Gay pride event in works for downtown Augusta

A gay pride event, with a parade and a concert on the Savannah River, is planned for downtown Augusta on Father's Day weekend, and organizers expect it to draw thousands of people from the region.

"We're targeting the general public," said Alejandro Wade-Coronado, vice president of Augusta Pride. "It's community awareness."

Wade-Coronado submitted a request to the city Wednesday for permission to parade on Broad Street on June 19. The Richmond County Sheriff's Office has already signed off, and the group is awaiting approval from the fire department, Recreation & Parks and Mayor Deke Copenhaver, according to Traffic Engineering Technician Dennis Ellis.

Wade-Coronado said he signed contracts with Recreation & Parks on Tuesday to use the Augusta Common and the Jessye Norman Amphitheater on that date. He said he's booked R&B singer Thelma Houston and second-season American Idol contestant Frenchie Davis to perform.

Augusta Pride, which has 20 members, estimates around 4,000 gays and lesbians live in the Augusta area, Wade-Coronado said. People protest gay pride events in Los Angeles, where he recently moved from with his partner, and he said he expects the same to happen here. He said he's heard several churches are opposed.

"We know that we're in the belt buckle of the Bible belt," he said. "We're all here. We all exist. There's no reason for us to be divided."

Augusta hasn't had a major gay pride event since the 1990s.

Wade-Coronado is asking that the north side of Broad Street between Sixth and 10th streets, and 10th Street from Broad to Reynolds streets, be closed from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., as well as Reynolds behind the Augusta Common from 6 a.m. to midnight. The parade would begin at 10:30 a.m., he said.

Wade-Coronado said he has a meeting scheduled for Wednesday with Copenhaver.

Ellis said under city procedures, if the sheriff's office, the fire department, the parks department or the mayor's office have any objections, they'll try to work them out with the applicant. Ellis said he'll likely approve the parade once he gets the necessary approvals.

"I have no legal grounds not to," he said. "The fact that the sheriff has already signed off on it tells you how that's going to go."

Wade-Coronado said he's hoping to not only raise money for HIV/AIDS treatment, but also to bring money to the local economy. June's event has been coordinated with gay pride groups from other cities, and he expects to draw 4,000 to 8,000 people, including visitors from Atlanta, Savannah and Charleston, he said.

It will be a "family event," he said. The parade will have floats and fire trucks, and bounce houses will be set up for children at the Augusta Common.

"We're not here to put anything in everybody's faces," he said. "It's just to raise awareness about gay rights here in the city."