Last year, activists in Augusta threw their first-ever Pride celebration, hoping a few dozen people would come. Instead, almost 4,000 flocked to the Augusta Commons for a sweltering day filled with entertainment and empowerment.
The second annual Augusta Pride, set for June 25, hopes to build on that success and reach an even larger audience with the theme “Love Wins.”
“It’s very important for the community, and that is what motivates me,” said Chris Bannochie, Augusta Pride public relations director. “It is time for not just Atlanta to be the only place dealing with these issues. Last year was a huge success — we were wanting to have 100 people, and we had thousands.”
Last year, festivities began in the morning with a parade down Broad Street that brought out a sea of rainbow flags, hundreds of cheering supporters, and a handful of anti-gay religious protesters who regularly picket at gay events around the state.
After the parade, attendees funneled into the Pride festival at the Augusta Commons. A range of performers, from drag queens to rock bands, kept the stage lively, while some 60 vendors — including LGBT groups from South Carolina, Savannah and Atlanta, along with Augusta — offered everything from HIV tests to rainbow jewelry. The festival closed with sets from headlining acts Frenchie Davis and Grammy winner Thelma Houston.
This year’s event is set to follow a similar track, this time with dance music diva Kristine W and Niki Haris — known as “the voice behind Madonna” — as the headliners.
“Everyone is very excited about Kristine W and we are very excited about Niki Harris as she is one of our homegrown talents and she lives here in Augusta now,” Bannochie said.
Celebrity grand marshal Larry Flick of “Out Q” on Sirius/XM radio will host the stage. Other grand marshals for 2011 include “Daddy Keith” Buck, manager of Club Argos, as community grand marshal; and Deborah Ivins, an AIDS activist and HIV/AIDS patient educator and outreach coordinator at the Medical College of Georgia, as the lifetime achievement grand marshal.
Corporate sponsorship is up from last year, with support from Verizon Wireless, Mercedes Benz of Augusta, Wells Fargo, Barefoot Wines and the Georgia Department of Community Health, among others.
The marketplace is also set to be larger than last year — almost 80 vendors were already signed up as of June 6, and Bannochie notes that in 2010, most came onboard in the last three weeks.
Support from the city
Augusta Pride continues to enjoy support from the Augusta city government, after a rocky start last year.
Facing citizen complaints as plans for the 2010 festival first became public, 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. Copenhaver also issued a proclamation declaring June 19, 2010, as “Augusta Pride Day.”
The mayor issued a new Pride proclamation this year, and Bannochie said former critics have been “deafeningly silent.” The proclamation makes June 25, 2011, officially Augusta Pride Day and urges citizens to “ recognize and applaud the numerous contributions of the Augusta Pride Committee as well as all gay and transgender community members.”
Bannochie is particularly proud that the 2011 Pride proclamation, which he helped facilitate, specifically notes that “gay, transgender or questioning students, both actual and perceived, attend our schools and colleges.”
“It could be really important for some young kid’s life to know that the mayor of his city believes it will get better, so this year, that’s the thing I am most proud of,” Bannochie said.
Top photo: Last year’s first Augusta Pride far surpassed organizers’ expectations, drawing nearly 4,000 to the Augusta Commons. (by Laura Douglas-Brown)