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06 December 2017

Atlanta-Savannah Timeline–Part I: 1539-1980

Part I
Part II

This first local trans Timeline, is centred on the US Georgia cities of Atlanta and Savannah. We juxtapose Phoebe Smith, Jayne County, Dallas Denny, Diamond Lil, Lady Chablis etc. A criticism of Smith’s book is the total lack of mention of what other trans persons were doing. Smith is rightly lauded for The Transsexual Voice 1980-95. However it is important to remember that Diamond Lil had been writing for the Great Speckled Bird and then other alternate and gay publications from 1970 onwards.

I partially quote the 1968 Atlanta police ordinance against cross-dressing. There were earlier ones, but I did not find details of them – note that Francis Renault complained about such in 1913. The list of such ordinances included in Susan Stryker’s Transgender History does not include Atlanta.

I could not find precise dates for the Georgia Mental Health Institute gender clinic, or for the Montgomery Medical and Psychological Institute. I have put an entry for these two under ??unknown rather than a specific year.


The Spanish invasion pushed some of the Timucua tribe into what is now Georgia. Timucua Two-spirit persons were often healers, and played an important role in funerals. By 1595 the Timucuan population had shrunk by 75%, mainly from the new diseases and war. By 1700 only 1000 survived, and the British killed or enslaved those. They are extinct.


Upon independence from the United Kingdom, Georgia retained most laws imposed under British rule, but did not retain the 16th century anti-buggery laws.


First anti-sodomy law in Georgia.

The Cherokee were the first Indigenous people to become US citizens. Two-spirit terms: nudale asgaya , nudale agehya, asegi.


Georgia anti-sodomy law amended: "carnal knowledge and connection against the order of nature by man with man, or in the same unnatural manner with woman" was outlawed on force of life imprisonment with labor.


The forced removal of Cherokee from Georgia to Oklahoma, resulting in 4000 deaths.


++A municipal ordinance prohibited stage performers from wearing the garb of the opposite sex in their acts.


First sodomy conviction in Georgia goes to the State Supreme Court featuring two boys under 14, one of whom was sentenced to two years.

Atlanta Constitution re Renault and police force


Female impersonator Antonio Auriema /Francis Renault performed in Atlanta and contested local
ordinance banning cross-dressing, to the consternation of the local police.


The future Diamond Lil born in Savannah.


Dr Newdigate Owensby (1882-1952) of Atlanta began treating LGBT persons with Metrazol (aka Pentylenetetrazol) which at high doses causes causes convulsions.


The future Phoebe Smith born in Irwin County, Georgia.

Ella Thompson and one other had been convicted on “an indictment charging her with sodomy, both participants in the act being alleged to be female”. Thompson appealed and the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the sodomy law did not apply to two women, as the law specifies: “against the order of nature by man with man, or in the same unnatural manner with woman” – therefore not two women.

++Savannah resident, gay novelist and Hollywood writer, Harry Hervey  (1900-1951) (he wrote the story for Shanghai Express, 1931, filmed with Marlene Dietrich) published The Damned Don't Cry about Savannah's sexual underside.   IMDB.
  • Harry Hervey. The Damned Don’t Cry, The Greystone Press, 1939.


Dr Owensby published a paper in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases presenting several cases where he claimed that using Matrazol to induce multiple seizures resulted in LGBT persons being ‘cured’, including Case 3, aged 44, who previously had been proud of being a ‘man-woman’. No other doctor ever replicated such results.


The future Catherine Jones born in Atlanta.


Wayne Rogers (future Jayne County) born in Dallas, a suburb of Atlanta.


State Sodomy Law amended, reducing the compulsory life sentence to 1-10 years. However it was gradually expanded in breadth to include such as fellatio.


Guy Dobbs was performing in drag at the Supper Club.


Halloween: Diamond Lil and a drag friend got dolled up and crashed a party at a local American Legion in Savannah. Only after several drinks did it come out that they were not cis women. They quickly left but driving home they were followed by two soldiers who shot out a tire on their car, and Lil was orally raped. "It was so scary: there's no words for it. But I made a decision that night that I was out. A real weird way to come out, though."


Diamond Lil’s first drag performances in Savannah. She was popular with sailors in the port and would perform on ships docked there. Eventually this led to her male persona being discharged from the Georgia Air National Guard, and fired from a secretarial job at the Seaboard Railroad. The Savannah police arrested her several times, once on a drummed-up loitering charge.

Guy Dobbs was managing the Queen of Clubs, and brought in female impersonators such as Bobbie Larr from New Orleans. He also performed in drag as ‘Terry Lynn’ – mainly in heterosexual supper clubs. The Queen of Clubs touted its uniqueness in featuring female impersonators.


Christine Jorgensen tour played six days at the Steak Ranch, Atlanta.


Mobster Vito Genovese, owner of the drag nightclub, the 82 Club in New York, and other gay bars, was convicted of heroin trafficking, and sentenced to 15 years in Atlanta Federal Penitentiary.


The pre-transition Phoebe Smith found a position at Rich’s department store and stayed for ten years. Every now and then there would be an article in the news about a transsexual, but when Smith attempted to correspond with a doctor or psychiatrist, was told that a change of sex was impossible.


Benjamin Dickerson born in Atlanta.


Phoebe Smith called to draft board and classified 4-F because of desire for sex-change


Amy Larkin, the agony aunt at the Atlanta Constitution (actually a pseudonym for Olive Ann Burns (1924 – 1990) who later became renowned for her novel Cold Sassy Tree) communicated with Phoebe Smith. Larkin passed anonymous information about Smith to Harry Benjamin in New York. Benjamin wrote back that “there seems very little doubt that this patient is a transsexual”. Larkin arranged an appointment with a local endocrinologist, but he, despite the letter from Benjamin, maintained that what was wanted could not be done.

Wayne Rogers (later to be Jayne County) lived in the Marietta suburb of Altanta. Wayne started going out dressed female. He also found a copy of John Rechy's City of Night and immediately identified with Miss Destiny, and Kenneth (later Katherine) Marlowe's Mister Madam.


Smith wrote to the Governor of Georgia who passed the letter to the Dean of the Medical College of Georgia who replied that the transgender surgery was illegal within Georgia.

Wayne became a Screaming Queen: they wore make-up, screamed at boys and ran away. The local word for that was 'wrecking’. The other queens were referred to as Miss Cocks, Miss Hair, Miss Car, and Davinia Daisy who passed well.

A person we know only as ‘Queen Elizabeth’ got a job in Davison’s department store as a model. One day the boss walked in as she was changing and saw her penis. She was immediately fired.

Diamond Lil arrived in Atlanta. At that time she had a husband, and they started a small antiques shop near Peachtree and 11th Streets. She dabbled in drag shows. According to Jayne County, Diamond was one of only a few who could pass in straight clubs.


Smith contacted Atlanta Constitution journalist, Dick Herbert, who became interested and wrote a sympathetic story (by the standards of the time) using a pseudonym: “Long-Ill Tim Gets New Hope to Solve Endocrine Malady”.

Wayne got a Yankee boyfriend, and they got a flat together – the first time that he left home. By now Wayne was a gay hippy rather than a screaming queen. He did his first drag performances miming to Dusty Springfield and Janis Joplin at the hippy bar, The Catacombs, on the corner of 14th Street. Diamond Lil also performed there.

The woman that Jones became many years later
The future artist Catherine Jones attended Georgia State College, married and they had a daughter.

Inman Clarke moved to Atlanta after army service, and founded a drag group, the Sir-Premes.


++Tom Buckley's "The Transsexual Operation",  in the April 1967 issue of Esquire, told of  'Adeline' a high-school teacher who lost her job when arrested in drag.  She moved to Atlanta, found a sympathetic woman at the cosmetics counter in Rich's Department Store who helped her to do herself up.   'Adeline' found a job and a husband. 

Wayne took the Greyhound bus to New York City for $25 ($175 in modern money). He survived by meeting people in the Stonewall Inn, but could not afford a winter coat, so in September phoned his father for money and returned to Atlanta.

Phoebe Smith applied to Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation and Georgia Mental Health Institute. They responded with a mixture of ignoring her, giving a run-around and even rudeness.


February. The Police Committee passed an Ordinance “to make it Unlawful for Persons of one sex to Impersonate, Masquerade or Disguise themselves as being of another sex to aid in the commission of unlawful acts”.

Billy Jones, from Griffin, Georgia, was one of the first to perform in drag in the new gay bars, that were frequently raided by the police.

Phoebe Smith saw Christine Jorgensen on the Merv Griffin television show, and wrote to ask for Christine’s address. Christine put Smith in touch with a doctor, who in turn gave the names and addresses of two surgeons: Dr Burou in Casablanca and Dr Barbosa in Tijuana. Smith decided on the latter.

Wayne County trained as a male nurse and worked in an old-folks' ward. One night Wayne "in hippy chick drag" took his mother's car but was stopped by the police. He was let out on bail, but the hospital was informed and he lost his job the next day. He took the Greyhound to New York City again.

A friend asked Diamond Lil to headline a new drag show at Mrs P’s, a restaurant in the basement of the Ponce de Leon Hotel. There was an arrangement with the police: only on week-nights, and the show was not to be advertised. At first Lil mouthed to Motown records, but started singing with her own voice – one of only a few drag performers to do so.


January: Phoebe Smith attends Dr Jose Jesus Barbosa in Tijuana. Is treated for thyroid disorder and given an orchiectomy.

Phoebe returns to Atlanta and starts living as female. Visits Harry Benjamin in New York for hormone prescription.

Phoebe attempted to return to work at Rich’s Department Store, but a few co-workers objected, and the supervisor said no. Phoebe appealed up two levels but without success.

August 11: Atlanta police raided George Ellis’ Film Forum, which was showing the Andy Warhol movie Lonesome Cowboys, with drag actress Francis Francine, and took photos of audience members.

November: Phoebe returned to Harry Benjamin and was told that she was ready for final surgery.


April: Phoebe Smith’s final surgery with Dr Barbosa in Tijuana.

Phoebe took the Georgia State Merit test, and got a position in Disease investigation department.

For six months there was a bar called the Club Centaur. Diamond Lil and another drag artist, Phyllis Killer, performed backed by a live band. Diamond became known for her hard-driving rock’n’roll songs. She added in her own songs, and released them on 45s – some of them were played on jukeboxes across the city.

Diamond performed several times for the Georgia Gay Liberation Front. She also wrote, for the alternate weekly, The Great Speckled Bird, the first time after being caught in a police raid on a club in Savannah in 1970. This was one the very first examples of a trans woman writing about being trans.

October 31: first Miss Gay Atlanta Pageant.


May: Phoebe transferred to working in the Georgia Medicaid department.

Phoebe now undergoing electrolysis, and for a short while worked with a local transsexual support group before it discontinued.

Diamond moved to Sweet Gum Head, a focal point for the burgeoning drag scene. Other performers included Rachel Wells, Lavita Allen and Charlie Brown.

First Atlanta Gay Pride parade was organized by the Georgia Gay Liberation Front.


Diamond did a benefit for the Committee on Gay Education at the University of Georgia and sang “Stand by Your Man.” UGA officials did all they could to throw the COGE off campus, but Lil’s support gave COGE financial backing and a public profile. Diamond started a column in the gay paper, Sunset People, and then in the nightlife magazine, Cruise.

Mickey Day moved to Atlanta from Indianapolis. His drag show became a regular at the Onyx Club.

Kitty Collins
Kitty Collins , Lilly White and Rachel Wells started doing drag shows.

Rachel Wells elected Miss Gay Atlanta.

First Atlanta area Metropolitan Community Church congregation was established.

??unknown years

Despite how they had treated Phoebe Smith, the Georgia Mental Health Institute started a gender clinic, and provided hormones and surgery for a select few. However the Sunday Atlanta Journal and Constitution announced the use of federal dollars by the Georgia Department of Vocational Rehabilitation to fund two male-to-female sex reassignment surgeries, and later the clinic was closed.


Spring: a trans woman whom Phoebe had spoken to with the support group applied to Medicaid in the hope of having her surgery paid for. They met at the elevator, and the woman introduced herself. This made Phoebe think that everyone was talking about her. A close work friend told her that “we all know and we still love you”.

Atlanta Barb, the state's first gay newspaper.


Phoebe transferred to Family and Children Services. One day a co-worker rushed in and exclaimed: “Y’all, there is a transsexual that works for the State!” Again it turned out that most of the co-workers already knew, and never said.

15-year-old RuPaul Charles moved to Atlanta from San Diego, to study performing arts.

Tina Devore moved to Atlanta from Florida, and quickly found work as a drag performer.


Atlanta Gay Center was first opened.

Lena Lust


Rachel Wells elected Miss Gay Georgia.

Lena Lust , from Chicago, drag performer, arrived in Atlanta.


Kitty Collins, Lily White and Alvina Laverne performed as the Grease Sisters.

Rachel Wells elected Miss Gay America 1979.


June: Phoebe Smith wrote her first autobiography, Phoebe. She self-published it and advertised in
trans newsletters. A thousand copies were printed, and a New York bookstore bought four hundred. Reactions at work were mixed. People she had not previously known became friendly; no man at work ever asked her out again.
  • Phoebe Smith. Phoebe. P Smith Pub Ind, 1979.
Charlie Brown, female impersonator, moved to Atlanta from Kentucky.

Cheryl Courtney-Evans, who had transitioned in Kansas City in 1974, moved to Atlanta.


Phoebe put together a brochure, “The Journey from One to Forty was Difficult but Successful”. It included a photograph of herself at age one with father, and a photo at age 40. It criticized the report from Jon Meyers of John Hopkins of the previous year that had been used as an excuse to close its Gender Identity Clinic. “I have worked for the State of Georgia for almost ten years. During my fourth year of employment, knowledge of my surgery became widespread. It was upsetting, but also a big relief to get it in the open.”

The sale of the autobiography resulted in mail, much of it from persons seeking information. This led to the idea of a newsletter, The Transsexual Voice. The first two issues were complimentary, and 30 copies were printed. Within a few months there were over 100 subscribers.

A subscriber contacted her wanting to find someone to train in electrolysis. Phoebe jumped at the chance and for the next 15 years they worked on each other.

Continued in Part II.


In 1965 Phoebe Smith was working at Rich's department store and "Queen Elizabeth" was modelling at Davison's department store.  So there is no reason to assume that Phoebe would even know about, much less meet "Elizabeth".   What we know about "Elizabeth" is taken from Jayne County, Man Enough to be a Woman: 23.   However in Simon Reynold's Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and Its Legacy, from the Seventies to the Twenty-First Century: 383 we find a loose retelling of the anecdote claiming that "Elizabeth" modelled at Rich's.  It that were so, Phoebe and "Elizabeth" may have met.   But it wasn't so!

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