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The 20th annual Athens Pride Festival in downtown Athens celebrates the Athens LGBT community on Sunday, September 9, 2018. (Photo/Jason Born)

This year, the Athens PRIDE Street Festival can expect more vendors after expanding one block from its usual location on Washington Street in downtown Athens. LGBTQ members and allies alike are welcome to this jam-packed festival on Sunday, Sept. 29 from 2-9 p.m. 

Athens PRIDE is a volunteer-run nonprofit organization that holds annual pride events every September. The Athens PRIDE Street Festival will be the conclusion to a series of PRIDE-related events which occurred throughout this past week.

Athens PRIDE board president Amber Strachan is no stranger to dealing with numerous vendors. Strachan said she’s dealt with vendors since she was a sponsorship coordinator her first year of being involved with Athens PRIDE.

“There’s a lot that goes into having a festival. Anywhere from getting permits, getting a stage, getting sound people or getting facilities,” Strachan said.

In addition to the number of vendors that will be at the festival this year, the Athens PRIDE board has grown as well. Strachan said that having the Athens PRIDE board double in size really helps her delegate tasks to board members in order to work together to put on a larger festival.

Vendors from Athens and surrounding areas will be present throughout the festival. Strachan said she wanted to focus on including more art vendors such as Jamie Calkin, a local Athens ink and watercolor artist.

In addition to highlighting local talent, the Athens Starlight Showcase at 7 p.m. will feature bigger names such as Eureka O’Hara, who was featured on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

Strachan said she also aims to have more kid-friendly activities at the festival. Allegro, an Athens company which offers music lessons for children ages infant through 4 years old, will be at the festival holding a children’s music class from 2-5 p.m. Strachan said by incorporating family-friendly events and activities, the event will hopefully bring in allies and their children along with LGBTQ members.

Strachan works as a registrar at the Georgia Museum of Art, one of Athens PRIDE’s sponsors this year. This year, the Georgia Museum of Art held a fundraiser before Athens PRIDE with speakers such as Sam Park, the first openly gay state legislator, and Athens mayor Kelly Girtz.

“[Athens PRIDE is] an important organization in Athens, and it’s something that we care about. We have a lot of LGBTQ staff members, including our director,” Hillary Brown, director of communications at the Georgia Museum of Art, said.

However, no matter how much planning is done, the unexpected can always happen. Last year, protesters showed up at the Athens PRIDE Street Festival. 

“Yes, there are people that people are gonna protest us, but there are also people that are gonna welcome us, even in a religious setting.” Strachan said.

Strachan said she aims to utilize her vendors, even those religious groups such as Our Hope Metropolitan Community Church, to create a safe space.

“They want you to go up to them, argue and yell to get you on camera and show this negative side of the group,” Chico Rozier, Athens PRIDE’s board vice president, said. “So our plan this year is just to shower them with love.” 

Other Athens PRIDE groups which will be at the festival help provide different types of support, such as Free Mom Hugs. The group of mothers supports LGBTQ members who may have been rejected by their family due to their sexuality.

“I grew up in a religious household. I always thought that all the desires I had were so negative and so bad, and I didn’t love myself,” Rozier said.  “Living in Athens, I met such a great group who became my extended family, and they taught me to love myself.”

Rozier said one of his favorite vendors from the festival is Off the Wall Photo Booths, which has been used by many past attendees. Whether attendees use the photo booth with their group of friends or with their significant other, this photo booth helps both document and create a sense of community for LGBTQ members in Athens.

“You not only get a chance to meet queers, but also allies. You build community, you build friendships, and you can get support,” Strachan said. “I think that’s really important, and you’re also able to gain connections you might not have gained otherwise, especially if you’re new to Athens.”

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