A gay ol' time

LGBT groups unite to host fundraising weekend

Travis Sawyer of First City Network, Chris Brown of Savannah Pride and Georgia Equality's Kevin Clark.

Like any community, the individual facets of Savannah's network of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender organizations have their differences.

Some focus on political issues, others are business-minded; some shout loud and proud to raise awareness while others work quietly to provide support to youth and seniors.

But the leaders of the city's three largest LGBT groups have united with a common goal: To throw one kickin' party.

First City Network, Savannah Pride and the local chapter of Georgia Equality have partnered up for Savannah Winter Weekend, a three-day extravaganza of history, art and entertainment taking place Feb. 10-12 that will raise funds for a shared community center downtown.

"We're pooling all our resources to work as one entity," says Travis Sawyer, the ebullient executive director of First City Network, Georgia's oldest gay rights organization and incubator of offshoot groups like Stand Out Youth and the Savannah Gay Lesbian Film Society. "There's been so much energy behind it."

Plenty of that vivacity comes from Savannah Pride's new executive director Chris Brown, an enthusiastic communications professional in his 20s who stepped into the position at the beginning of January. He's eager to collaborate with FCN and promote Pride beyond its once-a-year event in Forsyth Park.

"I'm all about community building, and this is a perfect opportunity," explains Brown. "At the end of the day, we're all working for tolerance and acceptance."

An official LGBT headquarters would go a long way to further that cause. FCN already has a place on Harris Street that is used for meetings, and Sawyer and Brown envision it reorganized as a welcoming space that includes a part-time staff member, a library and a resource center open to locals and visitors.

"The larger focus is to show that the gay community is part of the community as a whole," says Brown.

To plan the weekend, Brown and Sawyer joined forces with Kevin Clark, who heads Savannah's chapter of Georgia Equality, a "dyed-in-the-wool" political action committee that endorses candidates, educates voters about LGBT-related legislation and often influences policy through grassroots campaigns.

"We have such dynamic people here, and it's so great to unite everyone under one roof," says Clark. "This is an important time for us and society as a whole."

While the Winter Weekend has no agenda other than a good time, its main event on Saturday night has an underlying political tone due to its locale: The Ralph Marks Gilbert Civil Rights Museum. Dubbed the "Gay Prom" by Sawyer, "An Enchanted Evening" will be held in the museum's stunning new annex and includes dancing, live music, a photo booth, fine food and local art as well as a tour of the museum, which chronicles Savannah's role in the Civil Rights movements of the 1960s.

"It's fitting that we're holding the event at the Civil Rights Museum," comments Clark. "It really brings it all into focus."

Dr. J.W. Jamerson, the chair of the museum's board of directors, agrees.

"We are delighted to have our gay and lesbian friends here," says Dr. Jamerson. "This museum belongs to all of Savannah and we are happy to have it open for this event and show our support."

To attract out-of-town interest, the party planners bookended the dinner dance with other activities: Friday evening cocktails at Bar Food in Habersham Village, a gay-themed walking tour with historian and naturalist Dee Hope and a Sunday brunch at the Jepson Center for the Arts. Sawyer reports that ticket sales have been brisk and folks will be traveling from Michigan, Wisconsin and North Carolina for the weekend.

"People are coming here, they're bringing their money to the city," he says.

Savannah has had a flourishing reputation as a gay-friendly destination since John Berendt introduced Lady Chablis to the world in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Though it's not San Francisco's Castro district or Key West quite yet, all three of the weekend's organizers believe the city has the potential to grow into a vibrant LGBT hub in the deep South in spite of conservative influences and occasional hate crimes like 2010's attack on a gay man by two Marines.

"We've come a long way but there's still a long way to go," laments Brown. "After all, we're still in the heart of the Bible Belt."

"We're practically the buckle," adds Sawyer with a smile.

Savannah Winter Weekend
Fri. Feb. 10 - Sun. Feb. 12
Various locations and costs
Info: Firstcitynetwork.net




About The Author

Jessica Leigh Lebos

Community Editor Jessica Leigh Lebos has been writing about interesting people, vexing issues and anything involving free food for more than 20 years. She introduces herself at cocktail parties as southern by marriage.
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