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Drag performer Alex Suarez performs on stage. Athens PRIDE hosted its 20th annual street festival on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2019, in Athens, Georgia. Attendees were able to peruse food and art stalls, listen to live music and watch a live drag show. (Photo/Ryan Cameron rcameron@randb.com)

Attendees walked under a rainbow balloon arch at the Athens PRIDE Street Festival, while chalk messages of support for the LGBTQ community littered the pavement.  

Performers at the festival ranged from queer commissioner and rapper Mariah Parker performing as Linqua Franqa to the local drag troupe The Kourtesans and Eureka O’Hara from seasons nine and 10 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” 

The pulsating beat of pop music rang through the street lined with tents and booths, while a stage draped in a rainbow flag centered the festival. Covered head-to-toe in support of the LGBTQ community, crowds were able to spread out as this year’s PRIDE festival was extended two blocks further. 

Anne Marie Zimeri, secretary of the Athens PRIDE board and University of Georgia environmental health science professor, explained the growth of the festival and the want to diversify and bring more people to the event. 

Zimeri said the Athens PRIDE board utilized social media to not only reach the Athens community, but those in the 19 surrounding communities who, “other than this festival, don’t have the opportunity and the community” present in Athens. 

Zimeri has been involved with the Athens PRIDE board for five years, and decided to get involved because she had seen students struggle to come out to their families. Joining the board was her way to connect her students with more resources within the community and help them in their daily lives. 

The festival offered face paint, henna, Kona Ice and the opportunity to learn about available LGBTQ resources in Georgia; from the Athens Queer Collective to the DIVAS Who Win Freedom Center.

Elliot Abnatha, membership outreach co-chair for the Human Rights Campaign, expressed his excitement for the performers but also the wide age range of people he got to talk to throughout the day of Athens PRIDE. Abnatha said he talked to people from ages six to 60 about equality  at the festival, which is something he hadn’t experienced at Atlanta PRIDE’s festival. 

“There was a dad who brought his two kids [who] were probably like 6 and 8 [years old], and he was like ‘Hey, can you tell my kids a little bit about equality,’ and that’s fascinating to me,” Abnatha said. “I thought I was going to cry.” 

While the crowd at the beginning of the festival was somewhat scattered, the crowd livened up with an energetic performance by Linqua Franqa and her hit “Gold Bike.” Franqa made the crowd promise to love themselves, and said “If I die, don’t pray, you better riot,” before exiting the stage.

Soon after Franqa finished her final track of the night, local drag troupe, The Kourtesans, hit the stage with Queen Alex Suarez performing first and provided the first death drop of the night. As festival-goers started to flock to the stage, the hosts of the drag portion of the evening — Suarez, Karmella Macchiato and Jacqueline Daniels— played off of each other and made digs at each other throughout the night. While the trio tried not curse or get political in front of the crowd, they ultimately failed epicly. 

“I’m a man standing up in a dress and we don’t want to get political,” Daniels said. 

During the lineup of the night the first-ever Mx. Athens, Ravion Starr walked out with her crown in hand and provided a moving performance which featured news sound bites of attacks on the LGBTQ community. To the tune of “Stand Up For Love,” by Destiny’s Child, Starr had the crowd’s fists raised in the air in support of the community and her performance. 

To close out the events of the evening, drag queen Eureka O’Hara started her set from the door of Flicker Theatre & Bar to the tune of Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts.” The performer described the hospitality she had been given since she got off the plane, and thanked those involved with Athens PRIDE. O’Hara even stopped her set to do a shout-out to a fan of hers who wasn’t at PRIDE this year, and got the crowd to send them a video message.

As O’Hara performed her set, including her own song “The Big Girl,” the biggest crowd of the night flocked to the stage and watched in awe. 

 

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