Brian Tolleson
Brian Tolleson with his company's logo - BARK BARK (Special)

By Guest Columnist BRIAN TOLLESON, a Georgia native who is the founder and owner of BARK BARK, a branded entertainment firm headquartered in Atlanta with offices in New York and Los Angeles

I’m a proud Georgian and a third generation entrepreneur here.

My grandfather, founder of Oliver Electronics, wired the Fox Theatre for sound when it was built, set-up audio for the world premiere of “Gone With The Wind” at Loew’s Grand, and as family lore goes, hung his suit pants on FDR’s bedpost as he changed into his work clothes down in Warm Springs.

My father’s father literally air conditioned the 1940’s and 50s “New South” with the company he founded himself – Atlanta Gas Equipment Co.

Brian Tolleson
Brian Tolleson with his company’s logo – BARK BARK (Special)
Brian Tolleson with his company’s logo – BARK BARK (Special)

As a young man, I worked in Los Angeles and New York after graduating from Emory. But I chose to return to Atlanta to support the creation of film tax credits and to help grow the new industry here in Georgia.

I built a successful company, BARK BARK, which now employs over 25 staff people in Atlanta, not to mention the thousands of directors, writers, producers, and talented union crew members we have employed over the years.

I also came home to Georgia because I believed much of the industry and business we were bringing to the state was helping forge a new identity, leaving our often racially charged and divisive past finally behind us.

I began to feel that, thanks to the sacrifices of those like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Bayard Rustin and so many others, we had finally been set free. Free from the image of OGood Ol’ Boy Georgia… Hateful Georgia. Free from the disease of laws that institutionalize hate.

I knew that, yes, we still had a long way to go, and that I still had much work to do to support all my human sisters and brothers of all races, colors and creeds in true lived equality… but that, in Georgia, we were at least done with Jim Crow laws and government-empowered discrimination.

I was wrong.

See, I am gay. I hadn’t mentioned that before, because it’s not such a big part of who I am. My partner and I have been together for 18 years; for our families, and those who know us, we are just Brian and Aaron. We’re like most couples: working on our home, grocery shopping, spending time with our neighbors, families and friends. We’re probably a lot like you.

To certain legislators, however, we seem to suddenly be a great threat. In the wake of the 2014 Supreme Court Hobby Lobby ruling, they can cloak their true intentions under the guise of “religious freedom.” No matter that religious freedom is already protected in our Constitution and in our state law. Georgia lawmakers want to legally deny LGBT families, like my own, our basic rights.

It’s hard to believe, but there are more than a half-dozen bills circulating under the gold dome right now seeking to do just that.

Listen, I’ve been me for a long time. I can’t change everyone’s prejudices, in fact, I truly honor anyone’s right to disagree with me. In fact, I will defend anyone’s right to hate me as openly as they please.

But I don’t know how I will explain to my niece and nephews why I’m being denied service in our favorite restaurant, or turned away from a local store or how I tell one of our New York clients why a certain Atlanta hotel doesn’t welcome them. That’s the difference here.

I have my faith. I believe God sees my good works. He knows I am not perfect, but He sees me each and every day striving to be better. He knows me for the man I am. And I believe He doesn’t want any of us to treat others differently than we ourselves would like to be treated.

But I am still afraid. I’m not just afraid for the effects some of these bills could have on me and my family. As an entrepreneur, I’m afraid of the economic impact these bills will have on Georgia.

Economists in our state have warned that we could see reverberations greater than those seen last year in Indiana – and yet some lawmakers push forward. Business leaders from across the state have come together through the Georgia Prospers coalition to stand in favor of nondiscrimination – and yet some lawmakers push forward.

Religious leaders have come together to say in unison that they do not want or need these types of laws – and yet lawmakers remain undeterred and push on.

It really makes you question the real motives of those who seek to advance these bills, doesn’t it?

If you live in Georgia, now is the time to speak out about your concern for our state’s future. Tell your local lawmakers that you don’t support hateful bills that seek to codify discrimination, that the South’s days of segregation are part of our past, not our future.

We should be talking about bills that strengthen our state and protect everyone and grow our economy – not bills that set us back a generation and do irreparable harm to our state’s reputation.

Join the Conversation


  1. Read the law, Peter.  The discrimination implicit in the proposed law is clear…and it won’t stop with the LGBT community.  The law opens the door for legalized discrimination based on just about anything.  If I claim my religion doesn’t believe people should be named Peter, then I could legally not allow you in my church, place of business, etc.

  2. By removing any and all legal remedies that LGBT people might have had if we are discriminated against in both the public and private sector.

  3. The law, nor the state can define religions. The law does not list an approved list of religions. The danger here is anyone can create their own religion, based on the concept of religious freedom, and such religion can define its own set of tolerances. This leads to justification of breaking all civil and criminal laws. Perhaps people should exercise their religious rights and refuse service to bigoted legislators.

  4. Great article.  It is deplorable that a single Georgia legislator believes human rights are to be dispensed by the majority.   I suggest they take 10 minutes to read the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” adopted by the  United Nations in 1948. 

    Article 16 is quite clear:  Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion have the right to marry and to found a family.   They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.   
    I carry a passport size copy when traveling but find as gay man my rights are more restricted in Georgia!

    read it here:

  5. very weak examples…turned away from “my favorite restaurant” like that will happen in a thousand years……cant get a room in a hotel because your gay? Id like to know one place thats happened? turned away from a store? what store is gonna turn away business? they are there to make money….its called business. Yeah I know about the cake thing but their are hundreds of bakers to bake your cake. 
    Nobody really cares if your gay. thats your choice. Doesnt bother me. why do you insist on forcing your issues (as personal as they are) on everyone else as if the entire world needs to bend to the gay community. If I was black I might be a little pissed…….they actually had to do some back breaking work and be owned by a master…what are you suffering from? Why is it that everyone is expected to sympathize with you? What about handicapped people…they dont have it easy..ever thought about what its like to be deaf? What about illegals? you think they have it cushy?

    One thing about the gay community that I can see clearly…its always me, me, me, me, me

  6. Here is a suggestion for the City of Atlanta and the metro region as a whole. As it pertains to these so-called “Religious Freedom” bills that pop up every legislative session because our beloved Legislature can’t focus on any important issues facing the State. Issues that take creativity and bi-partisanship to solve. Every time one of these bills pop up it seems that Atlanta and the metro area are the ones who will suffer by the loss of conventions, jobs, and most importantly international reputation. I think the media and press need to put the pressure back on the Legislator’s who are pushing this agenda. Why don’t we use Sen. Josh McKoon District 29 as an example. Just a tiny bit of research shows that the following businesses have a major presence in his district: TSYS, Aflac, BS/BS GA, Pratt & Whitney, Synovus and Johnson Controls. Why don’t we check with those major employers and ask them to rise up in protest and relocate their business operations to our region which is much more inclusive? Why not give them VERY aggressive local tax incentives to make the move. Methinks that when all that is left in District 29 is Fort Benning, and JR’s Radiator & Bait Shop, Sen. McKoon won’t have his demagogue pedestal for long!

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