Savannah Pride: Celebrating community

Witnessing the union of communities can be a beautiful thing. This year's Pride Festival will have gay people in high spirits, straight people dancing, and every supporter of the LGBT community celebrating.

And even if you can't make the main event this Saturday in Forsyth Park, there will be a number of pre and post celebrations Sept. 7-15.

But know that Savannah's Pride Festival doesn't fit the mold of what you may think a gay pride festival looks like.

"Our Pride is a little different than a lot of Prides because larger cities sometimes they sequester themselves away — the gay community from the whole community," says Mark Hill, president of the 2013 Savannah Pride committee.

"Ours is one that embraces Savannah's community as a whole and the tolerance level that Savannah has. The mayor's thoughts last year when she held the tolerance seminar, was to basically be inclusive everywhere —and that's what we try to do," says Hill.

"We are right in Forsyth Park, and we have things for kids — and not just for the gay folks that have kids but also for the straight folks who have kids. We want to pool everybody in, not just us."

For the last 13 years, the Savannah Pride Festival has put on an event to recognize the presence of the LGBT community and to share their jubilation. Hill praises "those brave people who actually stepped up then really need our recognition, because they were brave enough to do it in a time when it wasn't so accepting. And in many cases they put their jobs and their livelihoods on the line. Today, because of them, it's not so much."

Today's view on the LGBT community and gay rights is worlds away from where our culture was ten years ago. But Hill shares that he has "been here for 27 years, and Savannah has always been accepting. It's not the starch Southern town that people might perceive it to be. If you do positive things, the community as a whole accepts you. And that's the light we want to bring."

Justin Johnson, treasurer for this year's Savannah Pride committee, recalls that during his first year assisting with Pride he was "a little apprehensive. I was thinking, you know, 'there are going to be protesters, something is going to happen' — and there was none of that. It was just complete community support. Which was an awesome feeling and it made me feel like I was part of something that was bigger than myself."

And this year, with all of the political action and the advancement of gay rights, there will be much to celebrate. But, be sure to know that the festival is kept in good Southern taste.

"We present ourselves in a different manner here. Our (Pride) is extremely family friendly. We have acts that approach us, that want to perform, and we make sure that we keep it all family friendly," Hill says.

"And I think that people who come to are festivals are quickly cured of any misconceptions that they may have about what it is. It's completely family friendly. It's about acceptance and being together as a community," adds Johnson.

"People have that misconception that it's just a party. But it's more of just a right to celebrate, or to celebrate that we can even do this — and enjoy that acceptance from your community."

This festival is about the union of supporters, whether they are gay or not. And with Mayor Edna Jackson receiving the first 'Spirit of Pride' award, it is shown that the relationship between Savannah and the LGBT community is known and noted — even in the face of those who aren't so supportive.

When speaking about past protestors that have traveled to Savannah to try and make a ruckus out of their lifestyle choices, Hill says, "It has to do with the climate of the moment as well. Something can spike, you never know. Like the minister from the Midwest that was here the spring before last, and it was venom. You know, it was a group of ministers who got together and held a rally in Forsyth Park, but Savannah's community basically thwarted the whole thing. Just saying, 'we don't want your hate here."'

Johnson even shared that this year's festival includes more support from churches than ever expected or seen before that "are not there to preach damnation.

"They're all about acceptance and wanting to be decent. And that's awesome, that's something that three or four years ago, that never would've happened."

The Savannah Pride Festival's events spread throughout the week, from Queeraoke at Club One, to the Savannah Pride White Party the Thursday before the festival, all the way until Marilyn Monroe's After Party and Tee Dance to wrap up the festivities on Sept. 15.

And while Pride will be a celebration of the freedom to be oneself, it is also a tribute to Savannah's community and the respect that is extended to every person.

"It's bigger than what you realize, sometimes," said Hill.


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