PETA again puts pressure on Pride to relocate kick-off party

Dan Matthews, the openly gay PETA senior vice president, penned a column for The Gay & Lesbian Review on Oct. 1 titled “The Shame of Atlanta Pride” and wrote of his intentions to protest the sold-out party. 

“Since coming out in the 1980s, I’ve partied at Pride functions in big and small towns across America. In the conservative South, you sometimes have to walk past uninvited guests: protestors. I never imagined I’d be among them. Regretfully, at Atlanta Pride’s October 11th gay bash at the Georgia Aquarium, I will be chanting, not cheering,” Matthews wrote.

This is not Matthews’ first attack on Atlanta Pride for holding its party at an aquarium where animal rights activists and some scientists argue the loud noise from the DJ booths adversely impacts the animals in captivity. Other scientists and aquarium official say there is no harm to the animals and precautions are taken with the sound levels to ensure they are safe.

Matthews also claimed in the column PETA was a sponsor of Pride.

“They [PETA] have been in the parade and marketplace for many years, but they have never been a sponsor of Pride,” said Glen Paul Freedman, chair of the Atlanta Pride Committee.

Paying fees to be in the parade and the marketplace does not equal a sponsorship, Freedman added.

Freedman said the Atlanta Pride Committee sat down with the leadership of the Georgia Aquarium in December to learn more about how the animals are treated and about noise levels.

“We asked those questions and had them show us the answer to those questions and more importantly how they rescue the animals and how they treat them,” he said.

“They showed us independent studies and we as believe the Georgia Aquarium is a wonderful place and attraction. We believe there is no harm to the animals we are very excited to co-sponsor events with them. We also know other leading nonprofits, corporations and school hold events there. We are no different than those school groups, corporation and nonprofits … and we believe we are in good company,” Freedman said.

Atlanta Pride looks forward to a long relationship with the Georgia Aquarium, he added.

“There is a zero chance of this event not happening. The Georgia Aquarium is extremely LGBT friendly and go out of their way to make us feel welcome,” said Freedman.

PETA partners with celebrities to pressure Atlanta Pride to move party

In 2011, Matthews wrote a column for Huffington Post titled, “Party Out of Bounds.”

In that column he wrote, “I had never been inside an aquarium before — just outside as a demonstrator. I only learned of this gala when I arrived from Virginia to work PETA’s booth at the gay pride festival in Piedmont Park. I found it ironic that my seemingly sophisticated subculture would celebrate freedom in a building that celebrates captivity. My first thought was to stand at the entrance with a protest sign, but a friend on the guest list suggested that I accompany him and have a civil word with the organizers in hopes of opening their hearts and minds to choosing a less oppressive venue next year.”

In “The Shame of Atlanta Pride” Matthews references this 2011 party again and wrote about his distress while inside the venue surrounded by animals in cages and tanks with the loud thumping noise of the music seemed to cause the animals distress.

“It’s too sad to think about!” a tranny in our group observed, sweetly nudging me from being a Debbie Downer. “Want a drink?!” Matthews wrote. He continued:

I don’t think most people are cruel, just oblivious. I assumed that the Atlanta Pride board would agree to meet, discuss the issue, and, once informed, eagerly choose another of Atlanta’s countless hotspots. They didn’t even respond to my email or follow-up calls. I then filed an official cruelty complaint  with Fulton County and wrote a Huffington Post blog about the whole sorry experience.

Pink tweeted it to her 14 million followers, marine biologists echoed PETA’s concerns, and gay icons Tim Gunn Jane Lynch and Kathy Najimy politely asked Atlanta Pride to simply change venues. Pride’s Executive Director Buck Cooke reacted as if he’d been asked to undergo conversion therapy. He re-issued canned quotes from the Georgia Aquarium’s rent-an-expert and said the party was staying put. Last year, I heard the party was a “blast,” as usual.

In April, openly gay fashionista and “Project Runway” reality TV star Tim Gunn wrote Cooke and the Atlanta Pride Committee urging them to move the party to another venue. 

“The loud music and normal party raucousness that are part of the Pride event are deeply disturbing and unnerving to the sound-sensitive beluga whales at the aquarium,” Gunn said in the letter. Gunn has advocated on PETA’s behalf before, notably concerning the use of animal skins and fur in fashion.

“As a leader of Pride, you champion human rights of the individuals in the LGBT community. How is it possible to be simultaneously dismissive of the pain and anguish suffered by another species of mammal?” Gunn wrote.

In 2012, Emmy-winning actress, and lesbian, Jane Lynch of the hit show “Glee” also wrote to Cooke and the APC on behalf of PETA. 

“These parties are supposed to be loud and boisterous—it’s a celebration!” she wrote to Cooke.

“However, animals shouldn’t have to suffer for the sake of a party, Many of the marine mammals at the aquarium are extremely sensitive to sound, and large parties create an even more stressful environment than they already endure in captivity. … Since the kickoff party sets the tone for all of Pride, will you please consider moving it to one of the many alternative venues that Atlanta has to offer?” Lynch wrote.

The Georgia Aquarium later released photos of Lynch enjoying a trip to the Georgia Aquarium and said the actress was given “inaccurate and distorted information.” 

“Since Ms. Lynch has never attended the event for which she is advocating a move and because she did not speak to us about this matter, she does not likely know how we strictly monitor music volume and sound levels – levels which were determined and are strictly monitored based on what the scientific community knows about the hearing thresholds in certain marine mammals. The Aquarium aggressively protects animals from any sound that exceeds these limits. Volume is monitored by professional sound engineers throughout every large event, as it was for last year’s Pride party,” said Georgia Aquarium spokesperson Scott Higley in response to Lynch’s letter last year.

The Georgia Aquarium is currently in the midst of trying to get more beluga whales into its exhibit after it was denied approval to import them from Russia. 

Are animals actually hurt by noise? Depends on who you ask

Last year, the GA Voice asked scientists if the loud noise of a circuit party could harm the animals inside the Georgia Aquarium. 

Dr. Lori Marino, senior lecturer in neuroscience and behavioral biology at Emory University, has been studying marine mammals for more than 20 years. Marino told GA Voice that the animals housed inside the aquarium are most definitely negatively affected by their captivity.

“There is no way that the animals are not effected by the sound, knowing how sensitive they are. There’s a bigger issue here that has to do with whether or not the LGBT community should be celebrating exploitation,” Marino said.

Marino called the effect of captivity on marine mammals “devastating” and said they often exhibit behavioral and health problems.

“There is just a heap of scientific evidence that shows they cannot thrive in captivity. They die earlier, exhibit more stress related diseases and other behavioral problems,” she said.

But Dr. Paul Nachtigall, professor of Zoology and Psychology at the University of Hawaii and who has studied how noise affects marine mammals in captivity, disagreed with Marino.

Because the speakers are inside the aquarium, not inside the tanks, Nachtigall said he believes that the animals would be largely unaffected thanks to the density of the water and the plexiglass viewing windows, which are more than a foot thick.

Most of the sound waves produced by the music and ambient noise would simply bounce off the windows or off the water, he said.

Photo: Some 4,000 people flock each year to the Georgia Aquarium for the official kick-off party for Atlanta Pride. (Photo by Brent Rence Corcoran)