A show of political force at Atlanta’s gay pride festival

A pink-shirted Rep. John Lewis was celebrated with a hero’s welcome. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed held court from atop a towering float. Two Democratic candidates for governor paraded down Peachtree, as did just about every contender for Atlanta office.

Not too long ago, the Atlanta Pride parade was at best an afterthought for politicos – at worst something to be shunned. Now, as the city’s gay community flexes its electoral and financial muscle, it’s become a must-attend for every serious Democratic contender for office.

At Sunday’s parade, as tens of thousands crowded street corners, each of the leading candidates in the Nov. 7 hunt for Atlanta mayor marched through Midtown.

Cathy Woolard, who aims to be Atlanta’s first openly gay mayor, got a roar of applause when her drop-top convertible rolled by. Peter Aman, Keisha Lance Bottoms, John Eaves, Vincent Fort, Ceasar Mitchell, Mary Norwood were greeted with cheers. Kwanza Hall waved a rainbow flag along the route.

And both Democratic contenders for office – former House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams and ex-state Rep. Stacey Evans – walked the street alongside supporters. It’s believed to be the first time a high-profile candidate for governor participated in the parade.

(Jason Carter, the Democratic nominee for governor in 2014, was not at the parade three years ago but was represented by dozens of supporters.)

No GOP candidate for higher office was represented along the route.

The Atlanta business establishment, too, has cozied up to the three-day event.

Some of the city’s leading corporations provide it with financial backing. And this year, just about every Atlanta-based behemoth was represented in the parade: Coca-Cola, Cox, Delta (complete with flight attendants in drag), 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 LGBT audience, on Friday published an item from readers sharing memories of past parades. This tale, from 35 years ago, stands 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.