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Second Annual Augusta Pride Expected to Draw 8,000

by Casey Hamilton
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Jun 23, 2011

Isaac Kelly is proud to mention the nearly 4,000 people who attended last year's inaugural Augusta Pride festival, despite the fact that many Georgians and non-Augustans may have never known about it in the first place.

Kelly, who is president of Augusta Pride, Inc., a non-profit organization that aims to bring LGBT events to Georgia's Central Savannah River Area, isn't too prideful to not acknowledge his own errs. "They didn't know about it or what to expect," he said, noting the festival's board of directors only formed the year before the organization's inaugural event in 2010. "None of us came to the board with any experience."

With the help of hard-earned, out-of-state buzz, Kelly may very well pull the masses to this year's Pride.

"We traveled to seven cities to market and advertise [for this year's festival,] said Kelly. "If it's one thing that I've learned, it's to maximize or engage your community because this is their [event] just as much as it is yours so we've been advertising out-of-city [as well]."

With learned lessons in hand, Kelly and festival organizers are hoping to draw a crowd of 8,000 this Saturday, June 25, when the event marks its second-year anniversary. And while the prospect of holding a major gay celebration in a southern city that isn't within the LGBT-friendly perimeters of Atlanta may seem like a daunting task; Kelly insists that his old-fashioned hometown is certainly not closed-minded.

"You can feel the love," he said, describing local residents' response to Augusta Pride. "We're here supporting 'your' lifestyle and our lifestyle. We want the younger generation to know its' okay to be who you are because they may be bullied or their parents may or may not support their lifestyle."

Referring to the "three protestors against 4,000 attendees" last year, Kelly said residents can once again expect a peaceful celebration. "We're not the extreme gay community," he said in an attempt to assure any Augustans who are expecting wild throngs of LGBT people in chaps.

Shifting focus to the contrary, Kelly cites how the city, which hosts the annual Masters Golf Tournament each April, will benefit from Saturday's festivities.

Even with more than 80 vendors already confirmed and Augusta's Partridge Inn among its expanded roster of corporate sponsors, the festival's impact on the city's businesses and economy isn't the first thing Kelly highlights. "Last year, we got 70 people tested [for HIV] that had never been tested before in their life," he boasted. Augusta Pride will once again offer free HIV testing this year.

Kristine W and Niki Haris, Madonna's former background vocalist and Augusta resident, are also scheduled to perform on Saturday. Larry Flick of "Sirius/XM Out Q Radio" will emcee the festivities.

An early morning parade will kick off the festival, which will again take place at the Augusta Commons until 7 p.m.

Augusta is not the only Georgia city that will hold Pride celebrations this weekend.

The second annual Marietta Rainbow Festival will take place on Friday, June 24, and Saturday, June 25. Another small-town Pride, South Georgia Pride in Valdosta, is scheduled to take place in mid-September.

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