When Mayor Andre Dickens announced the city was giving $55,000 in funding for three organizations to support the local transgender community, it was touted as the “single largest investment” of its kind.
Dickens’ administration spearheaded the donation sponsored by Post 2 At-Large City Council member Matt Westmoreland. The funding push is to support the transgender community as Senate Bill 140 takes effect on July 1. The bill would prohibit doctors from performing gender reassignment surgery for children under 18 and prevent them from prescribing hormone replacement therapy — commonly known as HRT. It’s one of nearly 500 pieces of anti-LGBTQ legislation introduced in recent years nationwide.
With the city’s largest general fund budget in history — $790 million-plus — kicking in on the same day as SB 140, it begs the question: Does the donation do enough? Local activists say it’s a good start, but the Black LGBTQ community in Atlanta needs more money for housing, job training, and safe spaces.
“Atlanta sells a bill around inclusion that I’m not sure it’s paying,” said Tim’m West, the executive director of the LGBTQ Institute at the National Center for Civil Rights in Atlanta. “The question becomes what other investments are needed to ensure that this is going to be an inclusive mecca for people, [and] that there are resources and opportunities for people to be able to live here?”
In May, the LGBTQ Institute, in partnership with Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, released their 2022 Southern Survey. The survey collected responses from over 1,300 LGBTQ individuals in 14 states, including Georgia, and examined life experiences, jobs, education, and health, as well civic and community engagement.
West was surprised to learn that this most recent grant was the largest investment by the city into Atlanta’s transgender population, and challenged the city to do more to invest in the LGBTQ population as a whole.
“Atlanta was perceived as the most welcoming and affirming place in the South,” West said. “So I think to that end, it really demonstrates [how] people perceive it.”
In response to a records request from Capital B Atlanta, city officials said Atlanta has donated $220,000 to LGBTQ causes over the past five years, including this most recent investment. In 2022, the city donated $55,000 to assist with mpox outreach, which was disproportionately affecting gay and bisexual Black men. In 2019, $100,000 was invested to expand access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), an HIV prevention drug. At the time, Black men were diagnosed with HIV or AIDS at much higher rates than any other group in the state. That was also the case for men who have sex with men.
A spokesperson said the donations represent “major investments” from the city for Atlanta’s LGBTQ community. During former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ administration, the city launched the Division of LGBTQ Affairs. There is also an LGBTQ advisory board that offers recommendations to Dickens on LGBTQ policy.
Westmoreland said the $55,000 is a good start but agrees that more funding is crucial.
“The fact that this is the largest investment to date to the transgender community, I think, is a testament to what has not been done in the past and what is changing in the present,” he said.
What does the city’s Black LGBTQ community need?
Across the nation, LGBTQ identifying people are more likely to face homelessness and joblessness. If they do have a job, many are already dealing with a “glass ceiling” for higher income jobs because of less education, said Xavier Rolling, the outreach coordinator at Lost-N-Found Youth.
The organization is a resource center for homeless LGBTQ youth between ages 18 and 25. Its emergency housing program has 12 beds. Over the course of 2022, it housed 118 youth, and entered this year with a full waitlist.
Rolling describes Atlanta’s LGBTQ homelessness situation as dire, and he wants to see the city put more money toward sustainable housing.
“With prices skyrocketing for housing … [it’s] becoming more expensive,” Rolling said, “The wages aren’t matching. The incomes aren’t matching how much you have to pay for rent.”
Only 12% of transgender women in metro Atlanta who responded to a 2019-2020 Georgia Department of Public Health Survey made more than $30,000 in a year.
“A lot of our youth didn’t graduate high school, so there’s already a barrier to what type of jobs they can get,” Rolling continued. “Some of them have records. Some of them have mental health issues to where they can’t work, and [supplemental security income] can only afford you so much.”
West worries that even as Atlanta makes investments in the LGBTQ community, legislative bodies outside the city could further challenge its capacity to continue to do so. Atlanta’s leadership, for example, is mostly Democratic, but a Republican-dominant state legislature could hamper its ability to effect change.
“The social acceptance of LGBTQ [people] in Atlanta is one thing, but it does not match the legislative stuff,” West said. “And then what’s also happening in a lot of states, they’re trying to pass legislation which kind of makes it impossible for municipalities to create protections that the state also endorses.”