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|Savannah Pride nears record attendance|
|by Christopher Seely|
|September 12, 2011 16:49|
Organizers estimate more than 4,000 revelers turned out for the 12th annual Savannah Pride festival on Saturday, even though this year marked the first time the festival charged attendees a $5 admission fee for those 16 and older.
Though the numbers are not yet finalized, Savannah Pride Executive Director Heather Byars said that this year is competing for record attendance with 2006 – the year that drew thousands to see performer Kimberly Locke.
“Pride has financially struggled over the past couple of years with the impact of the economy affecting many of our corporate sponsorship opportunities and community support at large,” Byars said. “To see the number of people inside the park, and the line wrapped around the park sidewalk of those paying their way in … I knew we were going to pull off this year in a positive way.”
The festival celebrated “Empowering Equality Through Pride” and featured several musical acts, drag performances, non-profit speakers and political candidates, including openly gay Savannah City Council candidate Pam Miller.
“For me to step out and be who I am, what I am, and declare who I am to the entire world may cost me a vote or two, but frankly I don’t give a damn,” Miller said.
Miller, who is running to represent Savannah’s District 4 as an alderwoman on the City Council, said she has been supporting the gay community for the last 40 years since participating in her first Pride march, which rallied against Anita Bryant in the 1970s.
“It is time; it is 2011,” she said. “We need to stand up and we need to have openly gay elected officials.”
Both Miller and Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham, who also spoke from the Savannah Pride stage, cited 2010 Census data showing Georgia with an estimated 300,000 residents who identify as gay – but with only 12 openly gay elected officials.
“We live in every single county. We have children. We have families. We are also single. We are of all races,” Graham said. “We are the face of Georgia, but we have a long way to go.”
Council candidate Miller shared the Pride stage with current Mayor Pro Tem Edna Jackson and Alderman Van Johnson from Savannah’s District 1.
“We are happy to say that you are in our community,” Jackson said.
Savannah Alderman At-Large Jeff Felser, one of Savannah’s mayoral candidates who spoke at the festival, said he would like to see Savannah Pride “get city funding just like every other festival.”
The responsibility for securing city financing for the festival “truly lies in the hands of Savannah Pride as an organization,” said Byars, who added that some City Council members have encouraged Savannah Pride to submit festival information early next year to be considered for funding in 2012.
“This is something that the Savannah Pride board of directors plans to move on immediately,” Byars said.
Felser, Jackson and Johnson also cited their work to pass an ordinance granting domestic partner benefits for city employees as evidence of their commitment to equality.
“We support you every single day – not just today,” Johnson said.
The ordinance passed in October 2010, a month after the first historic “Queer Power March” in Savannah. That march attracted hundreds of people.
Kevin Clark, chair of the Savannah chapter of Georgia Equality, credits last year’s march as the galvanizing force behind the council’s unanimous vote to approve the domestic partner benefits measure.
‘The progress being made’
This year’s “March for Equality” was originally scheduled for Sunday, Sept.11, but has now been postponed until Sept. 24 "due to conflicts in events and logistics" according to the Facebook page for the march.
Throughout the festival, attendees ambled around a fenced section of Forsyth Park, listening to the diverse entertainment line-up and gathering in shade cast by oak trees dripping with Savannah’s signature Spanish moss.
The stage line-up included Lindsay Starr, who was crowned Ms. Savannah Pride 2011; out female rapper Young Kaii; acoustical act She and She; the Vida DeVoid’s Burlesque show; and several drag performers such as Spikey Van Dykey and Liquid Ginger.\
Savannah Pride was a family-friendly event, with bouncy castles for children and a face-painting station staffed by a clown. Several older attendees could also be seen playing cornhole or competing in a push-ups contest refereed by a representative from the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
Among the community vendors with information tents were Georgia Equality, Savannah’s First City Network, Sean’s Last Wish Foundation, Georgia Democrats, Police Collaborative, Georgia Benefits Counsel, Human Rights Campaign, Agape Empowerment Ministries, St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, Unity of Savannah, Augusta Pride, Armstrong Atlantic State University Gay-Straight Alliance, River City Pride (Jacksonville, Fla.) and South Georgia Pride.
South Georgia Pride takes place this Saturday, Sept. 17, 3 p.m. at John W. Saunders Memorial Park in Valdosta, Ga.
Savannah Pride attendee Joseph Edwards said he was impressed with how “neat, organized and professional” the event turned out to be, saying he attended “to support the heritage of how far we’ve come and the progress being made.”
Top photo: Attendees at Savannah's Pride festival (by Christopher Seely)
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