Writing the guest editorial for Atlanta Pride week sounded quite simple when Tim Boyd asked me to do it several months ago, but as Pride events drew near and I sat down to write, the task suddenly felt heavy. Procrastinating and hoping an idea would hit didn’t get the job done, so I texted two of my most trustworthy advisors — my best friend, Rod, and my board chair, Wil, both of whom are brilliant humans and skilled writers. I said, “I want to write about how the last three years have given us, individually and collectively, a chance to decide what’s most important to us and act accordingly. And about our responsibility to do that. But I want to say it with sunshine. And a Pride preview.” They agreed that it was a daunting task.

The 2022 Atlanta Pride Festival and Parade will be my eighth as the Executive Director of Atlanta Pride, but only my sixth in-person festival in the role. Our last in-person event in 2019 was wonderfully successful with high attendance and more diversity in both attendees and programming than ever before. We managed to bank enough money to set us up for what was supposed to be a spectacular celebration the next year — Atlanta Pride’s 50th anniversary. Among other things, there were going to be fireworks.

As you now know, 2020 had other plans. We found ourselves amid a pandemic and an economic and health care crisis that disproportionately impacted LGBTQ individuals. The community banded together, and the Atlanta Pride Committee (APC) produced an online festival with entertainment and educational opportunities viewed by almost as many people as we would have expected at the in-person event. We celebrated together even though we remained physically distant to keep ourselves and each other safer and support the health care workers and first responders on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In many ways, 2021 was harder. Everyone wanted to gather again. We were pandemic fatigued. Divisive politics and divergent resources led to differing opinions on whether or not the world should reopen despite the pandemic and death rates as high or higher than the year before. When Atlanta Pride chose to cancel the 2021 in-person festival, we were not met with the same collective support we received in 2020 — even though the majority of Americans and Atlanta Pride attendees surveyed said they were not ready to return to festivals as normal. While most people were understanding, some people were angry. I get it. I was angry. However you felt about it, I can assure you that no one was more upset at canceling than the people who had been investing their days and lives into planning the event all year. But, as a nonprofit community organization charged with promoting the wellness of our community, we could not responsibly proceed and put lives at risk. We aren’t party promoters and our values called us to use our power in a way aligned with our mission even when some members of our community disagreed.

As we approach the 2022 Atlanta Pride Festival and Parade, I find myself holding my breath too often. How can I best lead us through a responsible event even as we are still battling high COVID-19 rates and now monkeypox, too? How do we meet our mission AND keep people safe? As Wil often reminds me, the mantle of leadership is heavy, and making hard decisions is rarely popular. And as Rod reminded me as I sat down to write, “all of the times our community got sick and tired and acted up in situations that seemed hopeless … No matter what, we just keep going and turning hopelessness into potential.” Through the advice of my friends, I’m reminded that all we can do is keep going and use our power for good.

From Milwaukee’s Black Nite Brawl to the Stonewall uprising to the ongoing AIDS epidemics to current attacks on transgender youth, voter rights, and our bodily autonomy, all we can do is use our power for good and seek joy in that struggle. As we begin Atlanta Pride week, I invite you to join us in both the work and the joy of Pride. This weekend, thousands of people will be connected to HIV testing and care. Many will receive monkeypox, COVID, or flu vaccines. People disconnected from community will find groups and faith institutions that welcome them as their whole selves. We’ll register people to vote, find fellowship in movement or sobriety, and create safer spaces for both youth and adults coming out. We’ll also dance. We’ll sing and gather, celebrating our return to an in-person reunion. We will remember that our joy is our justice and that our rainbows are a promise that we’ll always come through dark times, together.