Celebrating Pride: How a movie theater raid helped propel Atlanta’s gay rights movement – WSB-TV Channel 2


ATLANTA — As Atlanta celebrates Pride Week, we take a look back at the fight for equal rights for Georgia’s LGBTQ+ community.

In Atlanta, this fight dates back to the late 1960s, when police raided a movie theater in Ansley Mall for showing a film considered provocative.

According to a woman who was there that night in 1969, it became the tipping point of a movement that changed everything.

Abby Drue was one of the many people who couldn’t wait to see Andy Warhol’s film called “The Lonesome Cowboys”. At the time, it was described as a homoerotic underground comedy.

“Seeing his movie here in Atlanta… (was) a big deal. Like, ‘Oh my God,’ that movie was at Modern in New York.

The film was so prominent that its content caught the attention of protesters who had clashed with the growing gay population.

“What they saw was two gay cowboys in the movie kissing,” Drue said.

“Which 50 years ago was scandalous”, Channel 2’s Jorge Estevez Drue said.

“Terribly outrageous in a way,” Drue said. “But it wasn’t a porn movie.”

Fifteen minutes into the movie, it stopped. Then the Atlanta police stormed the theater.

“I said, ‘What’s going on?’ And a guy in front of me said, ‘Honey, we’re being raided.’ »

“You couldn’t believe it,” Estevez said.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Drue said. “More than one movie.”


Drue said the police’s mission that night was to enforce obscenity laws and identify potential homosexuals in the audience.

“They went row by row and they stood everyone up. They searched all the men against the wall — all of them,” Drue said.

“For some people in the movie theater, it probably shocked them to think that this is a progressive place showing a progressive movie. They wanted to see it. They paid money. And they didn’t weren’t allowed to see it,” said Martin Padgett, author and historian of Atlanta’s LGBTQ community.

But that was the reality at a time when conservative and progressive values ​​clashed. Atlanta’s queer community not only had to fight for a physical presence, but a presence to be part of the conversation.

Padgett, who met her husband in downtown Atlanta – home to the now famous rainbow crosswalks – said that moment changed Georgia.

“The Ansley Cinema Raid was just the beginning of a series of episodes where the queer community forced itself to come out of the closet and say, ‘We can have rights,'” Padgett said.

Rights, which some of those 70 people present that night could never have enjoyed after fighting so hard for so many years.

“Hopefully they’ve seen some of the change in the decades to come?” Estevez asked Drue.

“They were part of it. I think they were so much a part of it, they wanted so much to do, and the story can go on of how people found their courage after the raid,” Drue said.

Two years after the theater roundup, Atlanta held its first gay pride parade with just over 100 people. Then in 1976, the city adopted Gay Pride Day and there are now laws protecting the LGBTQ+ community.

Yet so many people think the fight for equal rights is constant.

Bar owner Richard Ramey found himself in the middle of the fight for gay rights in Atlanta when his business, the Atlanta Eagle, was raided in September 2009.

“What does it mean to be part of the Eagle family? Estevez asked Ramey.

“It was just a place where people could come and have fun and not be judged,” Ramey said.

The APD’s Red Dog unit, designed to target areas with high drug activity, was in charge of the operation.

“What’s the one thing that comes to mind when you think of your Eagle family going through that night?” Estevez asked Ramey.

“The way they were treated,” Ramey said. “The stories you heard after that…it broke my heart.”

Raymond Matheson was there.

“At first we thought we were being robbed, like in a movie, you know? Everybody on the pitch, something you’d see in a bank robbery or something,” Matheson said.


That night, officers arrested eight employees for not possessing proper business licenses, but found no drugs.

“The whole experience…it was awful going through something like that,” Matheson said. “Laying in glass, having your ID run around, being treated like a criminal when you just, you know, had a drink with your friends. It’s hard to put them into words. »

So Ramey, along with other plaintiffs, filed a lawsuit against the city.

“Why fight and not say, ‘OK, I’m out,'” Estevez asked Ramey.

“It was just too big,” Ramey said. “And then get the Southern Center for Human Rights to say that what happened to the boys at the Eagle happens to privileged black gentlemen all the time in Atlanta and we need to stop it.”

Both parties would end up settling for $1.5 million.

“Everybody got money, yeah, but we wanted change so badly, and I think we made change because of that night,” Ramey said.

Along with the settlement, the city also apologized with a promise to train officers in proper search procedures.

APD has also mandated LGBTQ+ sensitivity training included in their training. The Red Dog unit was eventually disbanded in 2011.

“We’re just here to let them know that we’re here for them, that we see them, and that the department reflects them as well,” said Constable Brandon Hayes, Atlanta Police Department’s LGBTQ liaison.

The department sent Channel 2 Action News a statement saying:

“As a result of the September 10, 2009 raid on the Atlanta Eagle, the Atlanta Police Department implemented a number of changes aimed at addressing issues related to the raid.

“These changes include:

  • Regular and mandatory training on search and seizure for all sworn employees
  • Civil and human rights training
  • LGBTQ+ cultural humility training for all employees
  • LGBTQ+ training for every recruit, including reality-based training scenarios with members of the LGBTQ+ community.
  • APD.SOP.6170 — created LGBTQ+ Liaison Officer positions and described their responsibilities; full-time positions have been created for two officers to help bridge the gap between ODA and the LGBTQ+ community.
  • APD.SOP.6180 — established protocols for all sworn APD personnel to follow when speaking with members of the LGBTQ+ community, including addressing individuals by their chosen name and asking for preferred pronouns. This SOP was created with input from the LGBTQ+ community.
  • Our uniform policy has been updated to require that everyone in uniform have their name tag clearly visible on their uniform and that officers identify themselves upon request.
  • We have a policy in place prohibiting agents from interfering with the public’s right to photograph or record agent activity and we have implemented training to ensure that all sworn employees understand this requirement.
  • We have also made changes to our internal investigation process to ensure that complaints of misconduct are properly investigated and investigated within 180 days.

“A lot has changed in the past 13 years. Since then, the Atlanta Police Department has had a Chief of Police and currently has an Acting Chief of Police who are both members of the LGBTQ+ community. We believe we have made significant progress in partnering with and supporting each of our great city’s communities and are committed to continuing our efforts to ensure that we provide the best possible level of service for everyone.

The original Atlanta Eagle closed in 2020 at its home along Ponce de Leon Avenue after more than 30 years. Ramey said the bar is now coming back.

He announced last month that the Eagle will reopen in the space that is currently Midtown Moon. It should be open this month.

With the new Eagle, Ramey said he hopes to see a new era of lessons learned.

“I don’t just want to say the people who were at the Eagle, the whole community learned a lesson,” Ramey said. “It can happen to anyone”

In their statement, Atlanta police also said they welcome the Eagle when it reopens in its new location. APD said he was “confident that the changes that are now in place and the progress our department has made over the past 13 years will be evident and encouraging to the management and guests of the Atlanta Eagle.”



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