I was at the recent East Atlanta Strut, staking out the perfect spot to snap some photos of the parade, when a young woman asked me, “Is this the gay parade?”

“Um, no. It’s gay-friendly, but it’s not the gay parade,” I answered.

She was a member of the Kennesaw State University track team who volunteered to help with crowd control during the Strut parade. She and several other track teammates were holding bamboo poles topped with pretty flowers and ropes attaching two of them together, allowing duos to try to hold back hundreds of people from spilling out into the streets and into the paths of marchers. Or trucks. Or Captain Planet.

“Oh, I was told it was the gay parade,” she said.

How sweet, I thought. This parade takes place on one of the smaller streets in Atlanta, Glenwood Avenue, and there are maybe a few thousand people lined up to watch it. And it’s over in 30 minutes.

How can you live in Atlanta, regardless of your age, and not know about this huge, gigantic Pride parade that takes over downtown one day a year, I thought. No bamboo poles are big enough to control the crowds watching the Atlanta Pride parade that takes, like, three hours to finish.

The Atlanta Pride parade attracts tens of thousands of people who line the streets and sidewalks and climb light poles and balconies and anywhere else they can to catch a glimpse of the “real” Gay Pride Parade—people like muscle men in their skimpy underwear or parents carrying signs saying how much they love their gay son.

But wait a minute, I thought while standing on the curb next to the judge’s truck on Glenwood Avenue. We were standing across the street from Mary’s and just down the street from My Sister’s Room, two of the city’s most popular gay bars. And there were four drag queens, Queens of the Strut, who rode in all their glory in the parade with a contingent of gay softball players. There were probably plenty of other gay people in the parade, too, but they didn’t have that fact emblazoned across their floats or chests.

And I realized, you know, the East Atlanta Strut is a pretty darned gay parade. Obviously.

It’s a lovely parade with no major corporate sponsors, no huge floats, no DJs blaring electronic dance music, no leather daddies sporting their finest gear.

No, that parade with those elements is for us, the LGBTQ people who embrace all our communities at least once a year during the Atlanta Pride parade, where we cheer each other on, we run into the street to hug our friends, we wave our rainbow flags and we smile. We strut and we smile a lot.

Atlanta Pride, and its parade, are a time for us to recapture the energy we need in our fight for full equality. The glitter, the drag queens, the music, the dancing—the spirit of this weekend cannot be underestimated.

We need Atlanta Pride.

So when you see the Bucket Brigades in Piedmont Park, please donate at least a few dollars, because that goes to numerous nonprofits, including the Atlanta Pride Committee. When you see new and local music acts on stage, applaud them for having the guts and gumption to want to share their talent. Hug a parent who is standing next to their transgender or gay child and thank them for their support.

And when you see yourself in the faces of those around you while watching the parade, be sure to cheer everyone on and smile.

After all, nobody doesn’t smile at a parade.

CELEBRATE ATLANTA PRIDE’S LOCAL GRAND MARSHALS

This year’s Atlanta Pride grand marshals are a diverse group. Make sure to give them a hug and a smile, too. Profiled of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging Georgia’s same-sex marriage ban who are grand marshals are featured in a separate story. Here are the other local grand marshals:

  • Faisal Alam, a public speaker and project consultant. Alam is a gay Pakistani who founded the Al-Fatiha Foundation, an organization dedicated to advancing the cause of LGBT Muslims.
  • Stephanie Guilloud, co-director of Project South: Institute for the Elimination of Poverty & Genocide.
  • Tony Kearney, events and fundraising consultant who is also known by his alter-ego, drag queen Wild Cherry Sucret.
  • Sheila Merritt, project manager and event consultant.
  • Arlene Noriega, Ph.D., co-owner and licensed clinical psychologist, Rock Bridge Psychological Associates LLC.
  • Drag queen Ruby Redd, manager and Saturday show director at Jungle Atlanta and a fundraiser for Lost-N-Found Youth.
  • Michael D. Shutt, assistant dean for Campus Life and director of the Office of LGBT Life at Emory University.
  • Georgia Safe Schools Coalition, a “partnership of educators, community organizations, and safe school activists dedicated to raising awareness about issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQQ) youth and families.”

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