STORY: August 1991/1992 - One of the more enjoyable phenomena to emerge from the 1980s, a challenging decade for gay men, to say the least, were “circuit parties.” These were organized weekends taking place in various cities around the country and revolving around a specific theme party or event. For a few days, they provided gay men with a needed escape from the burgeoning AIDS crisis, or simply from their routine and closeted lives.
My favorite was HotLanta, built on the back of a Sunday morning raft race down the Chattahoochee River, an hour or so outside of Atlanta. The race, itself, usually devolved into a booze-filled, campy gay version of “bumper cars on the water.” Of course, with HotLanta having started on Thursday evening, many attendees were so partied out by Sunday morning that they didn’t make it out of bed, much less to the river.
In addition to the raft race, dance parties were organized in one or more of the larger clubs. And some locals hosted private parties in their homes to which crowds of attractive tourists found their way. The most vaunted of these was hosted by Don “Bunny” Hadden and David Pollard around their leafy suburban Ansley Park neighborhood pool for 5 years starting in 1988. I was fortunate enough to attend the parties in 1991 and 1992.
The first year, their backyard was packed with a couple hundred buff young men ready to party. Booze flowed and the boys were friendly. There were many I knew from NYC, but I also met others from around the world who’d flown in for the weekend.
The second year, having been fearful of complaints by the neighbors and the risk of intervention by the police, David and Don controlled the attendance more closely. Even though the crowd wasn’t quite elbow-to-elbow like it had been in 1991, the beefcake quotient may have been even higher.
One noticeable feature, when looking back at these pics with the heightened awareness that today's "intersectional" lens provides: the parties, and indeed much of the HotLanta weekend, itself, was heavily composed of "gay white men" in a city that is one of the more successfully integrated of American metropolises. Why that occurred can't be discerned here and I'll leave the analysis for another time. It's just worth acknowledging that, with the benefit of hindsight, the glaring racial imbalance in these gatherings has become quite apparent.
I had met Don and David only briefly at their parties. And I hadn’t thought much about their bashes in the intervening years (My photos from those occasions were stored away in albums for most of that time). As I began to share my vintage photo collection with followers on Instagram (@bammer47) in 2017 and 2018, my memories of those events came pouring back to me.
Amazingly, after I’d posted only a few, Don was directed to my Instagram posts by a friend who came across them. Don reached out to me, flatteringly remembering me from among his many guests, and invited me to lunch in Washington, D.C., where I was traveling in early 2018, where we caught up on each other’s lives. David had passed away from AIDS in 1994. Don has been involved with a couple of other partners since then, having moved back to Atlanta this year. He extended an open invitation for to me to visit him. It turns out we have several other mutual friends there, so I expect I’ll eventually be spending some time in the friendly south as a result.