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The live entertainment for the night, the Mary Sigalas Quartet, plays as the guests mingle. Athens Pride hosts its first ever Pride Soiree at the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens, Georgia on June 6, 2019. The event was a celebration of Athens Pride and all the work they’ve done over the past 20 years. (Photo/Daniela Rico)

The first annual Athens PRIDE Summer Soirée was filled with color and hope as supporters and donors filled the brightly decorated Georgia Museum of Art on Thursday evening to support the organization.

Guests mingled between colorful tablecloths, some wearing rainbow-colored Athens PRIDE pins and others wearing pins with their preferred pronoun. The Mary Sigalas Quartet created a fancy atmosphere while caterers glided about with hors d’oeuvres.

The event was held as a fundraiser to help the organization increase its ability to better serve the community with more programs and opportunities to connect with citizens. With a new board double the size of previous years, Athens PRIDE president Amber Strachan says the group has big plans for the future.

“One of the first things we’re looking to do is work with some local counselors … and connect local people with counselors and Athens PRIDE will fund [the sessions],” she said. “We want to work not just within Athens but all the outlying communities to try to find people that need help.”

Athens PRIDE was born out of a small potluck picnic under the pavilion at Lake Herrick in 1998. Over 21 years, it has transformed from a gathering of LGBTQ Athenians to an official 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and an active force within the community.

Kai Avery, a new board member in charge of community outreach, said that the work Athens PRIDE does is important because it “makes people feel a lot less alone in their struggles.” The support of people in power, including Athens mayor Kelly Girtz, helps underserved LGBTQ citizens feel like “valued members of the community,” they said.

Girtz and Representative Sam Park, the first openly gay man to serve in the Georgia National Assembly, were the two keynote speakers at the soirée.

Girtz spoke about the importance of the LGBTQ community in Athens and the difference between pride and passive tolerance or acceptance, saying that pride is an active term and represents believing in something.

“We are at our best when we look into every other set of eyes and we see ourselves there,” he said.

He also announced the new Office of Inclusion and Diversity within the Athens-Clarke county government, set to open this summer. Girtz requested that an Athens PRIDE board member be present on this citizen advisory board.

Park spoke about the difficulties of his upbringing as an Asian American gay boy in a conservative southern Baptist household with traditional Korean values and how certain hardships in his life spurred him to work for change and run for office.

He concluded with a call to action, asking his audience to “drive out hate with love as light drives out darkness,” building bridges between communities and being their authentic selves.

In celebration of Pride Month, Athens PRIDE will be hosting a film screening at Ciné for the documentary “From Selma to Stonewall: Are We There Yet?” on June 15 as well as an event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots at Heidi Hensley Art on June 28.

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