THE LAST year or so has brought glorious sea changes for LGBTQ folk and those who love them. Supreme Court-sanctioned marriage equality! Widespread acknowledgement and support of trans children! Gay dad Sulu in the new Star Trek movie!
It would look a lot like progress, except that there has also been much to mourn. The horrific hate shooter who killed 49 in Orlando this summer. Ridiculous “religious freedom” legislation and nonsensical bathroom bills. Pernicious bigotry that continues to permeate social media and real life.
Even as queer goes mainstream, there is plenty of dismantling left to do.
“A lot has changed, but the battle is far from over,” notes Mark Hill, heralded local LGBTQ activist and advocate.
“Every time there are steps forward, there are definite backlashes.”
All the more reason to march on over this week to the Savannah Pride Festival, where supporting the cause is an integral part of the celebration. Savannah Pride has had a solid presence in the city for 17 years, growing from a one-day gathering in Johnson Square to a week of festivities for 2016, including the rainbow takeover of Forsyth Park on Saturday, Oct. 22.
While there will be lip syncing, laughs and plenty of glitter, the underlying reason for the season remains.
“We can’t forget the history,” says Hill, reminding that gay pride began as a sociopolitical movement back in 1969 after the Stonewall Riots.
“It was all very political at the beginning, because it had to be. That was the purpose of Pride. Things relaxed a bit in the 70s—and then AIDS hit. So the Pride movement became a way of educating ourselves and getting services out there that people needed. The events started including vendors and outreach, and it became a way to connect and inform as well as celebrate.”
Savannah Pride’s dedicated organizers—many of who are part of what Hill calls the original “brave corps” that launched the first local event in 1999—have always struck an attractive combination of glitter glam, family fun and meaningful activism.
Apparently the word’s gotten out: More than 6000 people flocked to Forsyth Park in 2015 and even more are expected this year—and they’re traveling to get here. Our local crew has skillfully built on Savannah’s reputation as a gay-friendly vacation spot and is partnering for the first time with the city’s tourism entity to wave Savannah’s Pride flag even higher.
“Visit Savannah has really stepped up, helping us market to folks in Charleston, Orlando, Atlanta, Jacksonville and beyond,” says festival director Regan Drake.
“We want to become a destination Pride. We’re really looking at building this festival for LGBT folks from across the country.”
It’s going to be one stupendously awesome gay ol’ time, y’all. The fun begins Tuesday evening at Connect’s Best Neighborhood Bar bar*food in Habersham Village, followed by free karaoke at Club One on Wednesday, Oct. 19.
The elegance ramps up on Thursday, Oct. 20 with The White Party at the Jepson Center for the Arts, where guests clad in “the purest of colors” can take in fine art, get down to the lovely sounds of the Christy Alan Band and strike a pose in the photo booth filled with fabulous props courtesy of Georgia Walters.
The evening also hosts a fashion show of chic androgyne swimwear from Outplay—perhaps you’ll find yourself a little something for the pool party at the Andaz Hotel on Sunday, Oct. 23. Tickets to the White Party are $25; a $50 VIP pass includes admission to Saturday’s festival with unlimited wine and beer.
Friday evening brings more sophistication with a free happy hour salon at the Andaz, where funds will be raised for the future Savannah LGBT Center. Even with the many queer organizations around town, there is currently no dedicated safe space for Stand Out Youth, PFLAG and many other local LGBT support groups to meet. Savannah’s First City Network, Georgia’s oldest LGBT organization, has spearheaded the effort to annex a downtown spot, though funds must be raised to get the doors open.
“The LGBT center is our designated beneficiary this year,” says Drake.
“It is absolutely something we need in this community.”
Saturday’s all-day, all-ages extravaganza in the park is scheduled to go as planned in spite of last week’s weather chaos (like a little hurricane debris could stop the music, honey.) Vendors, dancing, face painting and games for the kidlets are on the bill, culminating in the early evening show of headliner Billy Gilman, the former child star who made us all swoon with his cover of Adele’s “When We Were Young” on The Voice a few weeks ago. (He chose Adam Levine as his coach, ICYMI.)
“We contracted with him before The Voice episode aired, and after it did, our ticket sales really took off,” laughs Drake. “He’s definitely part of that equation.”
Also keeping the mood convivial is former Pulse nightclub DJ Scott Robert as well as our sassy local drag personalities, though Hill assures that it’s all G-rated.
“We’re different from a lot of other Prides because we’re family oriented,” he promises, adding that Pride around here isn’t just a gay thing.
“We celebrate the diversity of Savannah, this eclectic city where people can be exactly who they are. We wrap our arms around everyone.”
As far as the politics of Pride go and the future of LGBTQ normalcy, Hill believes that progress will eventually win out—perhaps due to the new generation of activists demanding their equal rights and standing up to those who would deny them.
“These kids don’t take prisoners,” he marvels in reference to gay millenials and allies who will not abide any bullying or bigotry.
“The ‘powers that be’ that are trying to hold them back, those reins are gone. They need to just let it go.”
2016 Savannah Pride Fest
When: 11am-8pm, Saturday, Oct. 22 (*many smaller events Oct. 17-23)
Where: Forsyth Park
Cost: $5 general, free 12 & under /$50 VIP pass includes Thurs. 10/20 White Party
Full schedule and info: savannahpride.com