all.”[4] It is our hope that the future of The #TUOR Project is one in which “the creative power of difference” will be more fully explored and realized.

The current iteration of this project centers Dave Hayward’s memories of sites he has included on the tour routes. But memory is fallible and imperfect. “Memory,” as Jodie Boyd writes (following Alessandro Portelli), “is always constructed in the present. The past is always being recast in order to give foundation to the meanings and understandings of the self in the present.”[5] Hayward’s singular memories, then, reveal as much about his understanding of Atlanta’s queer present as they do about its past. They are a complex mix of factual re-constructions and personal interpretations. In his work contextualizing the Stonewall Inn and bar spaces, Ken Lustbader reminds us of “the complexities associated with the identification, documentation, evaluation, and interpretation of LGBTQ place-based sites.”[6] Despite the complexity, the desire “to make an undocumented and invisible history visible” has proliferated in recent years as LGBTQIA+ initiatives and individuals seek to create and practice “communities of memory” that value each story as one document within a broader constellation.[7] Please see our resource page for some of these exciting digital initiatives.

Any singular narrative of historic events or sites of memory such as Hayward’s is an imperfect articulation of the diversity of communal memory and the “importance of LGBTQ place-based heritage.”[8] It can be assumed that in elevating one voice or one space over others that one is creating a hierarchy. In the veneration of New York City’s Stonewall, for example, many have argued that we have de-focalized the importance of earlier events at Cooper Do-nuts in Los Angeles, Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco, and the Black Cat Tavern in Los Angeles. While The #TUOR Project understands the central importance of sites and events like the Ansley Mall raid in 1969 or the Anita Bryant counter-protest in 1978 to the queer community in Atlanta, the project aims to educate and extend the conversations about a constellation of additional sites and events which should be amplified as important to queer Atlanta. Though many of these sites are currently on the tour routes, we have much more work to do. Further, a sharp focus on any one space can also restrict our focus, limiting us to an analysis of only one type of historic property and structure in the built environment of LGBTQIA+ spatial history. While #TUOR features many local bars—sites often associated with place-based or tangible queer heritage—it also includes spaces such as theaters and media sites that have fostered and supported the LGBTQIA+ Atlanta community.

Advertisement for Backstreet Atlanta, Southern Voice, June 30, 1994, featuring questionable, historically contingent phrasing.

Another complexity associated with LGBTQIA+ place-based analysis that Lustbader identifies is “the need to document multiple narratives to reflect the diversity of the LGBTQ community” as it has engaged or interacted with those sites.[9] Such complexity presented a challenge to #TUOR, a project which has been both hindered by research restrictions brought about by necessary COVID-19 pandemic precautions and limited by the singular narrative offered by Dave Hayward and the place-based sites which he has chosen to populate his previous tour routes. While #TUOR launches Fall 2021 with four routes adapted from the previous live version of Hayward’s Story Tour, project managers hope the routes serve as opening statements to multiple narratives and further conversations about the sites of importance to LGBTQIA+ Atlanta as well as the stories narrators have about them. We acknowledge that “the policies, businesses, and individuals associated with many LGBTQ sites excluded or discriminated against underrepresented communities within the LGBTQ and gender non-conforming umbrella,” which limits or forecloses researchers’ access to their stories and experiences of those sites.[10] Take, for example, the 1994 advertisement from the Southern Voice pictured here, a well-intended if questionably phrased local effort at inclusion from the popular club Backstreet Atlanta. Featuring outdated terminology and offensive language intended to be read as a joke, the advertisement reminds us that an understanding of identity-in-place is historically contingent, responsive to its moment, which changes over time as we understand critical lapses and rhetorical failures. While we feature and discuss the queer Atlanta past, we aim to be responsive and responsible to our own moment. It is the acknowledged ethical imperative of The #TUOR Project managers that sites featured on the first four routes will be responsibly amended and revised as further narratives are revealed, either through community narrators or via archival collections and further research. This is a living, dynamic project. #TUOR also invites collaboration with diverse researchers, community resource managers and partners, and storytellers in the publication of subsequent tour routes. Some of this collaborative work is already underway. As we work collaboratively to highlight and feature “examples of places” on #TUOR “where the usual boundaries of race, class, religion, and other social categories have been overcome to forge new alliances to advance social justice,” we extend Donna Graves and Gail Dubrow’s ethical attention to intersectionality and polyvocality in crafting more “layered histories of place.”[11]

Finally, one ethic of The #TUOR Project is to center and continue conversations around historic preservation of queer spaces in metro Atlanta. Generally, sites that have achieved significance within the last fifty years are not considered for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. It is our hope that tour routes currently developed, which mostly highlight sites across the last fifty years of Dave Hayward’s time in Atlanta, will lead to deeper conversations around historic preservation as well as aid the identification of LGBTQIA+ sites in Atlanta before 1971 that are apt for our historic recognition and cultural valuation. Historic Atlanta’s LGBTQ Preservation Advisory Committee, on which project manager Eric Solomon serves as co-chair, continues this complex but necessary work.

In summation, The #TUOR Project is committed to transparency in current site selection and the limitation of singular tour narrators. We remain ethically committed to the expansion of site selection and the inclusion of more storytellers in future revisions, updates, and expansions to tour routes. Despite these commitments, we recognize that ethical issues and concerns might also arise in the future. We welcome your ongoing suggestions and feedback as we continue to craft a more inclusive, intersectional, and polyvocal tour of queer Atlanta, together.

– Dr. Eric Solomon, October 2021

[1] John Berger, G.: A Novel (New York: Vintage, 1991), 133.

[2] Jodie Boyd writes, many narrators “remain outside, waiting for others to give them voice, or for others to decide that they don’t fit into a narrative… it is this operation of power that is the real business of oral history. If it is to be a truly democratic and emancipatory methodology, then a genuine ethics of narrator participation… has to be pursued” (286). Boyd, “Just Like You Want Me to Be?: Gay and Lesbian Oral History Projects and the Frameworks of Public History,” The Public Historian, 41, no. 2 (2019): 269–289.

[3] Jonas Ingvarsson, “Digital Epistemology: An Introduction,” Towards a Digital Epistemology: Aesthetics and Modes of Thought in Early Modernity and the Present Age (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), 19.

[4] Audre Lorde, “Difference and Survival: An Address at Hunter College,” The Selected Works of Audre Lorde, edited by Roxane Gay (New York: W.W. Norton, 2020), 176.

[5] Boyd, 288. See also, Alessandro Portelli, “The Peculiarities of Oral History,” History Workshop Journal 12 (Autumn 1981), 102–3.

[6] Ken Lustbader, “LGTBQ Heritage,” Change Over Time, 6, no. 2 (136–143), 137.

[7] Lustbader, 139. See also Robert N. Bellah, Richard Madsen, William M. Sullivan, Ann Swidler, and Steven M. Tipton, Habits of the Heart: Individualisms and Commitment in American Life (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985), 153.

[8] Lustbader, 138.

[9] Lustbader, 137.

[10] Lustbader, 139.

[11] Donna Graves and Gail Dubrow, “Taking Intersectionality Seriously: Learning from LGBTQ Heritage Initiatives for Historic Preservation,” The Public Historian, 41, no. 2 (2019), 313.