Late Fulton Commissioner Joan Garner honored by naming of Ponce de Leon library

By David Pendered

The public library on Ponce de Leon Avenue is to be named for the late Joan Garner, Fulton County’s first openly gay commissioner and a a strong advocate of public health. Fulton County’s board of commissioners voted unanimously for the measure Wednesday.

Joan Garner

Joan Garner

The naming has support from the library and the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System, according to the agenda item. No concerns have been raised by the community, according to the item.

The naming effort was coordinated by Charles Stephens, founder and executive director of Atlanta-based Counter Narrative Project.

“As an Atlanta native, as someone passionate about libraries, and as a member of the black LGBTQ community I could not be prouder. I am thrilled this is happening,” Stephens said in an email late Wednesday evening. “Having a library named in Joan’s honor is historic.”

Rather than concerns about naming the library for Garner, the agenda was filled with letters and signatures of support for the new name: Joan P. Garner Library at Ponce de Leon.”

Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, wrote a longer letter of support that included these thoughts about the naming:

  • “Such an honor would not only be a public reminder of her service to the people of Fulton County during her tenur as commissioner and member of the Library Board of Trustees, it would be a significant recognition of her role in advancing LGBT inclusion and acceptance.
  • “From her early years of civic engagement in Fulton County and Atlanta through to her death, she was very open about the identification as a Lesbian and her lifetime of service helped to open hearts and minds through those decades. She also served as a friend and mentor to many young advocates coming into their own power behind her.”

Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia, wrote:

  • “It is with admiration and respect that I affirm the naming of the Ponce de Leon library for the late Commissioner Joan Garner. Commissioner Garner was an exemplary public servant and servant leader. She was one of the most prominent LGBTQ elected official in the South and loved her life with courage and grace. Commissioner Garner was an advocate for quality healthcare for us all as well as for the arts and creative expression.”

Petitions signed by supporters of naming the Ponce library for Garner ran for about a dozen pages, filled with more than 300 names.

Joan Garner, HIV:AIDS task force

The late Fulton County Commissioner Joan Garner was a pioneer in the effort to create a countywide policy in 2016 to end AIDS in Fulton County, which had the motto: ‘Our Time is Now.’ Credit: Fulton County

One petition included these comments as the statement advocating the naming:

  • “Garner was also the first Fulton County commissioner from the LGBTQ community. Known as the ‘health commissioner,’ she co-founded the Fulton County Task Force on HIV/AIDS, and was a champion for a number of other health initiatives.
  • “Joan Garner also supported libraries as a tireless champion for the Atlanta-Fulton Public Libraries from her time as a member of the Library Board of Trustees through her election to the Fulton County commission.
  • “Garner touched so many lives through her leadership in civic and philanthropic causes. Renaming the Ponce de Leon library after such an influential leader would be historic, and a powerful expression of her enduring legacy and meaning to Fulton County.”

 

The late Fulton County Commissioner Joan Garner is to be recognized by her name affixed to the library facing Ponce de Leon Avenue. Credit: Maria Saporta

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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