On any given afternoon, somewhere along Peachtree Road, Atlanta’s most famous costumed street performer is likely dancing along the sidewalk wearing a brightly-colored tutu, blowing a whistle and throwing a majorette baton.
“I am a costumed entertainer. I wear a lot of female getup ‘cause I have a hell of a set of legs. If you had legs like mine you would crank ‘em too.”
Baton Bob, as he is known, is gay. But on the day the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, 63 year-old Bob Jamerson and his partner Gary Bender didn’t have a wedding. Instead, in front of close family and friends in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park, they held what they called a “conscious coupling coronation.”
“I didn’t want to get caught up in all the hoopla about the whole gay marriage bit and all of that. I’m going to crown him as my king. He’s going to crown me as his queen and we’re going to move forward. The focus is going to be about love not gay marriage.”
Following love rather than the rules came early to Jamerson. He became fascinated with baton twirling around age eight by watching television where cheerleaders and majorettes performed on college football halftime shows.
“I went to my grandmother and asked her if she would buy me a baton the next time she went to town. My grandma said, ‘I ‘aint got no money for no baton. If you want a baton go out there and take one of my old brooms and cut the handle off.’ And I did.”
By his junior year in high school, Jamerson had become a drum major in the marching band. He had so much fun at it, he asked his band director for a new role.
“I said, ‘I don’t want to play drums this band season.’ He said, ‘What do you want to do?’ I said, ‘I want to be a featured majorette.’ Now you have to picture this. This is in rural Virginia back in the 1970s out in the country. So his comeback to me was, ‘If you can come up with a uniform for it roll with it.’”
And roll with it he did. Jamerson went to JCPenney to buy a pair of white trousers, then to the fabric store for gold and green ribbon – his school colors – to sew them down the sides of the pants like tuxedo stripes.
“A girlfriend of mine was a cheerleader and they had this wonderful kelly green V-neck cheerleader shirts with a big capital “C” on it. So I borrowed a cheerleader shirt and white tennis shoes and the game was on.”
“To be honest, when I was at that age, even in the formative age, I didn’t realize what gay was. I realized that I had this affinity for men, but I didn’t know where it was coming from. At the time that I was going through it in high school, it felt like that’s what I’m supposed to be doing. It was just that natural.”
Forty-five years later, it’s still coming naturally. Jamerson says the legacy he wants to leave isn’t about politics, laws or social mores. Baton Bob is about bringing people joy.
“They need somebody to help them let go for the day. The spirit of this character brings joy to them because they see how free I am. I claim my freedom. I don’t need approval from Obama. I don’t need approval from the Supreme Court. The only entity in this world that I need approval from is the person that I call God and we all have one if you look for it.”
We were a guest at Baton Bob’s conscious coupling coronation ceremony last week. You can see the video, produced by GPB's Keocia Howard, below.