“A lot of times people think they have to move to a bigger city to be gay,” she said. “We are showing people that it’s okay to be who you are in a small community.”
The festival, which lasted from noon until 7 p.m., commenced with a bugle call and then Marine veteran Evelyn Thomas delivered a stirring speech.
“This battle is the stepping stone to break through old traditions into a season of love,” Thomas said. “We are a true reflection of America and what is beautiful about it.”
Thomas honored the veterans in attendance, many of whom attended to commemorate last year’s repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Ava Herron, a Vietnam veteran, traveled from Jacksonville, Fla., to stand on stage during the opening ceremonies.
“Standing together gives voice to our commonality and shows other vets that they are not alone,” Herron said.
Throughout the day, several entertainment acts livened up the outdoor stage, including a performance by the Sudden Impact Cloggers, and musical acts such as Drew Kelly, Young Kaii, and Julie Schurr.
The festival concluded with a date auction and drag performances by Sway Menedez, Spikey Van Dykey and Tricky Ricky.
South Georgia Pride, which received its 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status in April 2012, raised money throughout the day collecting donations and selling raffle tickets.
Although the final figures for this year’s festival have not been released, Williams said that enough money was raised to pay some of the entertainers and to rent the park for next year’s festival, tentatively set for Sept. 21, 2013.
The number of vendors has also grown steadily, rising to 50 on Saturday from 33 last year, Williams said.
Vendors ran the gamut from churches to arts and crafts booths to political and community organizations, like the Health Initiative, Georgia Benefits Counsel, and Georgia Equality – all based in Atlanta.
There is an enormous grassroots benefit in attending smaller Prides throughout the state, said Georgia Equality Field Organizer Em Elliot.
“Being present in these celebrations is not only helpful to our mission as a statewide organization, it also keeps us connected with the LGBT community in Georgia at large,” Elliot said. “You get a different, more realistic perspective of the movement by going outside of Atlanta and working with people and advocates where they are in their communities.”
Georgia Equality tries to attend every Pride festival in Georgia, including Savannah Pride, Marietta Pride, South Georgia Pride, Athens Pride, Augusta Pride, Chattahoochee Valley Pride, Atlanta Pride, Black Gay Pride, and smaller neighborhood Prides as well, she said.
South Georgia Pride also drew other Pride organizations to set up vendor booths, including Pride representatives from Augusta, Gainesville, Jacksonville, Atlanta, and Tallahassee.
Atlanta, Augusta and South Georgia pride organizers belong to Region 5 of InterPride, an international association of Pride organizers.
Region 5, also known as Prides of the Southeast (POSE), encompasses 12 states, said Cain Williamson, one of three regional directors of POSE.
“As regional directors, we are aware of 60 to 80 Prides in our region, and there are new events coming on line every year in smaller towns across the region,” Williamson said. “Not all of these events are members of InterPride, but we are excited about the growth of the Pride movement and InterPride stands ready to assist all Prides however we can.”
Buck Cooke, managing director of Atlanta Pride, said it is important for Atlanta Pride to support communities throughout the state by attending the other Pride festivals.
“As a gay man who grew up in the rural South, it’s important for me to see these smaller Prides,” Cooke said. “We need to be reminded that not every gay person in Georgia lives in Atlanta.”
Top photo: Attendees at the 2012 South Georgia Pride festival in Valdosta, which was held Sept. 15 in John W. Saunders Park. (by Chris Seely)