This year marks the 44th annual Atlanta Pride festival. And what a long, fabulous trip it’s been to get here.
In 1968, when lesbians, gay men, drag queens and gender non-conformists fought back against a police raid at the New York Stonewall Inn, they had no idea they would be kick starting a movement that continues to this day, one that spread throughout the nation and the world. October marks LGBT History Month and it is crucial we remember our history and honor those who came before us.
On the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, about 100 activists march down Peachtree Street. The march received no media coverage, and no known records remain.
Democratic party activist Bill Smith legally incorporates the revolutionary Gay Liberation Front, following the trend of GLF groups springing up around the country. GLF sponsors Atlanta’s first “Gay Liberation Day march down Peachtree Street to Piedmont Park. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution covers the march and estimates attendance at 50; GLF estimates 125.
Over 300 march in the next Gay Pride, which is covered widely by local television. GLF again sponsors the event, but dissolves the next year. Charlie St. John is appointed by Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell to the city’s Community Relations Commission. He is the city’s first openly gay appointee. Pride is viewed by some gay businesses as too radical, and two large gay bars throw out activists distributing Pride fliers.
Gay Pride continues to grow, although some marchers wear paper bags over their heads to demonstrate the dangers of coming out. Gays picket the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after Charlie St. John is fired from his job as a copy carrier for distributing Gay Pride fliers. The GBI searches St. John’s apartment on drug charges many believe to be fabricated.
The Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance, formed in 1972, fields the first openly lesbian softball team to play in the city league, and helps coordinate Lesbian & Gay Pride Day.
Local gay media outlets founded in the year before now cover Pride, with attendance estimated at 600. The Barb bills itself as “the groovy newspaper covering Atlanta and the Southeast”; Cruise is a gay bar guide.
Gay Pride celebrates the theme “Christopher St. South” with 1,000 marchers. Mayor Maynard Jackson issues a “Gay Pride Day” proclamation. Angry conservatives form Citizens for a Decent Atlanta, call for Jackson’s resignation. The Gay Pride Planning Committee renames itself the Gay Rights Alliance.
Stung by controversy from the year before, Mayor Jackson issues a “Human Rights Week” proclamation instead of “Gay Pride.” About 1,500 attend Pride, in which the Gay Rights Alliance carries a banner calling for national gay rights legislation and an Atlanta gay rights ordinance (not passed until 1986). At Pride, Gil Robison announces the formation of a gay political group, First Tuesday.
Anita Bryant visits Atlanta to give the keynote address at the Southern Baptist Convention at the World Congress Center. A protest at Bryant’s June 11 visit takes the place of the usual gay Pride celebration, and police estimate 2,000 march on the World Congress Center.
Pride is put together by those helping organize the First National March on Washington for Lesbian & Gay Rights. Ten years after the Stonewall Riots, Pride’s theme is “Lavender Anniversary.” Estimated attendance ranges from 700 to 1,000.
A new decade brings a new name for Gay Pride, now dubbed “Lesbian Gay Transperson” Pride day—the “LGT” is sometimes also interpreted as “Let’s Get Together.” Over 1,200 attend. The Gay Atlanta Minorities Association sponsors a rap session on “Black Lesbian/Gay/Transperson survival in the ‘80s.” Pride’s theme is “International Gay Solidarity Day.”
LGT Pride attempts to advertise on MARTA. The fundraising and publicity committee reports that initial discussions are “positive,” but MARTA officials later refuse to allow the words “lesbian, gay, transperson” and suggest “free-thinking, free-spirited persons” instead. LGT Pride events include a street festival on 7th Street and a march from Piedmont Park to City Hall; an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 attend. The Gay Atlanta Minorities Association boycotts Pride, citing racism. The Georgia Department of Human Resources begins tracking AIDS cases in the state, and three are reported.
Pride’s theme is “Stonewall Then, Atlanta Now,” and 4,000 participate in a rally at the State Capitol; there is also a carnival on Peachtree Place. The Atlanta City Council issues a Lesbian Gay Transperson Pride proclamation without the signature of Mayor Andrew Young, who contends approval is not needed for “private sexual practices.”
Pride theme is “Out Front, Out Loud, Outstanding,” and the first “Stop AIDS” banner appears in the march. Attendance appears to drop, estimated by police at 2,000. The Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance hosts a candlelight Dyke March from Candler Park to Little Five Points; the event will be resurrected 10 years later. Headline in the June 26, 1983, issue of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Gays becoming key factor in city politics.”
Lesbian/Gay Pride parade and rally takes place on July 3, with the theme “Once more, with feeling.” This time, Mayor Andrew Young obliges with a “Gay and Lesbian Civil Rights Day” proclamation. Speakers include Sonia Johnson, an ex-Mormon feminist and third party presidential candidate. Attendance estimated at 1,500.
Mayor Andrew Young proclaims first Gay Pride Week in Atlanta; the first community memorial for those who have died of AIDS is held.
Pride theme is “Forward Together” as speakers gather on the steps of the state capitol; most of the organizers are also working on the Second National March on Washington, which takes place the next year. Coke reportedly offers two trailers for the rally, until the company finds out the subject; then Coke offers to donate ice cream, safely without the corporate logo. (Ten years later, in 1996, Coke will become a major corporate sponsor of Pride). The week’s events include a statewide gay rights conference, picnic in the park, women’s softball, and gay church and atheist events, but only about 2,000 participate on the actual Pride day.
Pride organizing is a last-minute effort, with only about 500 showing up for a rally on the steps of the state capitol. Speakers include Leigh VanderEls, a lesbian mother who lost custody of her son and, with her partner Christina Cash, founded Southern Voice.
In the midst of the AIDS crisis, Pride theme is “A Celebration of Life.” About 1,000 march from the Civic Center to Piedmont Park. The first Pride Prom, a gay dance, is held.
On the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, Pride theme is “Stonewall: Reasons to Remember.” Mayoral candidate Maynard Jackson campaigns for gay votes at Pride, although once elected, he doesn’t appear the next year.
Pride draws 5,000 to Piedmont Park, as a billboard reading “Gay America Loves You” is erected over Interstate 75/85 during the summer. Of the 14 invited speakers, only four are gay or lesbian — most are politicians seeking votes. In a reaction to the problem, Pride later enacts a policy prohibiting candidates from speaking from the Pride stage, but the policy creates its own controversies in later years.
Theme is “Be There, Be Aware, Be Counted,” and Pride attendance makes its first giant leap, to an estimated 30,000. Grand marshals are Charlie St. John and Cheryl Summerville, who was fired from her job as a cook at Cracker Barrel for being gay. Fourth Tuesday hosts a lesbian and gay business event during the first weekend of Pride. The Atlanta Pride Committee officially incorporates as a non-profit with 501(c)3 status. Front Runners hosts the first Pride 5K Run/Walk.
Pride takes another huge leap: An estimated 60,000 attend in Piedmont Park. Theme is “Take Pride: Celebrate Your Individuality.” Controversy abounds: AIDS activists protest a comment by a Pride co-chair that they interpreted as AIDS-phobic, while supporters of Samantha Claar, a lesbian running for state legislature, launch a “Let Samantha Speak” movement to protest Pride’s policy against political speeches.
Pride is dedicated to the memory of Venus Landin, an African-American lesbian who dies as the victim of domestic violence. Theme of “It’s Time to Tell America” builds on excitement of those who attended the 1993 March on Washington. Also building on a successful March on Washington event, Atlanta holds the “Dyke March” on Saturday night. Pride gains its first major, national corporate sponsor: Bud Light.
Overall Pride attendance grows to 100,000, but Pride organizers prove to have been too ambitious in purchasing t-shirts and other merchandise to sell to the crowds. Perhaps due in part to excessive rain over the weekend, Pride is left with thousands in unsold merchandise, a huge debt and eventually a lawsuit from an unpaid t-shirt manufacturer. A settlement is eventually reached, with the Pride Committee getting a year to pay back the tab.
Pride’s theme is “From Stonewall to Atlanta,” with events scheduled two weekends early so that Atlantans can attend the Stonewall 25 and Gay Games in New York City. Attendance estimated at 150,000. Pride Committee brings in enough revenue to pay off 1993 debt and 1994 expenses. Pride schedule expands to include Friday night, for a total of three days of events in Piedmont Park.
Atlanta Pride celebrates its 25th anniversary with the theme “From Silence to Celebration.” Attendance estimated at 120,000. For this festival, the Atlanta Pride Committee hires its first paid employee, part-time executive administrator Hubert Alexander. AIDS Survival Project takes over responsibility for organizing the Pride AIDS Candlelight Vigil.
Atlanta’s own Indigo Girls headline the Pride stage in Piedmont Park, setting a new attendance record of 300,000 for the festival. In keeping with the 1996 Olympics, beginning later in the summer, Pride theme is “People of the World: Listen, Think, Act.” For this festival, Pride hires its first full-time executive director, Donna Narducci.
Pride celebrates theme of “Generations of Pride,” but a more apt theme might be “Triumph Over Fear” — the bombing of the Otherside Lounge, a gay bar, in February has security tight and many participants on edge. Stage speakers repeatedly warn those attending to keep coolers, backpacks and other personal items with them and report any suspicious activity, but no incidents are reported. As people turn out perhaps to send a message to the bomber, organizers say attendance again hits 300,000.
With the theme “Unity Through Diversity,” Pride draws an estimated 220,000 to the park. But extreme heat throughout the weekend prompts some participants, and later organizers, to seriously consider moving the festival to the fall or changing the Sunday afternoon parade to a night parade. But organizers later decide to keep the festival where it is, on the anniversary of Stonewall; for the time being, the parade remains at noon.
Theme is “Prideful Past, Powerful Future.” The last Pride of the century — and the 30th anniversary of Stonewall — brings rain, with attendance estimated by organizers at an ambitious (and disputed) 200,000. Pride includes a greatly heightened focus on families and children, with a “Children’s Kamp” and a series of workshops and child-related activities scheduled throughout the weekend. For this festival, Pride hires two part-time employees, a festival director and a finance director.
With the B-52s as Sunday afternoon’s headline band, the 30th annual Pride festival sets a new attendance record, with organizers claiming 400,000 attended the weekend events. A mixture of sweltering sun and cooling drizzle greet revelers at Pride’s new location in Piedmont Park’s meadow, and a dazzling rainbow arcs over the park Sunday night to send the event out in memorable gay style.
The Pride parade is the largest in the event’s history, with over 150 entries. Although the weekend’s theme is “Educate, Celebrate, Participate,” it could have been “Gay Political Power,” as the weekend drew more candidates campaigning for gay votes than ever before. All three major contenders for Atlanta mayor — including Shirley Franklin, who won in November with strong gay support — stumped during the festival, along with at least a dozen City Council candidates.
Pride celebrates the theme “The Power of Pride” and draws counter-protesters for the first time in recent memory. About a dozen members of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas — led by Rev. Fred Phelps, famous for his “God Hates Fags” website and picketing Matthew Shepard’s funeral — turn out Sunday morning to jeer at the beginning of the Pride parade. In response, members of local MCC churches pray and take communion on the opposite street corner from the Phelps clan.
This year’s theme of “Freedom to Be,” selected months before the festival, gains added significance when the U.S. Supreme Court overturns anti-gay sodomy laws in a landmark June 26 decision — the day before the Pride festival begins.
With the ultimately successful amendment to ban gay marriage in the Georgia Constitution looming on the November ballot, Pride celebrates the theme of “Equality = Justice,” and organizers predict a more “political” tone to the festivities. But heavy storms dampen more than just the politics of Pride: Friday night’s Atlanta Symphony Orchestra concert and Sunday night’s closing Starlight Cabaret are rained out, as are many other performers and activities throughout the weekend. Attendance estimated at only 100,000.
Atlanta’s own Indigo Girls return to the Pride stage for the first time since 1996, packing the park for their Friday night set. Organizers estimate 30,000 attended the Indigo Girls’ show, Pride’s largest Friday night crowd ever; they estimate total attendance throughout the weekend at 320,000.
Atlanta Pride celebrates its 36th anniversary with the theme “Pride 365: Live. Love. Be.” For the second time in three years, weather is the main story: Friday events are called off after a storm topples the main stage shortly after opening ceremonies; Saturday night’s entertainment is cut short by rain; storms start during Sunday’s parade, canceling the rest of the festival.
This year’s theme is “Our Rights, Your Rights, Human Rights” and the first Human Rights Exhibit that shows the fight for LGBT equality across the globe becomes a part of the festival. U.S. Rep. John Lewis gives a rousing speech from the Coca-Cola stage and attendance is estimated at 200,000.
A presidential election is months away and the theme this year is “Your Vote, Your Rights, Your Future.” Due to a major statewide drought, city officials ban all large festivals from Piedmont Park. Atlanta Pride is forced to move to the Atlanta Civic Center and is held over the Fourth of July weekend. The venue and date change as well as heavy downpours leads to very low attendance and the fest suffers severe financial losses leaving it in bad shape for the following year. Executive Director Donna Narducci resigns and James Parker Sheffield is named the new director.
Atlanta Pride returns to Piedmont Park but must be held over Halloween weekend. Rainy and chilly weather keeps attendance low. This year’s theme is “Pride Begins with You.” This year also marks the first year the Friday opening night party is at the Georgia Aquarium rather than the park and attracts hundreds of people. The Trans March becomes a part of the fest. Organizers say Atlanta Pride is regaining momentum and is back on track financially.
Atlanta Pride returns to Piedmont Park but is held in mid-October to coincide with National Coming Out Day and continues to be held during the weekend of National Coming Out Day. Pride organizers claim the 40th anniversary of the fest is the most financially successful one in its history with number of attendees returning to pre-2008 numbers.
Controversy rocks Atlanta Pride this year — the fest conflicts with Yom Kippur and there is outcry from the city’s LGBT Jewish community. Also, Dan Matthews, a senior vice president of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, publishes an opinion piece on Huffington Post saying Pride’s kickoff party at the Georgia Aquarium was a bad call because the event is “a celebration of freedom in a building that creates captivity” and the loud noise from the music also harms the animals. Despite the hiccups, Pride is considered a major success with huge crowds and the largest parade to date.
The Atlanta Pride Committee hires Buck Cooke as the new executive director for the weekend fest. Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls rocks her hometown crowd on the Coca-Cola stage. This year’s parade is even larger than 2011, making it the largest ever with more than 200 entries. Some 4,000 people attend sold-out Georgia Aquarium kickoff party. Actress Jane Lynch calls for Pride to move its kick-off party out of the Aquarium on behalf of PETA and a planned protest by PETA fizzles with only a handful of protesters showing up.
PETA continues its attacks against Atlanta Pride’s kick-off party at the Georgia Aquarium with fashionista Tim Gunn this time asking the party be moved. However, the party continues to sell out each year. A muddy Music Midtown in Piedmont Park shortly before Atlanta Pride causes some worry. Some areas of the park are blocked off due to damaged greenspace but the festival makes do and is considered another major success.
—Sources: Laura Douglas-Brown; Georgia Voice archives; Dave Hayward; Maria Helena Dolan; Atlanta Pride Committee.