Atlanta Pride energizes with people ‘free to be’

by Todd Cramer
Knoxville Contributor

While stories of death and destruction were greatly exaggerated, as alcohol and the loud bar atmosphere might provoke, I was sorry to hear that the main Coca-Cola stage had been blown over on Friday evening in Piedmont Park.

The high winds were too much for it to handle, so lots of fans, entertainers, and especially the Atlanta Pride Committee were concerned for those injured in the accident and worried about the entertainers' ability to put on a full show the next day. The clubs were packed with people, but the mood was a little more tepid than usual as we all wondered what the next day might hold.

We were welcomed Saturday with blue skies and moderate temperatures. Perfect weather for a day at the park!

The Atlanta Pride Web site said to keep checking back for updated schedules and other information to accommodate for the loss of the main stage, but we were hungry and too anxious to wait. So off we went. After a quick bite to eat, we ended up driving around for about 20 minutes, looking to for a place to park, before we finally found a spot relatively close to the main area. The numbers must have been up for this year's events, as I have never had to look that long for a spot just to park.

The first thing I noticed as we were driving around and as we walked from the car was the obvious lack of the normal protesters.  Every Atlanta Pride I have attended has had at least a half-dozen sign-waving, megaphone-blaring radicals at every entrance to the park, protesting our right to be proud of who we are. Where were they? In the place of the 30 or so people that are normally there, I saw only two, sitting by themselves across the street on one corner of Piedmont Road, preaching their intolerance. I must say, it was nice to hear nothing but pride, fun, and folly throughout most of the gorgeous day.

The park was full of vendors, so many so that the Web site said they were sold out. So, despite the loss of one entertainment stage, the booths, sun, food, drinks, and people provided plenty to do in Piedmont Park on the beautiful June Saturday. I noticed this year that they also added a car show, some marketing direct from car manufacturers, and I was even interviewed on my thoughts of their sponsorship of pride and was questioned about the impact on my willingness to consider their cars the next time I was in the market. My answer was an authentic and resounding “yes!”

We left the park on Saturday tired from the day’s sun and walking, but energized by the sight of people free to be who they are, and companies, groups and individuals proud to celebrate their right to do so. Off for what we hoped was a quick bite to eat with plenty of time left to prepare for the night ahead – but alas, the huge crowd at the park seemed to all beat us to Cowtipper's (a very popular, gay-inclusive restaurant near the park) so while we did get to eat, there was nothing quick about it..

After dinner, it was back to the hotel to shower and change before a long night enjoying all Atlanta’s nightlife. The clubs were packed, the dancing was plentiful, and the cold drinks could not come fast enough to replenish the fluids lost throughout the day. After a few pictures for the local press looking to capitalize on the crowds, we were off to bed to rest up for our last celebration day and a parade that would send us out in style.

We woke up Sunday rested and ready for another great day in Atlanta. However, the weather had other ideas. We hurriedly got ready so we could checkout and make our annual trip to the Varsity for lunch before picking our spot to watch the festivities. There were only light sprinkles on our way to eat, but by the time we parked for the parade, the bottom had fallen out! Well, it was only water, and we had driven all this way to enjoy the whole weekend, so what the hell, off we went.

The rains came and went as we walked through the crowds lining the streets. The parade had already started, but we had seen the beginning as we approached, so we had not missed enough to matter. As we continued up the street, we could see glimpses of the floats, marchers, and politicians passing the other direction. We would stop to admire, gawk, or applaud as appropriate, or to greet people we knew.

As usual, the parade went on despite the weather, the crowds, or the protesters, who – while now more visible and vocal than yesterday – were still no contest for the jubilant celebration going on around them. No one could witness this weekend's events without being touched in one way or another. Whether the immensity of the crowds or the individual smiling faces of men, women and children proud to be who they were, or proud to celebrate the freedom for others to do so, it was moving - moving toward freedom, moving toward pride, moving toward equality.

Atlanta Pride is attended by hundreds of people from Tennessee every year. As the unofficial capital of the South, thousands anticipate Atlanta’s annual celebration. This is one take on this year’s festivities through the eyes of Todd Cramer, local Human Rights Group Leader and Co-President of the Greater Knoxville LGBTQ Leadership Council, host of Knox PrideFest 2006.

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