Letters to the EditorNews

Letters: Affordable Housing, Reparations, Drag Queen Storytime and More

Vote GOP If You Like Gun Violence

The stunning rise in gun violence on school property is reshaping the daily lives of America’s youngest generation, putting children at the center of a previously unthinkable number of life-or-death moments.

Guns are the leading cause of death for U.S. children and teens. Firearms accounted for nearly 19% of childhood deaths in 2021, according to the CDC. Two hundred and seventy-three people were killed or wounded on school grounds from 303 gun-related incidents last year alone—both record highs.

State legislators have passed more laws expanding gun access than gun-control measures in the year since the mass shooting in Uvalde, TX. Of the 93 gun-related bills signed into law, 56% expanded access to firearms or benefited the firearms industry by, for example, allowing manufacturing in the state or protecting manufacturers from liability suits. Some bills made it harder to track gun sales by barring merchants from using gun-specific codes in credit card billing. Other bills from highly rated NRA legislators prevented government entities from patronizing businesses that boycott the firearms industry. Legislation in states like Georgia, where Republicans control both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s office continue to enact bills loosening gun restrictions.

If you are OK with guns being the leading cause of death for children and teens, keep voting as you have. If you are OK with legislators passing legislation that benefits gun manufacturers, gun lobbyists and themselves, keep giving your vote to them. You can be comforted to know that when gun violence happens at your child’s or grandchild’s school, you’ll be in their hearts and prayers, but nothing more.

Peggy Perkins


Great Experience at Lyndon House

On Thursday, June 8, 2023, a wonderful community experience took place at the Lyndon House Arts Center at the reception for the Summer Exhibition Series, a collection of works by six artists.

People kept stopping by—families with little ones in tow, people dressed up, others dressed down, dropping in and wandering the galleries, meeting the artists, taking photos with their phones. It was a cross-section of interests/ages /appearances/attitudes—all in the same place, at the same time, as a community. It was a rich experience of art appreciation in and for our community, and a thrill to see it come together.

Credit to our own Lyndon House Arts Center, the tremendous artists involved and Athens-Clarke County for supporting a culture of the arts within our community.

Judith DeJoy


Georgia Should Transition to Solar

For decades, Texas was synonymous with prosperity based in very large part on fossil fuel production and consumption. But times, they are a-changin’. Texans know something that Georgians don’t, but soon will: Solar power is as much as 33% cheaper than gas power in the United States, and onshore wind may be nearly 45% cheaper.

Clean energy provided 25–30% of Texas’ power in 2022, up from less than 1% in 2002. In 2022, solar and wind power reduced Texas wholesale energy costs by a reported $11 billion.

Utility fees paid by Georgians are skyrocketing. Georgia consumers should be saving billions of dollars every year by having access to very cheap renewable energy. A long and growing list of America’s largest corporations and fastest growing companies have committed to conversion to 100% renewable energy, and are seeking locations where they can obtain it.

Now is the time for Georgia and Georgians to know what Texans know. The time for Georgia’s urgent transition to renewable energy and to harvesting the savings and prosperity that transition can bring is now.

Bruce Menke


Raise Money for Reparations

I am writing in response to the recent article released on June 28, 2023 titled “Athens Democrats Discuss Reparations for Black Americans.” I agree with Chaplain Cole Knapper’s statement that “teach[ing] people this country’s history” will help bring them on board with reparations for Black Americans. I am a student at UGA pursuing my graduate degree in social work, where we have learned the history of Athens, including Linnentown, and the history of the School of Social Work building that used to be a cotton mill run by slaves. Many students, including myself, were not only shocked by what we learned, but disgusted by it. 

It is my understanding that the families that used to live in Linnentown were disproportionately compensated for the loss of their homes and generational wealth. While those families cannot recover their homes and the lives they could have led, their current families should receive correct compensation and other reparations that account for the loss of opportunities. With this being said, if the government will not pass an act for reparations, I believe that it is necessary for the development of nonprofits to spearhead this movement, much like what the Athens Reparations Act is doing. That does not mean that we should quit fighting for legislation that would grant reparations because it is important to draw attention to the impact of racist laws and history so that it is clear that there is a true need for reparations.
Kaycie Malcolm


Delve Deeper Into Drag Queen Storytime

In March 2023, Flagpole published an article entitled “Toot-Toot-Tootsie Goodbye to Drag Queen Story Hour,” written by Betsy Dorminey. In this article, the author discusses the recent actions by the Tennessee state government and Gov. Bill Lee to newly define individuals who perform cabaret shows as obscene and pornographic, as well as prohibit those adults from performing in a public space where non-adults could potentially see them. Essentially, this new law could criminalize drag performances, which includes drag queen story hour in schools. The article calls out the hypocritical governor, who has been previously photographed wearing women’s clothing, as well as a hypocritical community by pointing out and referencing films with men dressing up in women’s clothing which they found comedic, while also defending free expression. 

I would like to voice a few suggestions regarding this topic for future articles in an attempt to effectively support the drag community and prove to its critics that it is not something to be criticized or criminalized. In future articles, I encourage an addition of research of those directly involved in decisions to allow drag queen story hour in schools, which, as previously stated, are being attacked and banned. This could include direct quotes from teachers or school administration members who promote drag queen story hour and see it as a positive and educational event for students in their schools. Yes, statements by the Queen of Drag, RuPaul, and Hollywood movie references are welcomed and often relatable to the audience; however, I feel as though readers will be more accepting of the content and willing to reflect on the current legislation if they understood the outlooks of those who support drag queen story hour, as well as had access to insights to how they are benefitting the students. With that said, quotes from students in schools who host these events could also be a great resource for future articles in that the students are directly affected and can share how they feel about the situation.

In a research article entitled, “Drag Pedagogy: The Playful Practice of Queer Imagination in Early Childhood” by Harper Keenan, an education scholar and former elementary educator, in collaboration with a drag queen who organizes drag queen story hour, Keenan states that these events are an attempt and opportunity to “extend beyond traditional approaches to LGBT curricular inclusion… the themes within drag pedagogy, applicable beyond the context of drag itself, move away from vocabulary lessons and the token inclusion of LGBT heroes to begin to engage deeper understandings of queer cultures and envision new modes of being together” (Keenan & Lil Miss Hot Mess, 2021). Research articles such as the one I just cited are a great opportunity to both educate the audience on a topic and to promote a community you support as an organization. Please consider my recommendations and suggestions for future articles.
Maggie Joutras


Seniors Need Affordable Housing

Today, 11 million extremely low-income households pay at least half of their income toward housing, putting them at significant risk of homelessness (Housing-National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2023). In response to the article “Athens-Clarke County Seeks Solutions to Affordable Housing Crisis,” I would like to share my perspective as a former social worker at a senior living community dedicated to affordable housing. Having worked closely with residents, I have witnessed the urgent need for more affordable housing options within the Athens community, especially within the senior living realm.

There is a two-year waitlist at Wesley Woods of Athens, my previous workplace, a subsidized senior living housing facility. This staggering demand highlights the urgent need for accessible housing for seniors in the area. Many of these individuals face challenging circumstances, including attempting to escape domestic abuse, being forced out of their family homes, or simply being unable to afford the skyrocketing housing prices in Athens.

Seniors and other population groups seek a safe and affordable place to call home where they can age with dignity and security. However, the limited availability of affordable housing intensifies their vulnerability and adds to their struggles. Athens must address this pressing issue by exploring solutions and implementing effective measures to relieve the affordable housing crisis.

By prioritizing affordable housing initiatives and fostering collaboration between community organizations, policymakers and stakeholders, Athens can work towards providing a brighter future for its residents in need. This includes addressing immediate challenges and implementing strategies to ensure long-term housing affordability for all community members. Policymakers in the Athens area must encourage the development of affordable housing units through partnerships with developers and community land trusts. Initiatives like tax incentives, zoning regulations (requiring developers to include a certain percentage of affordable housing in new developments), and funding for affordable housing projects can do this.

Another vulnerable population—single mothers—is one of the most susceptible populations regarding poverty and homelessness. Athens is building Hope 139, a maternity and “second chance home.” Hope 139 will provide two options for single mothers or expecting single mothers. The program welcomes women at any stage of pregnancy who require housing and support, allowing them to stay until their baby reaches eight weeks of age. Women with children older than eight weeks are eligible for accommodation and services offered by the second chance home. This is one step in the right direction for single mothers in the Athens area.

I hope this issue receives the attention and action it deserves, as affordable housing is a fundamental component of building a compassionate and inclusive community. Together, we can make a meaningful difference in the lives of those seeking affordable housing in Athens.

Frances Rawlins Johnson


HOPE and UGA Push Up Athens Rents

I was sitting downtown today catching up on local news with a few issues of the Flagpole when a letter titled “Taxes Contribute to Housing Crisis” (June 21, 2023) caught my attention. I am a landlord in Athens, and I have both eaten and passed on property increases to my tenants. Although I agree with author Mark Bell’s assessment that property taxes are generally passed onto tenants by landlords, Bell fails to take into account the whole revenue picture.

The reality of the situation is that Athens-Clarke County is a small and relatively poor county with much of its geographic mass owned by tax-exempt institutions. As local governments fund public services through local taxes, the lack of income from publicly owned land needs to come from elsewhere. Additionally, many “Athens” businesses are located in Oconee County, further reducing the tax base for the actual Athens.

Lastly and certainly not least is the nature of rent in a college town, where out-of-town mommies and daddies pay most students’ rents. In most blue states, state-funded scholarships are needs-based in addition to merit. Not so in Georgia, where wealthy white-flight suburban “Atlantans” see their own young Republicans receive free in-state tuition to state schools, all the while obliviously decrying the scourge of public handouts. Meanwhile, all the money saved on tuition can be dumped into the overpriced luxury student housing complex or flipping historic properties, leaving a legacy of displaced Black residents.

Simone Cifuentes