For Darrell Johnson, 51, the 2011 Atlanta Pride was “the best ever.”
“It’s well done, the weather’s been nice,” he said Oct. 9.
Johnson and several friends watched the parade at the corner of 10th Street and Peachtree Street where anti-gay protesters blared hateful messages from large loudspeakers while thousands drowned them out with their cheers.
“They were bashing every group that came by. Every church, just everyone,” he said. “We were dealing with hate at the same time we were trying to have Pride.”
But a group of “angels” with large wings — Angel Action Atlanta — came by at one point and stood in front of the anti-gay preachers and blocked them. That was a high point of the parade and for Pride for Johnson.
“It was wonderful,” he said. “And then those on motorcycles also came by and revved up their motorcycles really loud and that was even better.”
Large crowds pack park, parade route
The parade had more than 200 entries this year — the largest in the festival’s history — and took more than two hours to complete its full route through the streets of downtown Atlanta and to Piedmont Park.
“From my personal experience, I’ve not seen a crowd that large along the parade route. I definitely think if this was not the largest Pride, it was really close,” said James Sheffield, Atlanta Pride executive director.
“It was definitely the largest crowd I’ve seen on a Saturday night — the crowd for Deborah Cox was amazing,” he added.
And while the sky was overcast on Sunday, that did not keep thousands of people from lining the streets to watch the city’s largest parade. Participants included floats and marchers representing bars, corporate sponsors, churches, sports teams, nonprofit organizations and, of course, drag queens wearing their Sunday best.
The warm and sunny weather on Saturday attracted crowds to the park’s meadow to put up tents and canopies, where Pride attendees tossed footballs and Frisbees, played volleyball and corn hole, and listened to live music and entertainment from the Coca-Cola stage. The Bud Light stage also was packed with live entertainment.
The Starlight Cabaret closed Atlanta Pride on Oct. 9 on a high note with many of the best drag queens in metro Atlanta entertaining throngs who danced and sang along to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” and other tried and true gay favorites.
“I didn’t hear anyone say they did not have a good time,” said Sheffield. “The vendors were happy, the sponsors were happy, the patrons were happy.
“And I hope people are sold on having it on this weekend [of National Coming Out Day]. This has been two years in a row of great weather and we never had that before,” he said. “I know some people are attached to June, but, wow. Just wow.”
The weekend ran smoothly, with only minor scheduling delays. At about 5 p.m. on Saturday, the Atlanta Police Department received a bomb threat that called for the clearing out of the Coca-Cola stage for about 30 minutes.
“Someone called in a threat shortly before 5 p.m. on Saturday, claiming there was a bomb at the North Avenue MARTA station, the Pride festival, and somewhere on the Georgia Tech campus. Our officers conducted a thorough sweep of the park that included a K-9 explosives-sniffing unit. No threat was found. The incident remains under investigation by our Homeland Security Unit,” said Carlos Campos, spokesperson for the APD.
Sheffield praised the APD’s response in helping clear the stage and sweep the area to assure the space was safe.
“It’s definitely one of those things if you have event our size you have to deal with. People do things like that,” he said.
“The police do a real good job of taking these things seriously and the APD did a very thorough, quick job of getting everything in place to make sure the threat wasn’t legitimate and put people’s minds at ease. It’s not the first time we’ve dealt with something like this and probably not the last.”
Trans March is the ‘real T party’
Chanting “The Real T Party” and pumping their fists in the air, approximately 100 transgender people and allies marched through Piedmont Park on Saturday, Oct. 8.
The third annual march attracted at least twice the crowd as last year. However, a few people watching from within the park could be heard saying derisively, “There goes the trannies.”
The reason the Trans March makes it way through the park — past booths and people walking in the park — is to ensure people see the “T” that is part of the LGBT acronym.
But while transgender people are still shunned by some in the “LGB” community, that didn’t keep Adrian Dae, 22, of Athens, from wearing his homemade t-shirt that read, “My vagina is not a threat to my masculinity.”
“This is my second trans march … there was a lot more participation than last year and that made me happy. There was a lot more people talking and chanting, so it was empowering” Dae said.
“But this is my first Pride where I identify as a queer trans man and I’m feeling out that territory. I’ve been on testosterone for a year now and my identity has kind of shifted. I’m realizing I’m just plain gay,” he said.
With Dae was Lourdes St. Vincent, 24, also of Athens, who was attending her first Trans March and her first Pride.
“I’m straightish,” she said, laughing. “As straight as we can all be.”
Marching with Dae and others was a way to support friends who are often kicked aside, she said.
“The chanting and energy of [the Trans March] was really empowering. I think trans people get the rough end of the stick sometimes, so I wanted to support them.”
Dyke March gets radical
Drea Firewalker, with her Myte Dyke t-shirt, a labrys and tambourines, walked with her partner, Leaf, in the annual Dyke March for the 17th year in a row.
“I show up whether it’s a crowd, or a crowd, and this year it’s a crowd,” she said enthusiastically as hundreds of women gathered at the Charles Allen entrance of Piedmont Park ready to begin the march that took on a renewed, radical attitude for 2011.
“I’m excited because they really got the gals organized this year,” Firewalker said as her partner slid into her rainbow Wonder Woman robe she made for her.
A “flash mob make out” session took place right before the march stepped off at about 6:15 p.m. Saturday, but most women were a bit shy. One couple stood in front of the crowd and made out for several minutes hoping to inspire others but only a few women were willing to lock lips.
One thing notably different than in years past — other than the sheer size — was the number of male marchers who participated. And while men can march shirtless with no worry of breaking the law, many covered their nipples to show solidarity with their sisters who wore stickers, tape, pasties and even condoms to march topless in the crowd.
The Dyke March made its way down 10th Street with hundreds lining the streets to watch and cheer. Heading up the march this year for the first time was a Dyke March Grand Amazon, Pat Hussain, holding a gold labrys and riding in a convertible with her partner.
“I never thought I’d be walking around the downtown streets of Atlanta screaming, ‘I’m proud to be a dyke!’ And it felt great,” said Auvriana Fumgali, 18, of Nashville, marching in her first Dyke March with her girlfriend, Lauren Hinnant, 20, who was attending her first Pride fest.
“I had goosebumps. It was awesome. It made you feel special,” Hinnant said.
Kristin McCain, 24, of Chattanooga, was attending her eighth Atlanta Pride. She’s marched in the Dyke March every year and said this year was much bigger than last year.
“It represents everything I am and everything I stand for,” she said of the Dyke March. “We’re here, we’re queer, we got pride, get over it.”
Top photo: Atlanta Pride Parade (by Bo Shell)