After a week of setting up in the park, two full days of a bustling festival, and four hours walking up and down Peachtree & 10th shouting “Happy Pride” to sidewalks full of people, my feet are aching, my ear is numb from my radio earpiece, and my voice is hoarse. It is the most complete and satisfying form of exhaustion that I have ever known. I have loved Atlanta Pride since we first met in 2001, and I am grateful every day for the privilege and responsibility of stewarding this organization that has meant so much to so many people.
This year is one like we have never known, and with it comes an Atlanta Pride Celebration like we have never known. In 2020, there will be no parade, no stages, no vendor booths, and no undulating rainbow crowds pulsing through Midtown. But we still need community as much as before.
Atlanta marks 50 years of the Pride movement this year. For the last few years, my team and I have been planning our 50th anniversary wishlist. We dreamed up fireworks, a phenomenal entertainer lineup, epic Get out the Vote rallies, and even our own documentary. In January, all of those plans were in motion. By March, they were put on hold, all of us thinking that surely it would be safe to gather by October, even if we needed to do so in masks or with extra handwashing stations. By early summer, it became clear that COVID-19 would change all of our plans.
Many people have asked me whether it was a hard decision to cancel the in-person Atlanta Pride Festival and Parade. Truthfully, it wasn’t. I’ve always seen it as my job to prioritize the health and safety of our community at these events, and science is clear that the best way to keep us all safe this year is not to gather in large crowds. But while it was easy to see the right choice, it has also been painful to mourn the loss of the event that we love so much.
Atlanta Pride came from the Georgia Gay Liberation Front’s 1970 rally in Piedmont Park and the Paper Bag Marches for which participants had to conceal their identities for fear of losing their livelihoods. The movement has evolved to our current place, where many of us enjoy more freedom and equality on paper than our siblings who came before us. But our rights are continually under attack. Many members of our community — especially Black and Brown folks, transgender and nonbinary individuals, immigrants, and disabled people — experience violence and discrimination both within our queer communities and outside of them.
And yet despite our struggles — or perhaps because of them — we have also built our own safe spaces and rich culture. From film to drag to online chat rooms to music, we’ve managed to find and support each other. This year is no different. One thing that I have continually said over the last five years is that the mission of the Atlanta Pride Committee is not to put on a festival, parade, or party. Our work is to build community and connections.
Despite all the challenges it has brought us, 2020 has also given us the gift of reflection. I’m proud to say that our staff and core volunteers shifted all their efforts to building community in a new way with the same ethos. Having done almost no digital programming before this year, we moved all our events online in March and have engaged tens of thousands of people on topics ranging from mental and physical health to gardening and racial justice. Rather than being stifled by being unable to gather in person, our reach has grown in diversity and geography. It hasn’t been easy, but we have risen to the challenges of learning new technology and rethinking our programming on the fly.
For this year’s virtual festival, we have worked with community partners to produce and promote a packed slate of events. We’ll feature incredible entertainment in the Starlight Cabaret, Shooting Stars Cabaret, and SWEET TEA: A Queer Variety Show. We’ve taken the Family Zone and Gray Pride areas online along with our vendor booths in the Delta Virtual Marketplace, and we’ll have a special wellness focus this year, talking about how our community has been impacted by COVID-19 and how to stay healthy. We also have a few offline, socially distant activities, including a scavenger hunt, delicious catering boxes from our partner Proof of the Pudding, and a virtual 5k. Just like the traditional Atlanta Pride Festival and Parade, there really is a little something for everyone.
I truly hope that next October brings us back to a place where we can gather together in Piedmont Park again, but whether or not that dream materializes, this year has brought me new hope that we can rise together to meet any challenge. Pride celebrations have the capacity to change our individual and collective lives; I know, because Atlanta Pride fundamentally changed mine 19 years ago. I don’t believe this capacity to change is limited by time and place, and I’m excited to see how you all come out and make the most of this year’s virtual celebration. As always, Happy Pride, Atlanta! I’m so glad you’re here.