For Deborah Ivins, the third annual Augusta Pride parade and festival Saturday was proof of a community getting stronger and more organized.
“The South has always been a quiet people,” the 25-year Augusta resident said. “People were afraid. People are still afraid.”
More than 3,000 people attended last year’s festival focusing attention on gay rights issues, and organizer Isaac Kelly said he expected more this year.
The day featured a packed schedule of performances at Augusta Common including music, comedians and speakers from across the country. Mr. and Ms. Augusta Pride were also featured in the morning’s parade and on stage.
“It was nice to see so many people waving this year,” Ivins said of leading the parade. “This event has made people braver. Now they march or even stand by the side of the road and wave. That counts.”
Ivins was given the lifetime achievement award at last year’s parade for her work with the gay community in Augusta. Ivins, who uses a wheelchair, said she has been marching and rolling since 1980, when her mother told her to stop.
“She said, ‘You’re not gay,’ ” Ivins said. “And I told her, I’m not black either but I march for them, too. Rights are rights.”
The day celebrated the anniversary weekend of the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City’s Greenwich Village, which is cited as one of the first
times the community fought for gay rights.
Pierre Close and Angelo Cooper traveled to Augusta from their native Paris to take part in Saturday’s events. Close said they travel to a different city every year to celebrate and support gay rights.
“We heard about Augusta last year,” Close said. “We heard they might need numbers down here. It’s the South in America. We wanted to support these brave people.”
Cooper said he had been to festivals all over Europe and the U.S. Next year they plan on heading to South America.
This year’s Pride theme was “It’s time,” which Kelly said means it’s time for the gay community to come together and let Augusta know it exists and is a diverse and powerful group.
On the outskirts of the first turn of the parade on 10th Street, a handful of protesters stood with signs. Deputies said they did not cause any problems and left quickly after.
For Bishop Gregory Godsey of St. Francis of Assisi in North Augusta, the festival was a chance to reach out to a group of people who might not have been welcome at most churches.
“We want to send a message of inclusion,” he said.
In full brown monk’s robes, Godsey and Bishop Edmund Cass of Greenville, S.C., stood in the 90-plus degree heat and spoke to parade-goers about St. Francis’ message.
“If he was here, he would be right in the middle of this,” Cass said, gesturing to the thousands swarming Augusta Common. “We would rather have all of these folk than 10 people who hate.”
Staff writer Stephen Dethrage contributed to this report.