Gays find support in parade

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Justin Smith, 18, who came out as a homosexual six months ago, says he found comfort and support from Augusta Pride.    Michael Holahan/Staff
Michael Holahan/Staff
Justin Smith, 18, who came out as a homosexual six months ago, says he found comfort and support from Augusta Pride.

There was an aching in Justin Smith's heart this time last year.

It came from a secret he couldn't share and the weight he felt from keeping it inside.

He sat in front of his television last June and turned on the news to watch Augusta's first gay pride parade and the crowd of people who had already revealed what he couldn't.

Growing up in Aiken County in a Pentecostal family, Smith, now 18, had learned how to keep his homosexuality a secret.

When his brother-in-law read e-mails between Smith and his boyfriend the day after Christmas, though, Smith felt the wrath he had been avoiding since seventh grade.

"My dad started yelling; he threw things, nearly broke his hand from punching the wall," Smith said. "It was hell."

A student at the University of South Carolina Aiken, Smith soon moved out of his parents' house and had to wait to see if they would accept his lifestyle.

It was a lonely time until he found support in Augusta Pride.

"Down here in the South, for a closeted gay man, you're not going to have a lot of resources," Smith said. "The whole Southern mindset that people have is that we're all wrong and don't deserve a place in society."

Meeting new friends brought a sense of hope after his old friends had abandoned him.

He gained new confidence and rented a room in a house with other gay people who became the support system he never had.

Now, six months later, the struggle isn't over, but the changes have started a healing process with his family and a better understanding of himself.

"When you're going through it, you don't want to believe it gets better, but I can honestly say it does get better," Smith said.

The unity and comfort that Augusta Pride's support brings is what President Isaac Kelly said has been his goal since the group formed in 2009.

Now with 20 board members and more than 1,400 members on Facebook, Augusta Pride has reached out to gay and straight people across the Southeast.

With the second annual parade Saturday, Kelly said, it is a step toward bringing more people together on an issue that has been historically divisive, particularly in the South.

"It's part of our progression," Kelly said. "It's a symbol that our city can house many different types of people and many different types of lifestyles and a mixture of likes and dislikes and still exist in the same spot.

"It means we can have an event that's all about feeling good about yourself and sharing the true definition of love and spreading it to everybody."

For 21-year-old Tanya Blackstone, convincing her hometown has not always been easy.

Blackstone and Ashley Miller, met online in 2009 and got engaged later that year.

When Miller moved to Augusta from Boston, lifelong friends left Blackstone's life. One said she couldn't associate with people with her "disease."

"It's draining emotionally," Blackstone said. "It just drains you because then you think, 'Well, am I doing the wrong thing, am I wrong for being this way?' You feel unwanted."

The love between Blackstone and Miller is stronger, and that's what they focus on.

They soak in everyday joys like playing Go Fish on the front porch while drinking sweet tea on a summer night.

"I call (Miller) my wife because this is my life, this is my best friend, this is my soul," Blackstone said.

When they march in the parade downtown Saturday, she will be confident in saying that to the world.

"Last year, I felt I could finally be myself," Blackstone said of the first gay pride parade. "I could hold her hand and kiss her on the cheek. ... (Saturday's parade) is going to be another day of feeling proud."

If you go

WHAT: Augusta Pride 2011 parade and festival

WHEN: Saturday; parade starts at 10 a.m.; festival starts at 11 a.m. and ends at 7 p.m.

WHERE: Augusta Common downtown

LEARN MORE: www.prideaugusta.org/index.shtml

Comments (5) Add comment
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srd0901
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srd0901 06/24/11 - 09:47 am
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For those of you out there

For those of you out there who question why we have events like Augusta Pride. To give hope, love, friendship and community to those like Justin and Tanya, who's family and friends will turn their backs on them. Way to go Justin and Tanya, for having the courage to tell your stories in this article. Happy Pride!!

annw
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annw 06/24/11 - 10:29 am
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Great article. Coming out

Great article. Coming out is a difficult process for anyone, but particularly for those whose families are not supportive. Justin, you make us all proud. For the record though, being gay is NOT a lifestyle! It is just who we are. Our opposition uses lifestyle to demean us. Don't fall into their trap.

just COEXIST
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just COEXIST 06/24/11 - 11:03 am
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"It's part of our

"It's part of our progression," Kelly said. "It's a symbol that our city can house many different types of people and many different types of lifestyles and a mixture of likes and dislikes and still exist in the same spot.

This says it all.

lost4thought
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lost4thought 06/24/11 - 07:10 pm
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Things need to be clarified,

Things need to be clarified, I am Justin Smith and things have been misundrerstood, my family was supportive never once was it said that they turned their back on me but that they were having time coping with my homosexuality. I chose to leave to give them time because I knew that they were having great difficulty. But the thing that needs to be clarified is that My FAMILY HAS SHOWN ME BACKING BUT THEY DID NOT ACCEPT IT, THAT IS UNDERSTANDABLE FOR THEM TO FEEL THIS WAY BUT NOT THAT THEY HATED ME. THE THINGS THATT THIS ARTICLE SEEMS TO BE PORTRAYING IS THAT MY FAMILY HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH ME! EVEN THOUGH THEY MAY NOT ACCEPT ME BUT THEY SHOW ME THEY LOVE ME. I think that this has been misconstrued for the fact that things that were said were not put into the full context of what I said. My family care deeply for me but have had trouble coping with each hit after another of what has gone on with me in the present and the past. But no this has to be clarified that no my family has been supporting me especially my sisters and my parents are trying deeply to cope with how I am. Things have to be seen that this article is not fully accurate in the things that were said during the interview. I do find support in Pride but also now I do have support from my family its just they have the hard time coping with the homosexuality not that they hate me and turned their back on me. I just have to say that this article has been horribly misconstrued and taken out of context!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! My family does care by all means it has just has had to have time to get through things this by no means is meant to attack my family or make them out to be bad they are actually very good people its just that it has taken time and that is the point that when I told the reporter that IT GETS BETTER! for the fact that is gonna get better over time

InChristLove
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InChristLove 06/25/11 - 06:30 am
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Lost4thought, I appauld you

Lost4thought, I appauld you for setting the record straight. I believe the article attempted to portray that since you came from a Christian home, that your parents would not accept and love you because of your homosexuality. I'm sure your parents love you deeply and only want the best for you. My prayer is that you and your parents continue to have an open communication, for how else are we to understand each other unless we discuss issues.

howcanweknow
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howcanweknow 06/25/11 - 03:17 pm
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What? An article in the media

What? An article in the media that distorts the true picture and tries instead to push another agenda? Say it ain't so!

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