Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams greets supporters at the Atlanta Pride Parade. Abrams made history by being the first ever Georgia gubernatorial candidate to ride along in the parade.

Atlanta Pride to showcase growing LGBTQ clout in Georgia 

The Atlanta Pride parade has transformed from an afterthought for Georgia politicians to a must-attend for every serious Democratic contender for office. And Sunday’s march through the heart of the city will put that metamorphosis on display.

Stacey Abrams, who last year became the first Georgia gubernatorial nominee to march in the parade, will be this year’s grand marshal. All five top Democratic contenders for U.S. Senate will participate in the event. And so will a host of other elected officials and candidates.

It will be the latest example of the growing clout of Georgia’s gay community as it flexes its political and financial muscle. Last year’s vibrant spectacle attracted just about every major corporation in Atlanta, dozens of candidates and tens of thousands of voters. 

It also has underscored a shift in Georgia politics as Democrats have more aggressively embraced LGBTQ equality – and used the issue to highlight rifts with Republicans on the campaign trail. 

That was exemplified in June when Abrams accompanied her announcement that she would lead the parade with a shot at Republican Gov. Brian Kemp for supporting a “religious liberty” measure. 

“We have an administration that is making life difficult for families wishing to adopt and patriots wishing to serve,” she said in a video. “And we have a man in Georgia governor’s mansion who still wants to sign discrimination into law.”

Rep. John Lewis waves to the crowd as he rides down Peachtree Street during the Atlanta Pride Parade, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2015. BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL
Photo: Branden Camp

Past statewide Democratic candidates have embraced gay rights but didn’t put it at the heart of their campaigns. But the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage and shifting political views on LGBTQ rights has helped cement a more assertive Democratic approach on the issue.

Abrams will be joined by a host of other Democrats, including all four of U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s challengers: Sarah Riggs Amico, who lost a lieutenant governor’s bid last year; Jon Ossoff, who lost a 2017 bid for Georgia’s 6th District; Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry; and former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson.  

It will also be one of the first campaign appearances of Matthew Lieberman, the son of U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman and the top Democrat in the race for Georgia’s other Senate seat. That contest is for the seat held by U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who is stepping down at year’s end because of medical issues.

The event’s appeal does not stretch across party lines. No high-profile Republicans are expected to march in the Sunday parade, which stretches from the Civic Center MARTA Station to Piedmont Park. 

‘A long way’

Much of the LGBTQ discourse in last year’s race for governor revolved around the “religious liberty” legislation, a debate that has dramatically escalated since the last midterm vote in 2014. 

Gov. Nathan Deal bucked his party in 2016 by vetoing a version of the bill, and some conservatives have pledged to revive it. Ahead of the GOP primary, Kemp and most of the other contenders for governor vowed to sign the measure into law.

He and other supporters see it as a noncontroversial way to defend against what they view as a siege on Christian values. They say it would also provide more legal protection to people of faith who object to gay marriage on religious grounds. 

Opponents argue it amounts to legalized discrimination and warn of boycotts and other economic fallout if it’s adopted. Ahead of Deal’s 2016 veto, a string of major firms threatened to withdraw from Georgia if the measure took effect. 

Seeking to tamp down the controversy, Kemp said in August 2018 he would veto any legislation that veers from a federal version of the bill signed by President Bill Clinton. He’s since maintained his support for the legislation, which failed to gain traction this year.

Photo: Steve Schaefer Steve Schaefer Scott Flynn Steve Schaefer Steve Schaefer Scott Flynn Scott Flynn Steve Schaefer

Even as Republicans have shied away from the Pride Parade – one leader in the gay community said it was “extremely rare” for a GOP candidate to participate – Atlanta’s business establishment has embraced the event. 

At last year’s parade, just about every major Atlanta-based corporation was represented: Coca-Cola, Cox, Delta, Home Depot, IHG Hotels, SunTrust, Turner and UPS each had big contingents.

That kind of support would once have seemed unimaginable. The Georgia Voice, an Atlanta publication geared toward an LGBTQ audience, published an item from readers last year sharing memories of past parades. This tale, from 37 years ago, stood out: 

“1982. We all gathered near the corner of Peachtree Street and Forrest Avenue, now called Ralph McGill Boulevard. There were maybe 500 of us. No corporate sponsors. No floats. No politicians. Just a few hundred of us brave men and women. We marched down Peachtree to the steps of the State Capitol. Speeches. Pride. Protesters. Police. I was 20 years old. We’ve come a long way baby, and still got a long way to go.” 

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.