Lynn Barfield: One Fierce “Mama” Ally

In the struggle for LGBT equality, it’s easy to not think about the support received from straight allies such as Lynn Barfield. From her involvement with several LGBT nonprofits over the years to her time at Blake’s, where she was affectionately known as Mama Lynn, Barfield has made a place for herself in the Atlanta LGBT community.

I recently caught up with the vivacious Barfield, where we discussed her activism, her reaction to people who question her place in the community, and her thoughts on what the LGBT community can do for its younger members.

For our readers who maybe aren’t aware of who you are and what you do, tell them about yourself.

Wow, what to say about myself…I am from Jonesboro, GA (yes, a native Georgia Peach!), the youngest of nine kids. Yes, believe it. I love my family and I think my sense of giving and caring came from my upbringing and my family’s roots of being good to one another and good to your neighbor. I attended the University of Georgia.

I have been in the nonprofit sector, serving in development positions as well as volunteer management positions – Atlanta Union Mission, Hands on Atlanta, Borders corporate relations and Executive Director of Enlight Atlanta, which really changed my life. Enlight was an organization that worked with educators, parents and students alike to combat bullying in schools.

In addition to Enlight, you’ve worked with YouthPride and CHRIS Kids. From where you stand, what can the larger Atlanta LGBT community do for its younger members?

I think the larger LGBT community has to continue to be committed to the organizations and causes that are affecting younger members. Now, with that, first let me say to the younger men and women of the LGBT community: there have been many that have come before you that have sacrificed so much, even their lives for you to be able to live out and proud, pay homage and respect to what you have inherited. Do what they did and get involved and participate in this community – not just the bars and nightclubs, not just the fun aspects, but the aspects that will continue to move LGBT issues to the forefront. Nothing frustrates me more than hearing a young person talk about how they aren’t registered to vote and how they wouldn’t make a difference anyway. It starts with one, and will one by one, it matters, is what I say.

And this community continues to be aware of young people. With the coming of the Trevor Project to Atlanta and the incredible support that Lost-n-Found has garnered, I feel the youth will not get lost and that support, financial and otherwise, will continue. There is still so much that they are combating – homelessness, suicide, drugs, alcohol, disconnection from their familial support systems, unsafe sex…it’s still there. They need to know they have resources and love.

How did you first get involved with the LGBT community?

Being a volunteer is what got me involved in the LGBT community years ago. And when I was in college, I met and was befriended by wonderful, incredible and supportive gay men and women. Tony Kearney, Wild Cherry Sucret with the Armorettes, wore a dress of mine the first time he did drag! Can you believe that?

And I got involved with the Boybutante Ball in Athens, which raised money for organizations in Athens. I saw the hard work and dedication that my friends put into this event and it made me realize that the sense of community and love can be so great in the gay community. And the rest, as they say, is a hilarious and poignant history.

As an ally, what is it about the LGBT community that makes you want to be involved?

I want to be involved in the LGBT community for many reasons: one, my nephew is gay and he is a hero to me because he came out and lives an authentic life. And that can be hard to do when you are a man in the South in a religious family…hell, anywhere. My hat is off to him.

Secondly, I believe that everyone deserves the fairness and freedom afforded to them by being born in this country. And yes, I am talking about civil rights, the ability to love and marry whomever one wants, benefits, equal, equal, equal. Has the LGBT community come far? Yes! Is there still a ways to go? Hell yes! I say to everyone – the “isms” are still out there: racism, sexism, ageism.

And the “phobia” homophobia is alive and well, too. It’s so covert and underground because it’s not cool to hate, but there is a climate in this country that seems to make it okay if it is pointed out. It’s sad, but true. Throw the media in and boy, it’s an interesting pot to stir. I don’t want to get too political here…

Have you had any significant pushback from people either inside or outside of the LGBT community for your involvement?

Oh, I have supportive role models and I have pushback. Oh, the people I met when I worked at Blake’s!Wow! Talk about outpourings of love. So many wonderful friends I have made just from being there and letting people know what I am involved in month to month. I love the friends that I have in this community, who are willing to fundraise, help promote, put on and do everything they can for any cause that I support. Alice Masker, who is managing partner for Metrotainment Cafes, taught me that and was the first person to support my crazy causes and ideas. She is amazing. When my best friends Ron Russell and Tommy Sweat put on a party in their house year after year to raise money for a cause, that support just came through year after year.

Then some people seem to think that if you are straight and you are involved with the community, that it must be for a selfish reason or that you have some sort of emotional restitution. I have made a point to give back to the people that have given to, loved and supported me. It’s that simple. The worst was when I was selected to be Grand Marshal for the Pride Festival in 2011. Someone that was a regular when I worked at Blake’s said to my face, “Well, why did they pick a straight chick? Wasn’t there a dyke that has done something good?” Those were his exact words. I said, right before I punched him in the face, “Yes, they could have, but they chose me and I am damn happy that they did.”

As a straight ally, what was your reaction to being selected as a Grand Marshal for the 2011 Atlanta Pride Parade?

I cannot begin to describe the emotion I felt when I was chosen grand marshal! It’s an honor and a privilege to know that people feel that I am a representative worthy of such a title. When my friend Jason Paul started the Facebook campaign, I told him he was crazy and that it wouldn’t happen. I was just happy to know that I had a great friend in him and that he thought that much about me. But when I would see people responding and people would stop me and ask me about it when I was out and about…I didn’t know what to do. But with that title, and being chosen, is the duty to stay involved and committed to this community. I plan on doing just that. Parade day I cried, it was unbelievable when you are on that route and your are waving and you are getting all this love. I was representing this community, my family and my friends to this city. It was beyond words!

You recently wrote a story on so-called “ex-gay” camps. Do you think there will come a time where the conservative voices that promote these ideas will die down, if not go away altogether? And what do you think the LGBT community should do to counter these attacks?

Unfortunately, no I don’t think those conservative voices that promote misunderstanding and hate will go away. I would love to see it in my lifetime, but as long as there is hate, there will be people who spread it, one way or another. They are not as loud and prominent as they have been, there is so much good that has happened within the LGBT community, and the populous has more understanding than ever before that it seems to have drowned them out a bit…when I was doing that story and the research that I came across stopped me in my tracks. In the year 2012, we have men and women who are told that being who they truly are is a shame and sin. The LGBT community needs to continue to do what I feel it has been doing the past decade and not back down, have a solid agenda and stop the divisiveness within the community. Be collective. A solid wall is harder to tear down that one with holes in it.

What would you like to say to our readers and the community at large?

I would like to say thanks…it may sound simple, but thanks for the support, for the love, and the acceptance of me within this community. I promise I will continue to fight for you and march on forward with you.

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