Thousands celebrate in Augusta's first pride parade

Some protest tribute to gay lifestyle

Diversity was everywhere Saturday morning as hundreds of people brought their opinions, messages and lifestyles to downtown Augusta.

Augusta Pride Inc.'s president, Isaac Kelly, placed the number of people in the parade and enjoying the events on the Augusta Common throughout the day at 3,500.

For many, Augusta's first gay pride parade was an opportunity to proudly proclaim their sexual identity and bring their lifestyle to the forefront in a Southern town.

"People are afraid of what they don't know," said Tamara Sheffield, as she waited to walk the parade route down Broad Street with her friends.

Standing nearby was Sharon Renee and a friend who only identified herself by the stage name Miss Vicky. Both wore long, glittery evening gowns and blonde and brunette wigs.

"No one has the right to judge but God," said Renee as she fanned at the sweat dripping from her brow.

Others used the street corners as a pulpit to condemn homosexuality with signs such as "I now pronounce you pervert and pervert."

Chris Pettigrew drove from the suburbs of Atlanta with members of his church to protest and said he was given rude gestures and told to "go to hell."

"I think it's hypocritical because they always tell us to be open-minded," Pettigrew said.

The parade was a diverse mixture of over-the-top gaudiness and modest celebration.

Loud cheers and whistles greeted the head of the parade and overpowered the hoarse preaching of a man standing in the median of 10th and Broad streets.

The colorful rainbow representing the gay movement was held as a banner and draped over honking vehicles or clutched as a flag in the hands of waving walkers.

Many walked, but some rode a decommissioned fire engine loudly blasting dance music or, in one case, rode a motorcycle wearing short shorts and a pink feathered boa.

Wanda Walker was standing on the sidewalk watching the parade and said she respected the First Amendment rights represented by the parade.

She even welcomed the acceptance of the gay lifestyle the parade might encourage in her hometown.

What bothered her was the presence of children both along the street and in the parade.

"These people have made their choice," she said, gesturing to the hollering passers-by. "But I don't think we should expose children to it."

Perhaps the most unexpected participants in the parade were a group of guys on a souped up orange golf cart named the General Lee, same as the iconic 1969 Dodge Charger of Dukes of Hazzard fame. The cart even tooted the opening lines of Dixie .

George Calvery, of Atlanta, took the role of Daisy Duke with a red plaid shirt tied in a knot above his midriff and short cutoff jean shorts.

Calvery, who said he was a regular visitor to Augusta, said the juxtaposition between gays and Southern tradition was intended to draw a laugh.

"It's fun to poke holes in stereotypes," he said.