Pride parades through Atlanta with a dose of politics

A giant rainbow flag makes its way down Peachtree St. during the Atlanta Pride Parade Sunday in Atlanta GA. October 14, 2018. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

A giant rainbow flag makes its way down Peachtree St. during the Atlanta Pride Parade Sunday in Atlanta GA. October 14, 2018. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

To Legrand Maness Jr., the Atlanta Pride Festival is much more than a celebration. It’s a call to action.

As he waited for the parade to begin on Sunday, Maness posted a video to Facebook showing the crowd along the route. He told his followers that the energy around the festival should motivate them to vote in November.

“Gays have been suppressed for years, so it’s a way of getting out our pride, but it’s also getting out the message that we have a voice,” he said later.

For him, that means supporting Democratic candidates like gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams. When her Jeep paused near him, Maness waved his rainbow flag wildly and led the crowd in a chant: "Governor! Governor! Governor!"

He traveled to Pride with Thomas Janter, his partner for 35 years and husband since 2004. They wed in Canada because back then it was one of the few places same-sex couples could marry. But they live in Hartwell near the South Carolina border and travel to Atlanta each year to enjoy the Pride festivities.

Previous parades have featured local officials and candidates, but what made Pride different this year is the greater meaning drawn from the upcoming mid-term elections. Many members of the LGBTQ community oppose policies of President Donald Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress and Georgia General Assembly, and they hope to gain Democratic seats in November.

Abrams' campaign had publicized her participation as a first for any major party gubernatorial nominee in Georgia. She spoke before the parade about inclusion and making sure the state serves the needs of all of its residents.

Mikaela Walton listened to the nominee while holding a sign that said, “Love and existing are not political agendas.” The Buckhead resident said she looks for candidates who stand up for human rights and equality, which attracted her to Abrams.

Republican nominee Brian Kemp did not request to participate the parade or any pride events, festival organizers said, but he would have been welcome. While LGBTQ rights are often characterized as progressive issues, the event is non-partisan.

"We understand the importance of connecting to our LGBT community and we are happy that so many elected officials and candidates seeking office now recognize that as well," Atlanta Pride Executive Director Jamie Fergerson said in a statement. "We welcome any candidate or elected official who would like to participate in the parade or attend the festival."

Hundreds of thousands of people were expected to attend the three-day Pride event. Sidewalks were packed along the parade route as it snaked through Midtown to Piedmont Park.

There is at least one organization aligned with a conservative issue that considers Pride an opportunity to advance its mission. Gun rights group Georgia Carry has participated in the festival at Piedmont Park for at least seven years.

The group’s tent was decorated with rainbow flags and visitors were offered buttons with slogans like, “guns save lives” and “stop gun control.” Volunteers with holstered weapons answered questions about weapons laws and passed out blank membership forms.

The group realized years ago that it couldn’t grow by attending the same gun shows every year. So, members agreed to reach out into new markets, including members of the LGBTQ community worried about safety and looking for means to protect themselves.

“We said we would go tell them our story,” Georgia Carry executive director Jerry Henry said.

At first, the reception was tepid. Pride attendees weren’t sure whether Georgia Carry’s intentions were pure, Henry said. Now, the group considers Pride a must-attend each year.

“Our mission is gun rights,” Henry said. “We want everybody to be able to protect themselves.”

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