No doubt about it, the 45th annual Atlanta Pride Festival was historic. Drawing more than 200,000 people downtown over the weekend of October 9-11, this year’s celebration was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, ever. It also held a special meaning for many participants, because it was the first pride event held since the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, finally bringing marriage equality to Georgia.
Stationed at the Hilton booth, I handed out hundreds of marriage equality garter belts and bracelets along with plenty of free wedding advice. Truth be told, I was amazed by the number of gay newlyweds stopping by, all married since the June 26 ruling. Some couples had been together for decades and had finally been able to tie the knot; others had only recently paired up and had decided to take advantage of their new rights.
“I cannot put into words my excitement about Pride this year,” Emma Foulkes told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She and her new wife had married the day of the Supreme Court ruling. “It’s been such a fantastic year,” she added. Other couples told me they had recently gotten engaged and were still debating the classic wedding dilemmas: Beach or mountains, London or Paris, and formal or casual.
What really surprised me, though, was how many babies, toddlers, and kids turned out for the Atlanta Pride celebration. They came decked out in rainbow attire and onesies reading “Love = Love,” accompanying their moms and their dads. If I were to write a headline for Atlanta Pride 2015, it would have to be, “We Are Family.”
The joyous, celebratory tone didn’t preclude some serious discussion about issues still facing the LGBT community. At the festival on Saturday, speakers praised the nationwide marriage ruling while reminding the crowd that Georgia – like 27 other states – doesn’t afford any workplace protections to LGBT employees. In other words, gay and trans people in the Peach State can still be fired simply for being who they are, which only heightens the importance of a federal employment non-discrimination act to protect all LGBT people.
Curiously, when the Journal-Constitution asked the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau to comment about the weekend’s events, both organizations initially declined, which some participants said they found “disappointing.” (After the media scrutiny, both organizations did issue statements of support.) Still, corporate America was front and center all weekend long, with Delta, Coca Cola, Nissan, T-Mobile – and Hilton – all participating in the celebration.
And what a celebration it was. At Sunday’s parade, more than 200 floats carried thousands of participants down Peachtree Street from the Civic Center MARTA station to Piedmont Park. Among the revelers were two women carrying a sign that read simply: “I just married my best friend.”
Indeed, in Atlanta, as everywhere else, #LoveWins.