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|Athens celebrates Pride as UGA prepares for benefits vote|
|by Brian Smith|
|September 11, 2012 14:48|
Overnight temperatures in the 50s gave way to a sunny, comfortable setting for Athens’ Pride Picnic, held Sunday, Sept. 9 at Lake Herrick Pavillion.
The picnic has been held each year since 1998. Before 2011, Athens Pride was limited to a cookout in April. The full Athens Pride weekend in its current form took shape last year.
For 2012, Athens Pride events ranged from a reception hosted by GLOBES, the University of Georgia’s LGBT faculty/staff group, to bowling, an artist showcase, nightlife parties, a church service and a commitment ceremony.
One of the benefits of the Athens Pride weekend is its low cost.
“Nobody had to pay more than $5 for anything,” UGA GLOBES chairperson Ricky Roberts said, calling the low cost “pretty rare” for Pride festivities.
Roberts estimated that over 700 people attended Pride events this weekend.
According to Rev. Dr. Renee Dubose, pastor at Our Hope Metropolitan Community Church, the worship service on Sunday morning drew 70 individuals, which she estimates to be a roughly 25 percent increase over last year’s service.
The blessing of committed couples early Sunday afternoon drew four couples, and reception immediately afterwards drew 15 to 20 people.
Annette Hatton, who will turn 72 on Sept. 18, founded GLOBES in 1994 and continues to be active in Pride weekend. When the group first launched, meetings were held at the Tate Center in a private room with the blinds closed. People were notified of meetings and group events via distribution lists and later email.
“If we didn’t have [the distribution lists or email], there was no way to have membership,” Hatton said. “There was a lot of invisibility. Meetings were kept secret so we didn’t out people.”
The LGBT movement in Athens has historically seen support from local leaders. For the first GLOBES fundraising dinner, Hatton and her staff invited then-Mayor Doc Eldridge to attend.
“He was a little scared,” Hatton said.
Contrast that with the comment Eldridge, now Athens Area Chamber of Commerce president, made to Hatton at this year’s GLOBES event.
“He said Thursday how much further along he sees himself from those days,” Hatton said.
Current Athens political leaders are also interested in LGBT causes and showed their support at Sunday’s picnic. Among the attendees was Spencer Frye, Democratic nominee for State House District 118. He will oppose Republican Carter Kessler in November.
Allison Wright, a member of the Clarke County School District Board of Education since 2005, is a married mother of twins, but sympathizes with the community’s struggles for equal rights.
“I’m frustrated at how legislation interferes with what people want to do,” Wright said. “A partner’s a partner.”
Wright is also commissioner-elect for the Athens-Clarke County Commission, where she will take her seat in January. Her exposure to the LGBT community was enhanced by her campaign manager this past spring and summer. Brett Johns, 23, a University of Georgia employee, was Wright’s manager and recently served as a Georgia delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
Johns also took in the festivities at the picnic on Sunday.
“It’s good to get all the community together and show a unified voice,” Johns said.
Looking to the future
One of the major local topics on picnic attendees’ minds was two upcoming votes on domestic partnership benefits for University of Georgia employees.
The University Council’s executive committee is expected to vote on the proposal on Thursday, with a full vote of the council coming Sept. 27. The proposal has already been unanimously approved by the council’s Human Resources Committee.
The Board of Regents sets health benefits for all state colleges and universities and refuses to pay for domestic partner health insurance coverage. But the proposal states that UGA should pay for the health coverage with other discretionary funds or revenue in order to provide equity for all employees.
If approved, benefits would take effect on Jan. 1, 2014.
“It is important for recruiting the right people,” Johns said. “The university is losing out on qualified, smart individuals” by not having domestic partnership benefits.
Tim Riley, an Athens resident and Democratic nominee for the 47th district State Senate seat currently held by Republican Frank Ginn, believes that it’s time for UGA to take that step.
“If Mercer University, a private Baptist college, can do it, UGA can,” Riley said.
Hatton agrees, noting that other state universities already offer at least voluntary benefits like dental coverage, vision coverage, and life insurance.
“Georgia Tech and Georgia State have that,” she said. “Without people like us pushing, the university will not do anything.”
The University of Georgia’s University Council executive committee will meet on Thursday, Sept. 13, at 3:30 p.m. in the Peabody Room of the Administration Building on the university’s main Athens campus.
Another issue Roberts hopes to pursue going forward is an LGBT community center for the Athens.
“It’s important to me because we need it,” Roberts said. “That’s going to be one of my number one initiatives.”
Top photo: Attendees enjoy a meal together at the annual Athens Pride picnic on Sunday at Lake Herrick in Athens. (by Brian Smith)
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