Legendary Activist Richard Rhodes Passes Away
Updated: Jan 31, 2020
From Democratic Socialist Alliance (Nov 2019)
Atlanta legendary activist Richard Rhodes passed away on July 21, 2019, just a few weeks short of his 82nd birthday.
A native of Tampa, Florida, Richard was caught up in the Johns Committee frenzy in Florida from about 1955 - 1965, as the state declared war on gay men, harassing them outside gay bars and arresting them inside the bars on trumped up solicitation charges. Always a wit, Richard would laugh that "they always sent the hottest undercover cops inside to entrap gay men!" He also reported that patrons could be arrested for loitering in the bars if they did not have a drink in their hand; " I always had a drink in my hand!" Richard retorts.
Similar to the Joseph McCarthy witch hunt tactics, those arrested were asked to name names, and Richard discovered that he was on the list. Within a matter of days, he fled Florida for upstate New York, and although he was an only child, did not tell his parents where he was for several years. "My folks were law abiding citizens and if they knew where I was, they would give me up to the authorities, so I didn't let them know where I went. Don't ask, don't tell."
After returning to Florida in the late 60s, Richard moved to Atlanta in 1971.
The second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1987 made him an activist, and in 1988 he and Melinda Daniels became the first openly gay man and lesbian woman - from Georgia - to be delegates to the Democratic National Convention held in Atlanta in 1988. Subsequently Richard became a delegate to the 1992 DNC, and also the first openly gay man to head the DeKalb Democratic party in 1993.
For good measure, he and Gil Robison ran for the Georgia House of Representatives in 1988 as the first openly gay candidates. Neither won, but there is now an LGBT caucus of five in the Georgia House.
Until his sudden passing from a stroke, Richard would tout "if you want to know anything about being old and lgbt in Atlanta, come to me!" He lived up to his hype serving as president of the gay men's group Prime Timers, and also as president of the Atlanta chapter of SAGE (formerly known as Senior Action in a Gay Environment). In SAGE he had a motto "Elmo: Enough, Let's Move On" for those who tended to dominate discussions.
We mourn his passing and celebrate his considerable accomplishments fomenting freedom for all.