Reaction to gay march is muted

Isaac Kelly, the president of Augusta Pride Inc., shouts while holding hands with his partner at the start of last year's gay pride parade in Augusta.

Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles, not Mayor Deke Copenhaver, will welcome revelers to the city Saturday at this year's gay rights march and festival.

 

"I've been asked to do it, and I told them I would," Bowles said.

The event has crept under the radar this year, with Augusta Pride President Isaac Kelly easily obtaining the parade permit that last year prompted Copenhaver to seek a legal opinion on whether he had to approve the event.

Copenhaver, who worked a short day Friday and did not return calls, has issued to Kelly an official welcome and proclamation that Saturday is Augusta Pride Day.

The mayor's office has not received the dozens of letters, e-mails and phone calls from area religious groups in opposition to last year's event that Copenhaver cited when he sought the legal opinion.

"We haven't received anything, yet," said Copenhaver's secretary, Natasha McFarley, noting that the city also has listed the event on its Web site.

Administrator Fred Russell said he hadn't heard any feedback on the event either.

"I got one call about the bike race disturbing the whole world, but that's it," Russell said. The National Criterium Championships will go on downtown Friday.

Augusta Pride has marketed the parade and daylong festival in cities around the region, partnered with six hotels and expects far more than the 4,000 visitors who attended last year's event, Kelly said. It was the first gay festival held in the city since the 1990s.

The parade has 20 floats signed up and the festival at Augusta Common has more than 80 vendors, Kelly said. Headline performers include dance music star Kristine W. and longtime Madonna backup singer Niki Haris.

Bowles, whose oldest brother Ricky died of AIDS in the mid-1980s, is involved in HIV awareness and prevention.

"I had a brother who was gay and I have many gay friends," Bowles said. "I'm sure there are those people who turn their noses up and say, 'Why is he going there?' Those aren't my friends, and that's their prerogative."