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Despite mayoral opposition, South Georgia Pride flourishes

South Georgia Pride festival

Even though the mayor of Valdosta refused to sign a proclamation naming Sept. 15 as South Georgia Pride Day, more than 1,000 people celebrated last Saturday in John W. Saunders Park.

“I was disappointed in him, but it gave us some really good press,” said Raynae Williams, assistant executive director of South Georgia Pride. “It lit a fire and brought people out in droves.”

Mayor John Gayle told a local TV station in June that he refused to sign the proclamation because of his religious convictions even though his predecessor signed it last year.

The festival more than doubled the number of attendees from 2011, notably attracting more straight allies this year, said Williams, who added that South Georgia Pride is important for building community in the Valdosta area.

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South Georgia Pride draws hundreds in Valdosta

South Georgia Pride festival in Valdosta

South Georgia Pride celebrated its second year at John W. Saunders Park in Valdosta on Saturday, drawing a crowd of hundreds, according to event organizers who received an official proclamation from the City of Valdosta.

“The city acknowledges that the LGBT community and the citizens here are valued people and that this is officially South Georgia Pride Day,” said Raynaé Williams, assistant executive director of South Georgia Pride, speaking from the stage at the beginning of the event. “With that, everybody should take home a sense of pride in knowing that we do count in this city.”

South Georgia Pride started as Valdosta Diversity Pride at Valdosta State University in 2008 through the school’s gay-straight alliance. The event became an official nonprofit named South Georgia Pride in 2009, and organizers moved the event to John W. Saunders Park in 2010, with attendance totals last year somewhere between 300 to 400 people.

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Valdosta mayor proclaims Sept. 17 as ‘South Georgia Pride Day’

With South Georgia Pride around the corner, the organizers of the event have a nice welcome from the top city elected official — a proclamation naming Sept. 17 as "South Georgia Pride Day."

Valdosta Mayor John J. Fretti issued the proclamation to the South Georgia Pride Committee and for all attendees of the fest to recognize the contributions "gay and transgender citizens contribute to the fabric of our community." View the full proclamation below.

Richard Willis, an organizer for the Pride celebration on Sept. 17 in Valdosta, said he and the South Georgia Pride Committee are excited to be recognized in this way for the first time.