Augusta Pride celebrates a decade

CSRA News

Next month, Augusta Pride brings its annual weekend of events to the Garden City during LGBT Awareness Month.  

This year is special for the group as it marks its 10th anniversary of the festival and 50 years since the modern LGBT rights movement.

Every year Augusta Pride’s Festival brings thousands of people to Downtown Augusta.  Back in 2009, this group started the tradition against all odds. 

“Many people thinking that it wouldn’t be a success.  That no one would show up,” James Mintz, Augusta Pride President told us.  “When I first showed up there were only ten protesters total and over hundreds of people just lining up along Broad Street to enjoy the parade and then the festival.”

Mintz was a spectator then.  He said between 2,000 and 3,000 showed their support for gay pride that day during a time when nationally it was less accepted.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell was still in effect. You could not get legally wed, in many states.  Transgender people felt very isolated,” he reminded us.

Mintz said several gains have been made since the Augusta Pride Committee launched the festival, an event the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates will bring $1.3 million into the city.

NewsChannel 6 first told you last year that during the first pride festival, Mayor Deke Copenhaver actually got a legal opinion to show the city could not deny the group a parade permit. 

“Mayor Copenhaver eventually announced there was an Augusta Pride Day by issuing a mayor’s proclamation and every mayor since then has done a proclamation each year,” Mintz said. 

Another victory was marriage equality in 2015.

NewsChannel 6 also sat down with Michael Barnard Jenkins, Augusta Pride Vice President.

“I can remember my husband saying one day you’re going to want me to propose.”

And he did.  

Augusta Pride’s Vice President Michael Barnard Jenkins and his husband and Pride founder Travis Jenkins married last November.  

But he said there is still work to be done. 

Barnard Jenkins added, “Not too long ago there was this kid that committed suicide because of being bullied at school.  That is something that, this day in age, you would think shouldn’t be happening.”

The Pride leadership wanted to also mention it’s a new era since the 1969 raid at Stonewall Inn, a New York City gay bar that caused a multi-day riot and launched the modern LGBT rights movement.

“50 years ago you could be arrested for just holding hands.  You could be arrested if you weren’t wearing the proper gender attire,” Mintz said. 

Augusta Pride’s weekend takes place June 21 and 22, with Beats on Broad, the parade and festival.

The President’s Soiree is Thursday, June 20 for sponsors and there are pool parties on Sunday, June 23.  

Mintz stressed that Georgia still does not have a hate crime legislation.  He also hopes that Augusta Commissioners move forward with steps to pass a city ordinance prohibiting LGBT discrimination.

Barnard Jenkins added the committee is also working on a history project to chronicle the past decade.

NewsChannel 6 reached out to Founder Alan Braden.  He’s still active.  Here are his words about Augusta Pride’s start:

When I moved to North Augusta in 2001, I thought that the CSRA had a long way to go compared to other cities of it’s age and size.  Apparently, I was not the only person who thought so.

In 2009 there was a proposal meeting about putting together a Pride event in Augusta.  More than 40 people showed up for that first information meeting, and everyone was very enthusiastic.  At the next meeting a week later only about ten people showed up, but we knew that we were the people who wanted to do the work.  From that group we formed the original Augusta Pride Committee and we got to work trying to dream up what we were going to do, and how we were going to pull it off. 

None of us had ever started any project of this depth and scope before.  We all learned what we were doing through long and hard work in volunteer hours that sometimes eclipsed our regular 9-5 jobs.  We did everything through trial and error, we made a lot of mistakes, but we had just as many victories.  Then, on June 19, 2010 we staged on our first parade and festival.  It was nerve-wracking, emotional, and exhausting, but an amazing accomplishment. 

Since then it has been my pleasure to work with the Augusta Pride Committee every year to bring this growing and evolving festival into the heart of Augusta.  Every year we hear from people who tell us that our presence helped play a good part in their finding a community for them in Augusta.  We have received letters from senior citizens and teenagers and everyone in-between.  We have been the spot for marriage proposals, first comings-out, and the place where even the families of LGBT men and women discover that there is more to Augusta than maybe they suspected.  We also connect people with essential testing for health concerns, foster relationships with local churches and social groups that welcome the LGBTQA (even the acronym has grown) community.  We give the CSRA a great place to show each other how diverse we are, and in turn, we learn how similar we all are to each other.

We’re living in a very different world now from just ten years ago, but there is still so much more we could do to move forward.  I’m hoping in another ten years Augusta Pride is still here helping to light the way, showing us all how we can live together while being our own special selves.  Either way I will always be very happy to have been a part of this massive group effort to bring something new to Augusta that hopefully changed a bunch of lives for the better.   

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