Augusta celebrates its first LGBT Pride festival

First Augusta Pride draws well-known entertainers, support from mayor

The first Pride festival in Augusta got off to a rocky start earlier this year, when some citizens of the city on the border of South Carolina contacted the mayor to protest a gay event in their town.

Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver responded by seeking a legal opinion confirming his belief that the First Amendment would prevent banning an LGBT event on city streets and property. And since then, it’s been full steam ahead for planning the June 19 parade and festival, according to Christopher Bannochie, PR and marketing director for Augusta Pride.

“There has been no further public response to the parade and festival,” Bannochie says, noting that “no requests for a protest demonstration permit have been received by the sheriff’s office.”

Copenhaver has also issued a proclamation declaring June 19 as “Augusta Pride Day” and urging “all citizens to recognize and applaud the numerous contributions of the Augusta Pride Committee as well as all gay and transgender community members.”

“Gay and transgender citizens contribute to the fabric of diversity within our community,” states the proclamation, which also notes that LGBT people “contribute to the success of our employers and businesses,” “donate their time, talent and labor to community organizations,” and “express the full range of faith traditions as other members of our community.”

Bannochie said Pride organizers are planning for about 2,000 attendees, and some 60 vendors are scheduled for the festival.

The event begins with a parade that steps off at 10:30 a.m. from 10th and Jones Street, coming down 10th Street along Broad Street to 6th Street, where it will disband at Reynolds for the festival to start at the Augusta Commons.

The festival runs from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. with a variety of theater performances, musicians and guest speakers, including Elke Kennedy, whose son, Sean Kennedy, was killed by an attacker who used anti-gay slurs.

“American Idol” Frenchie Davis and Grammy winner Thelma Houston headline the festival. Davis performs at 4:45 p.m.; Houston takes the stage at 6 p.m. to close out Augusta Pride.

And with all that is scheduled, Bannochie says he is most excited just that “it is finally happening.”

“There has been tremendous growth in the overall community in accepting this event and by the LGBT community in coming forward and supporting it,” he says. “We’re already working on making 2011 Augusta Pride bigger and better.”