- Mar 11 8:02 AMFor those of you going to the meetings in Savannah this Spring, take note
that Savannah has become "an island of tolerance" for gays and lesbians...
Here's a clipping from this morning's Savannah Now.
Gay, lesbian group celebrates 20 years
Dana Clark Felty
Public opinion has changed since the time when Pam Kean survived the 1977
bombing of a Coconut Grove gay restaurant.
Tensions were high that night, fueled by pop-singer Anita Bryant's anti-gay
campaign in Miami. One man was seriously injured.
Kean walked away unharmed.
Like many gays and lesbians with discrimination stories - and sometimes with
physical scars to show for it - Kean responded to the attacks on
homosexuality with a strengthened resolve to organize.
One Savannah organization celebrates that pride with its 20th anniversary
oyster roast on Sunday.
The First City Network began in 1985 as 13 people meeting in founding member
Lawrence Marley's East Jones Street apartment.
Soon afterward, the group distributed fliers announcing a meeting at a
Waters Avenue warehouse.
"We had no idea who would show up," said founding member Mark Krueger,
because they weren't able to promote the event in local newspapers.
The Savannah Pennysaver prohibited advertising that mentioned gay, lesbian
or homosexual groups.
But those words still made it into the local news pages when ministers
editorialized against homosexuality, Krueger said.
On the night of the meeting, organizers were surprised to see the warehouse
fill with about 70 people.
"We didn't realize there was so much good energy and good hearts out there
in the community," said Krueger.
With about 300 members today, the First City Network claims it's the second
oldest group to list the words "gay and lesbian" in a BellSouth telephone
book - just behind a Miami group.
But the anniversary isn't just to celebrate the Network.
This weekend also pays homage to Savannah as an "island of tolerance" for
people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered, supporters say.
"I didn't move to Georgia - I moved to Savannah," said member Richard
After 34 years in New York City, he and his partner traveled to Savannah at
the suggestions of two unrelated friends.
During their four-day trip, they attended the Savannah Pride Festival, a
six-year-old event launched by Network members.
"Pam signed us up as members of the (First City Network); we got our
T-shirts, went back to New York and sold our house in December of 2003. And I've
never looked back," Gourley said.
Today, the former Wall Street executive works for Coldwell Banker Greater
Savannah Realty and runs Los Robles Center for the Arts & Humanities gallery
out of his home.
Because the First City Network extended him such a welcoming hand, he joined
its board of directors. He wants to assist other gays and lesbians when they
relocate to Savannah.
With an annual budget of about $6,000, the nonprofit organization publishes
a monthly newsletter, hosts social gatherings and donates a portion of its
revenues to local charities.
Gay tourism has increasingly become part of its mission.
As the group has grown, it has inspired other organizations.
Stand Out, a support group for gay and lesbian youth, formed about eight
years ago as a committee of First City Network.
Now Stand Out is working to become its own nonprofit under the guidance of
Chatham County assistant district attorney Allison Bailey, local clinical
psychologist Martha Womack and licensed clinical worker Duke Miles.
"We've come a long way, but we still have our individual battles," said
Kean, who is open about her committed relationship with a woman.
Over time, she has watched neighbors and colleagues scratch off anti-gay
bumper stickers and welcome both her and her partner to dinner parties for
"Compared to the way things used to be, I'm freer, internally as well as
externally," Kean said.
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