Our Co Founder Speaks At Emory University Pride Awards and Berl Boykin Fierce Leadership Award

Updated: Mar 9, 2020

On March 3rd, 2020, Emory University hosted its annual Emory Pride Awards. For the first time ever, the Berl Boykin Fierce Leadership award was presented, thanks to contributions from Emory law professor Fred Smith and Touching Up Our Roots co-founder Dave Hayward. The recipient of the award was Maria McNiece who was honored for her outstanding work within the Emory LGBTQ+ community.

In 2002, Hayward and the late Berl Boykin founded Touching Up Our Roots, Inc., Georgia's LGBTQ Story Project, which is a Georgia state non-profit registered with the Georgia Secretary of State.

As a tribute to Berl Boykin, who passed away on October 6, 2018, the scholarship in his name will ensure that his legacy stays alive at Emory and with a new generation of LGBTQ scholars and activists. This is especially appropriate, given that Berl was expelled from Emory in the winter of 1963 simply for having another young man in his dorm room, and justice now comes full circle in celebrating him as a out gay man ahead of his time.

BERL BOYKIN FIERCE LEADERSHIP AWARD Honoring Berl Boykin   April 7, 1944 - October 6, 2018

Born in Miami, Florida and growing up in rural Georgia, Berl Boykin was thrilled to go to Emory University on a scholarship at the age of 17 in September, 1961, when Emory was still a segregated institution.

In the winter of 1963 Berl was caught with another young man in his dorm room, and given 24 hours to get on campus.  Despite his expulsion, Berl forged forward, and his main Emory ally was student body president the late Steve Abbott, the subject of the best-selling memoir by his daughter Alysia, "Fairyland", to be made into a movie produced by Oscar winner Sofia Coppola.

During the 1960s, Berl partnered with the late Shelby Cullum as the sum total of the Georgia Mattachine Society, to deliver petitions to the Georgia General Assembly and Atlanta City Hall for LGBTQ rights and freedoms.

Following the August 5, 1969 police raid on the Ansley Mall Mini Cinema showing of Andy Warhol's "Lonesome Cowboys", Berl and Steve and many more created the Georgia Gay Liberation Front at a standing room only meeting at Emory Village's New Morning Cafe.

At Atlanta's first ever Pride March in 1971, Berl served as Grand Marshal and reports "There were 125 marchers, I know, I counted them twice."  Yet Atlanta - "the city too busy to hate" - refused a permit for the march, forcing them to march on the sidewalk and stop for every traffic light.  When Berl and others appealed to the Georgia chapter of the ACLU for help, they were told "no, we will not help you, you are not a minority."

Then on July 14, 1971, Berl and the late Bill Smith and the late Klaus Smith with the GGLF met with then Governor Jimmy Carter to ask Carter's support for an array of LGBTQ legislation.  They were told "No!" by an increasingly red-faced Carter.

However, in December 2004, there was partial redemption when Berl and his Touching Up Our Roots co-founder Dave Hayward sat for hours in the Carter Center lobby to request Carter's support for same sex civil unions, outlawed in November 2004 by an amendment to the Georgia State Constitution.  Happily there was a turnaround, and President Carter came out for civil unions.

For these and myriad other innovations, we salute Berl Boykin and his allies for what is by any measure:  fierce.

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