Will Spradlin, a freshman science education major from McDonough, kisses a dog during the Athens PRIDE festival on Sept. 9. Both the dog and Spradlin were wearing rainbow colors. (Photo/Kaley Lefevre)

This September will be the 21st year of Athens PRIDE, which began with a potluck picnic in 1998. In 2011, the organization expanded by transforming its picnic into its first festival at Lay Park. 

“Athens pride is an organization locally that works really hard to create events and safe spaces … to make sure there are places for LGBTQ people in the Athens area to come and be exactly who they are without fear,” said Cameron Harrelson of Baxley, Georgia. 

Harrelson moved to Athens in 2013 to attend the University of Georgia. Before his move, he had never been to a PRIDE festival and had never been around people who understood him “deep inside.” 

“[The picnic] was really small but it still inspired a sense of community in me and made me proud to be who I was,” Harrelson said. “It helped me on my journey to coming out and accepting who I am.” 

This year marks the first that it will span two blocks downtown instead of the usual one.

“I look forward to seeing the growth continue to happen because I think when we have these events, especially the festival, it just gives people, particularly living around the Athens area from places that might not be so progressive, a place to come and call home for the day,” Harrelson said. 

Athens PRIDE week strives to include the whole community by hosting more family-friendly activities such as face painting and a toddler music class, and is one reason why it’s special to president of Athens PRIDE, Amber Strachan.

During the PRIDE festival, there are booths for LGBTQ organizations, as well as booths for groups active in politics like the Human Rights Campaign.

Even though Strachan said Athens is in a “little progressive pocket,” she also added that it’s more important now than ever to talk about PRIDE and the LGBTQ movement. This year is also the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which sparked the beginning of the PRIDE festival movement. 

“It's basically about going out and celebrating who we are and being visible,” Strachan said. “Also, creating community and creating safe spaces for LGBTQ people, especially here in Georgia.”

Athens PRIDE has even bigger goals, which include expanding to have a parade in 2020 and simply to continue to provide a safe space and resources to help the LGBTQ community find a home and thrive. 

Strachan also hopes with more funding, she’ll be able to start a LGBTQ resource center in Athens which will offer a place for different LGBTQ organizations around town to collaborate.

The organizers behind Athens PRIDE week have lots of exciting plans for the LGBTQ community in Athens and the future of PRIDE.

Besides Athens PRIDE week, the organization hosts other events like its Summer Soirée at the Georgia Museum of Art, which occurred this past June. Oct. 9, it will host a Rabbit Box event in honor of National Coming Out Day which called Pride and Prejudice where members of the community will be able to tell personal coming out stories. 

This year’s ninth-annual Athens PRIDE week will be held Sept. 23- 29. The week culminates in a PRIDE festival between 2-9 p.m. on Washington Street, providing a chance to celebrate the progress of the LGBTQ community.

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