My first Pride event. The year was 1988 or 89. I was an undergrad at Florida State University in Tallahassee. My boyfriend and I drove my clunky Toyota Starlet to Atlanta for pride weekend celebrations. We stayed with a friend near Piedmont Park and met up with a lesbian couple (Vicky and Wendy) we were friends with.
A parade contingent of parents marching with photographs of their fallen sons, killed by a plague that was still a death sentence for most. Until a new class of life-extending drugs came on the market a few years later.
The boisterous crowd of spectators hushed as these parents walked by. Some held each others hands. Others walked alone. All hugged the photos of their sons. I cried.
An elderly woman stood on a sidewalk waving a rainbow flag. She yelled “I love you, I love you all” to the marchers as they walked past.
A float with participants from Atlanta’s S&M/fetish scene featured a half-naked man spreadeagled on a cross and being flogged by a hooded and leather harness clad dude.
Each slap of the flog came with a moan from the bound recipient. Not exactly a “family friendly” display and controversial within the lgbtq+ community. Some leaders argued for “fitting in” with straight society. Others argued for outright rebellion against the constraints of heteronormative mores and religious dogma.
The most extreme and provocative Pride images were cherry-picked by Christian political extremists to scare their constituents and raise money for anti-gay crusades.
Then there was the big fire truck with Atlanta’s lgbt+ firefighters hanging from it, lights flashing and sirens cutting through the cheers. Floats with drag queen performances, etc.
The parade ended at Piedmont Park which featured booths for businesses and non-profits, a stage with performances and speakers. And thousands of beautiful people.
I’d never been in a large crowd of people who were different like me. This was my tribe. I felt safe, empowered, inspired, moved, and proud.
My boyfriend was in grad school, the French Department. We lived in a house with two roommates, also gay men.
David ended up getting a teaching position at the University of Reims in France. Our career and life paths diverged. I helped him pack to leave the country. He was my first love and my first heartbreak.
This Pride event was the first of many I’ve attended, including internationally. I was hooked! And it all started in Hotlanta.