LGBT elected officials to place their papers with Emory

Nov. 8, 2013

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Clockwise from top left: Doraville City Council member Brian Bates, Atlanta City Council member Alex Wan, Georgia State House Rep. Karla Drenner, and Atlanta gay political activist Ken Britt are donating their papers to the LGBT collections at Emory University’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL).

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).  

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 donors will discuss their decision 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.  

"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."  

The four also were involved in "Breaking Through," a documentary chronicling the personal struggles and professional triumphs of LGBT elected officials across the country. Britt served as executive producer, and Drenner, Bates and Wan appear in the film. The four will participate in a panel discussion after the screening along with Cindy L. Abel, the film's director/producer, and Michael Bruno, the editor/director of photography.  

Fifty years from now  

Wan, who also is 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."  

First LGBT 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 in an 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.  

For event-related information, contact Julie Braun at jkbraun@emory.edu.