Atlanta’s Pride Parade showcases Georgia’s shifting politics

Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff participate in the Pride Parade on Peachtree Street on Sunday, Oct.9, 2022.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman for the AJC

Credit: Jenni Girtman for the AJC

Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff participate in the Pride Parade on Peachtree Street on Sunday, Oct.9, 2022. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock sat side-by-side in a pink convertible. Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams waved a purple fan as she marched through the cheering parade route. Jen Jordan, her party’s nominee for attorney general, rode atop a neon Jeep festooned with a giant peach.

Nearly every Democratic contender for Georgia’s top offices took part Sunday in the Atlanta Pride Festival, which has steadily transformed from an event largely ignored by the state’s leading liberal politicians to a must-attend on the campaign trail.

It’s still overwhelmingly a Democratic one: No Republican candidates for statewide office were featured in the parade, which drew a record-setting crowd.

For Democrats, the festivities offered a chance to showcase their support for LGBTQ rights before a bloc of voters that is flexing its political and financial muscle ahead of a midterm election that could determine control of the U.S. Senate.

“Listen, I need you to continue to support this campaign that believes in the dignity of all of God’s children,” said Warnock, who along with Ossoff became the first sitting U.S. senator to take part in the event.

Decades ago, the Atlanta Pride parade was at best an afterthought to the state’s political class – and, to some, something to be shunned. In more recent campaigns, Democratic candidates have embraced gay rights but didn’t highlight it.

But the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage and shifting political views on LGBTQ rights helped cement a more assertive Democratic approach on the issue. So did a growing number of LGBTQ candidates for local and legislative offices.

Abrams helped usher in that transformation.

In 2018, she became the first major-party gubernatorial nominee to march in the parade. A year later, she served as its grand marshal — and swiped at Gov. Brian Kemp’s support for a “religious liberty” law.

On Sunday, ear-splitting chants of “Stacey” followed the candidate as she walked the route, and her supporters handed out swag promoting her rematch against Kemp.

Stacey Abrams participates in the Pride Parade on Peachtree Street on Sunday, Oct.9, 2022.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

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Credit: Jenni Girtman

Like Abrams, Warnock is relying on a surge of LGBTQ support in his reelection bid against Republican Herschel Walker. He’s emphasized his support for anti-discrimination legislation and gender-inclusive policies.

He wasn’t the only Senate contender who participated. Chase Oliver first came across a Libertarian booth at the 2010 festival and was so impressed by the party’s support for gay rights that he joined. Now the Libertarian nominee for Senate, he rode the route in a pickup truck lined with balloons.

Though gay rights issues have taken a backseat to other factors on the campaign trail, including the Supreme Court ruling that triggered Georgia’s anti-abortion restrictions and economic concerns about rising prices, they remain an undercurrent in the race.

Only one top GOP candidate endorsed amending the state constitution to allow same-sex marriage: Burt Jones, the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor. Advocates worry that the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade could set the stage for a decision undercutting the 2015 ruling that established the constitutional right to marriage.

And Kemp hasn’t withdrawn his support for a “religious liberty” measure seen by opponents as legalized discrimination. Instead, the governor has said he would veto any measure that veers from a federal version of the bipartisan bill signed by President Bill Clinton back in 1993.

Bee Nguyen is on the campaign trail at the Pride Parade on Peachtree Street on Sunday, Oct.9, 2022.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

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Credit: Jenni Girtman

Even as Republicans have steered clear of the festivities, Atlanta’s business establishment has embraced the three-day event. Just about every major Atlanta-based corporation was represented: Coca-Cola, Cox, Delta, Home Depot and UPS each had large contingents.

Jordan, who is running against Republican Attorney General Chris Carr, said the party’s support for gay rights will pay off at the ballot box.

“I cannot overstate the importance of saying what you believe and having leaders who are proud to stand up as allies of the LGBTQ+ community here in Georgia and fight for all Georgians’ rights — regardless of whom they love,” she said. “Today, we marched. Tomorrow we vote.”

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