When people marched down Peachtree Street during the annual Atlanta Pride parade, the usual suspects of anti-gay protesters were there holding up their hateful signs and screaming through microphones that LGBT people were doomed to hell.

This year, however, a group of some 30 people standing in the vicinity of The Reynolds at 565 Peachtree St. on Oct. 13 were holding up larger-than-life cardboard, colorful pansies, blocking the anti-gay bigots from view while also bringing their own blaring anthems of pop music. 
And, wow, were these people on Pansy Patrol a welcome sight from marchers who stopped to dance, hug, kiss, dance with and photograph the beautiful flower power.

Flower power blocks out anti-gay protesters at Atlanta Pride

In a quick interview during the parade amidst the gay jubilation easily overshadowing the fanaticism, organizer Thom Baker said he and his partner of 14 years, Don Purcell, who live in The Reynolds, came up with the idea of the Pansy Patrol.

“Last year we stood in front of them and kissed for two hours — we made out,” Baker said smiling, shouting over the noise. “They’re here every year.”

So this year, the duo wanted to do something even more magical and recruited many friends as well as people watching the parade to be part of the Pansy Patrol.
Why pansies? Because pansies are resilient, Baker said. In an email after the march, Baker said Oct. 13 and the Pansy Patrol’s success was one of the highlights of he and Purcell’s life together.

“This was a non-confrontational stance against the hate. Overheard by a fellow Pansy, one of the anti-gay protesters remarked, ‘They sure are resilient!,” he said. Baker said the anti-gay protesters attempted to have the Pansy Patrol arrested a few times for “infringing upon their rights to express themselves.” Their attempts failed.

“We wore them down — they packed up and left early,” Baker said. “When the world operates along the thread of love, nothing can be any stronger! My partner and I both agree that [Oct. 13] was one of the best days of our lives…ever!”

Another group of resilient counter protesters stood at the 12th Street entrance of Piedmont Park on Oct. 12 blocking the bible thumpers who come every year to preach against being gay.

With Lady Gaga music playing loudly in the background and holding up a huge rainbow flag and a “Born This Way” flag held together with PVC pipes carried by several of his friends, Stephen Spann, 32, was also taking a stand against hate.

“So when I came to my first Pride when I was about 24,” Spann recalls. “I was excited about this fun event and I was greeted at the door with banners of hatred, people with megaphones and CB radios screaming awful things — and nothing was being done.

Last year, he and friends tried, unsuccessfully, to drown out the bigotry with air horns. Those don’t last too long, however. But the rainbow banners and Lady Gaga seemed to be working. 
“We’ll be here as long as we need to,” Spann said.

Making sure ‘T’ is not silent 

Lucas, 17, lined up to march in his first Trans March on Oct. 12 at Piedmont Park. Next to him was his mother, Elizabeth, who was pushing a stroller with Lucas’ infant brother sleeping soundly. They had traveled from Cumming, Ga., to participate.

“This is who I am,” Lucas said, proudly wearing a neon pink “Trans” sticker on a scar around his neck. “I came out to my mom last year. I came out to my best friend in the sixth grade,” Lucas said. “I knew for a long time I was trans, basically my whole life.”

Elizabeth said she was proud to march with her son. “I’m here to support him because I love him. I’m very proud that he’s been able to come out,” she said. “I just want to support him and love him anyway I can … and this is what makes him happy.”

Petra Doan, 57, and her friend, Margeaux, 62, traveled from Tallahassee, Fla., to attend Atlanta Pride as well as participate in the Trans March.

“I came out in Atlanta 20 years ago as a trans woman. Now we have Transgender Tallahassee, but it feels like coming home [to be in Atlanta],” Doan said.

They both were heartened to see so many young people participating in the march.

“It took us a long time to transition, through bad break ups. It was hard in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. It’s a great time now that people can be themselves. And hopefully they can be themselves a lot earlier in life without all the baggage,” said Margeaux.

Major bucks to city’s coffers

In an interview with 11 Alive’s “ATL & Co.” show, Atlanta Pride Board chair said Pride easily brought in $30 million to the city in revenue thanks to the tens of thousands of people visiting the city and spending money at hotels, restaurants, bars, in Piedmont Park and even at tourist locations. Atlanta Pride Executive Director Buck Cooke added the attendance exceeded last year, with about 250,000 people attending the fest over the entire weekend.