Love, acceptance on parade

Love was the theme of Saturday's Augusta Pride parade and festival in downtown Augusta, and there were plenty of people there to share the love.

About 3,000 people lined Broad Street for the second annual parade and convened afterward at Augusta Common for a daylong festival.

Chris Bannochie, the public relations specialist for Augusta Pride, said many new members joined the organization after the parade.

"The fire marshal told me that we had met and exceeded last year's numbers as we came into the Common," Pride President Isaac Kelly said.

The parade began at 10th Street with grand marshals Deborah Ivins and Keith Buck waving from convertibles. Music, applause and rainbow flags accompanied each float. T-shirts and posters proclaimed "Love is for everyone," "Love conquers hate," or "Love wins."

"It was pretty great. It's so open. Everybody is free to be open and there's no negativity right here," said Heidi Holland, of Waynesboro, pointing to the Common.

Dedicated causes and non-profits were represented in the parade and at the festival, including those advocating abuse assistance and HIV testing.

One booth at the Common was Sean's Last Wish, founded by Elke Kennedy of Greenville, S.C., who spoke to the crowd in the afternoon about her son, Sean, who was killed four years ago. Since then, Kennedy has traveled 195,000 miles nationwide, educating people on the impact of bullying, hatred and religious bigotry toward the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transvestite community.

"By telling Sean's story, I'm putting a face to the hate," she said.

A religious plea was passed out via flier by Ed Longton, who said nothing as he walked through the event area handing the paper to everyone he passed. Its message was, "God loves everyone unconditionally. He calls us to love everyone in the Spirit, not the flesh." Richmond County sheriff's Lt. J.R. Compton said there were only a few protestors who held posters during the parade, and they did not say anything and left immediately afterward.

Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles spoke to the crowd at noon, saying he was glad to see such a big crowd and pointed out that the festival would generate money for the city.

Kelly said restaurants had been given Pride flags, and everyone at the festival was encouraged to patronize a restaurant displaying one.

"It'll be interesting to see what kind of financial impact we're having," he said. "Hopefully this will let us know."

As he stood back and watched the crowd, Nathan Morris seemed almost overwhelmed by the joy surrounding him. The lifelong Augusta resident, who looked relaxed with his long, braided hair and an orange lei around his shirtless neck, said Pride has opened his eyes to the attitude of acceptance in the city.

"I've been reduced to tears many times already, and I'm sure that's going to continue throughout the night," he said.

Reach Lynn Davidson and Luke Thompson at (706) 724-8051.

Were you Spotted?

See about 400 Spotted photos from the parade online at spotted.augusta.com.