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|South Georgia Pride draws hundreds in Valdosta|
|by Christopher Seely|
|September 19, 2011 13:06|
South Georgia Pride celebrated its second year at John W. Saunders Park in Valdosta on Saturday, drawing a crowd of hundreds, according to event organizers who received an official proclamation from the City of Valdosta.
“The city acknowledges that the LGBT community and the citizens here are valued people and that this is officially South Georgia Pride Day,” said Raynaé Williams, assistant executive director of South Georgia Pride, speaking from the stage at the beginning of the event. “With that, everybody should take home a sense of pride in knowing that we do count in this city.”
South Georgia Pride started as Valdosta Diversity Pride at Valdosta State University in 2008 through the school’s gay-straight alliance. The event became an official nonprofit named South Georgia Pride in 2009, and organizers moved the event to John W. Saunders Park in 2010, with attendance totals last year somewhere between 300 to 400 people.
The theme for this year was "Education + Empowerment = Equality.” But for South Georgia Pride volunteer Daniel Folsom, who wanted to increase attendance, the theme was “the more the merrier.”
“Pride promotes diversity and acceptance, but also when we have events like this it allows us to be freer,” said Folsom, adding that this year’s event received considerable local press coverage from publications such as the Valdosta Daily Times and the Glass Onion.
That press coverage, in addition to the event’s high visibility at a park on one of the busiest roads in Valdosta, demonstrated the strength of South Georgia’s LGBT community.
“There have been a bajillion cars driving by today and you know they all had to know what was going on,” Folsom said.
South Georgia Pride started corporate sponsorship levels for the first time this year, welcoming Georgia Healing as a silver sponsor and Sawmill, a gay resort and campground located in Dade City, Fla., as platinum sponsor.
Aside from mention of the City of Valdosta proclamation for South Georgia Pride Day, there was no overt political speech or message from the stage on Saturday.
But Matt Flumerfelt, a candidate for an at-large Valdosta City Council position in the Nov. 8 election, attended the festival to show his support of the LGBT community.
Discrimination against LGBT persons is one of the last forms of discrimination accepted by the South Georgia general population, Flumerfelt said.
“There’s a lot of hate because we are in the Bible belt,” he said. “People in this part of the state don’t understand that LGBT people can be moral and spiritual, and raise families.”
Flumerfelt said that the LBGT population needs a representative like him who could be a watchdog to protect minorities – especially since the Valdosta mayor who was instrumental in issuing the South Georgia Pride proclamation resigned last month.
Former Valdosta Mayor John Fretti resigned after pleading guilty in Lowndes County Superior Court to making a false statement related to an investigation into his being reimbursed by the city and state for the same trips.
South Georgia Pride featured performances by TNT Entertainment (billed as the largest drag troupe in Jacksonville, Fla.), Drew Kelly, Samantha Fox, Jen Anders, and Mercury Heat. Also on stage was special guest speaker Elke Kennedy, who shared the story of her gay son’s murder in South Carolina.
The day’s festivities also included a vendor market, raffles, a basketball shootout, a cake walk, and a pet show.
The pet show awarded prizes in several categories: Best Costume, Most Unique, Best Groomed, Owner Look-Alike, Best Trick, and Best in Show.
Williams said she had the idea for the pet show because a lot of LGBT people have pets.
“That’s their babies,” she said. “It’s been a high-energy, positive day. Everybody has just been happy.”
Douglas resident Evan Brown, who attended South Georgia Pride last year and this year, said that he observed attendees this year more actively collecting information from booths and “wearing their t-shirts more proudly.”
“Last year, they seemed more scared that there were going to be bashers,” Brown said. “This year, they don’t act like they give a rip whether they are out here or not.”
Correction: This story has been edited from an earlier version due to new information submitted by Raynaé Williams that corrected information provided by another source. Changes include a lower attendance estimate, new information about sponsors, and a change of title for Daniel Folsom.
Top photo: Attendees celebrate LGBT pride in Valdosta over the weekend (by Christopher Seely)
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