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|Lively entertainment, community activism draw record numbers for Savannah Pride|
|by Chris Seely|
|September 11, 2012 13:04|
Heavy rain showers did not deter revelers from turning out in record numbers at Forsyth Park for Savannah’s Pride celebration last Saturday.
“The rain began, and people were undeterred, they relished in it, had fun, danced, and overall it made for an even more dynamic and exciting Pride festival than I could have ever imagined,” said Savannah Pride President Chris Brown. “The crowds stayed, through the rain, watched the rainbow that rain brought, and stuck around through the end of the night.”
Early estimates based on ticket sales show that roughly 10,000 people attended this year’s Savannah Pride celebration, which is more than double last year, said Brown, who added that the record numbers were a “testament to the amount of community support we've received not only from the LGBT community here, but from the entire Savannah community as a whole.”
Mayor Edna Jackson kicked off the Sept. 8 event, which ran from noon until 10 p.m., with intermittent rain starting around 3 p.m. In her remarks, the mayor invited everyone visiting from smaller surrounding towns to move to Savannah.
“Savannah is very diverse and it is about working together to make Savannah a place of choice,” Jackson said. “We know how to treat people in this city.”
Pop/R&B singer-songwriter JoJo headlined the event despite the soggy conditions.
“She has an incredible spirit, and an unbelievable voice, but more importantly she felt strongly about our cause and the importance of community tolerance, acceptance and understanding,” Brown said.
In addition to JoJo, entertainers included She & She, Dylan, The Cusses, and Christina Foxx.
Dylan is an Atlanta-based performer and has also performed at Tennessee Valley Pride, Pensacola Pride and will, for the first time, perform at Atlanta Pride this year.
“My favorite part about Pride is you can walk around and see so many types of people and there is no judgment,” Dylan said.
In addition to Mayor Jackson, several local elected officials attended, including Alderman John Hall, Alderman Mary Osborne, Alderman Carol Bell, and School Board Member Carol Hall.
U.S. House candidate Lesli Messinger, a Democrat running to represent Georgia’s First Congressional District, set up a booth for the event to show her support for the LBGT community.
“I felt enveloped in a loving, nonjudgmental atmosphere where the true spirit of an individual is allowed to shine through in a positive and caring environment,” said Messinger, who supports same-sex marriage.
Messinger challenges Republican U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston in the general election on Nov. 6. Kingston has served in Congress since 1993 and did not attend Savannah Pride.
Meg Heap, a 10-year prosecutor challenging Eastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Larry Chisholm, also tabled at Savannah Pride to let attendees know that if elected she would represent everyone in Chatham County. Chatham County comprises the Eastern Judicial Circuit.
Heap said that when LGBT people experience domestic violence it is often more difficult for them to make an outcry, but as District Attorney she would work to make LGBT victims of domestic violence feel comfortable speaking up.
District Attorney Chisholm did not attend the festival.
Military milestone celebrated
Representatives of the Stonewall Bar Association, a network of LGBT attorneys in Georgia, traveled to Savannah Pride for the first time and hosted an event celebrating the imminent one-year anniversary of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“We wanted to honor the service and sacrifice of our LGBT brothers and sisters who are serving, or have served, in the military,” said Robert Lewis, president of the Stonewall Bar Association. “We know challenges still remain for them, and wanted to both celebrate with them and assure them that we remain engaged with them.”
Stonewall Bar Association partnered with OutServe Georgia, a chapter of OutServe, an association of actively-serving LGBT military personnel. OutServe has more than 50 chapters worldwide and more than 5,000 members.
Several members of OutServe Georgia took the stage with the Stonewall Bar Association to discuss the challenges faced by LGBT military personnel even after the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.“
The federal Defense of Marriage Act prevents partners of military personnel from receiving the same benefits as opposite-sex military spouses, said Boyd Williamson, who spoke on the stage for OutServe Georgia.
For instance, a military man married to a woman would receive a $1,116 monthly stipend to live with his wife off base, Williamson said.
But an actively serving gay man would not receive the stipend to live with his partner, he said. “Because of DOMA, he gets zero and a barracks room he’s ordered to stay in.”
Martha Ipsen represented First City Network on stage as a board member. FCN is proud to say it is the oldest LGBT organization in Georgia.
For Ipsen, Savannah Pride was a day to celebrate the city’s open-armed inclusiveness. Ipsen, a transgender woman, transitioned in Savannah.
“There’s very little isolation here,” Ipsen said. “It’s a dream come true. This community has welcomed me and other transgender individuals with open arms.”
For 19-year old Brady Burhalter, his first time at Pride exceeded his expectations.
“It’s better than Lucky Charms,” he said.
Top photo: Attendees at the 2012 Savannah Pride festival in Savannah's Forsyth Park (by Chris Seely)
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