Atlanta Black Pride – How ‘the show that won’t stop’ could swing the vote on Election Day

photo by Randall Porter

There’s a reason why Atlanta has been crowned the “Black Gay Mecca” and has welcomed millions of LGBTQ-identifying folks to its annual Atlanta Black Pride celebration over the last 26 years. 

What began as a small picnic in 1996 among friends, less than a mile away from the entrance of Atlanta’s gayborhood on 10th Street and Piedmont, inside the sprawling Piedmont Park, has morphed into one of the largest Black Pride celebrations in the world. Like the city itself, Atlanta Black Pride has become a haven for Black LGBTQ community members and allies who flock to Georgia’s capital from across the country every Labor Day Weekend. All ready to experience the magic and cultural affirmation that is unique to Atlanta Black Pride.

It is no coincidence that Atlanta will host this influx of celebrants, especially at a time when conservative lawmakers continue to hawk anti-gay legislation to energize their base ahead of the November midterm election. For many, Atlanta Black Pride resembles the new Georgia that pro-queer Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, along with Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, turned purple by securing a Democratic majority in the Senate and the election of Pres. Biden in 2020. 

This election year, it is the hope of many in this city that Black women, LGBTQ people, and Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis’ unrelenting pursuit of the disgraced former POTUS will help America to live up to its promise of freedom and justice for all. And certainly, there will be plenty of political organizing at this event. Anticipating a large turnout, this celebration could help this message spread even further to voters across Atlanta.

photo by Randall Porter

But of course, Atlanta Black Pride is – at its core – a big party. After going virtual in 2020 in response to the global coronavirus pandemic, and a scaled-down affair in 2021, organizers are gearing up for a weekend of jam-packed events that will signal the reemergence of the beloved celebration after two years of disruptions. 

Atlanta Black Pride event highlights

“It’s the show that won’t stop,” says Melissa Scott, one of the managing partners of Atlanta Black Pride Weekend and CEO of Traxx Girls

Scott is preparing to welcome over 20,000 spectators to the annual Pure Heat Community Festival, a mainstay for the last decade in the Sunday event lineup at Piedmont Park. The Festival provides a platform for Black LGBTQ entertainers and business professionals to be celebrated by the community. Multi-hyphenate talent, Grammy award-winner and reality star Kandi Burruss (The Real Housewives of Atlanta), and legendary drag illusionist Stasha Sanchez will be honored this year, alongside reality star and rap artist Joseline Hernandez (Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta), who is scheduled to perform. Burruss, who is often mistakenly labeled as an LGBTQ ally, confirmed her bisexuality in an interview with The Reckoning last October and spoke about the importance of living in one’s truth. 

“I feel like when you can’t live in your truth, when you can’t feel comfortable to be yourself and you’re hiding who you are, or you’re holding it in because you are afraid of what other people think, to me, you’re preventing yourself to be totally happy in life,” Burruss said, encapsulating the freedom that is available to LGBTQ people if they choose, and the spirit that has defined Atlanta Black Pride. 

“There’s not a rule to being a Black gay man. There’s no handbook on how to be a Black lesbian,” says Amber Moore, Chief Operating Officer of Atlanta Black Pride. “So guess what? It’s open. If you wanna wear a skirt and you’re a guy, wear a skirt, hold your head up high. If you can’t wear it in your area, come to Atlanta Black Pride because you can.”

Moore’s invitation has been extended by Black queer Atlanta organizers before her and accepted by countless LGBTQ people from places far more socially conservative than Fulton County, where Atlanta rests.  

“Growing up in Louisiana, we would drive from New Orleans or Baton Rouge to come to [Black] Pride in Atlanta. That was a staple in my years,” says Dewayne Queen, a longtime attendee who now works alongside Moore as a board member of Atlanta Black Pride. 

“We did all the things you normally do when you come from out of town. You go to parties. You go to the clubs. You go to Piedmont Park,” he said. 

While popular promoters such as RT Parties ATL, Rockstars Productions, and Wassup N ATL, have a dizzying list of parties and VIP packages to choose from over the weekend, Queen tells Gay Cities that the organizational arm of Atlanta Black Pride is intentional about creating experiences for attendees outside of nightlife. 

“Atlanta Black Pride has partnered with EBANMAN to do a Food and Wine Festival Sunday in Central Park. It just gives another opportunity for people that may not want to be in the crowds at Piedmont [Park] to experience something different,” he said. 

Finding a way to appeal to the diverse group of people that attend Atlanta Black Pride is a priority not only for Queen but for Scott and the team behind the Pure Heat Community Festival, who for the first time are introducing an LGBTQ youth festival during the highly anticipated Sunday event. 

“We’re creating a safe space for those that identify as LGBTQ+ that are aged 14 to 24,” says Scott. “They’ll have their own DJs, their own music. They’ll have a mini KiKi Ball and they’ll have their own vendors,” she says. 

The LGBTQ youth festival is one of several safe spaces available to attendees who are still adjusting to life with COVID-19 and now monkeypox, which is disproportionately impacting the LGBTQ community, with 82% of cases in Georgia among Black gay, and bisexual men as of early August. 

“We’ll be administering COVID vaccines and we’ll be doing COVID testing on-site throughout the weekend and especially at the park on Sunday,” says Scott. “We’ll also be administering monkeypox vaccines.” 

Scott says organizers are encouraging attendees to get vaccinated early and have partnered with the Fulton County Board of Health to provide appointments to those within their network who are most at-risk for monkeypox acquisition. 

Moore believes the isolation of the last two years amplifies the necessity for Atlanta Black Pride as the community continues to navigate health inequities, racism, and homophobia. 

“I feel like the community is trying to heal. We, as Black people, put on a lot of armor,” she said. “I have to put on my gay armor. I have to put on my Black armor. Then I have to protect myself from the police,” she adds. 

Moore’s Black queer experience directly influences the programming that continues to draw thousands to Atlanta while generating an additional three million in revenue for the local economy. And while the collective power and economic impact of Black LGBTQ people throughout Labor Day Weekend is cause for celebration within the community, resentment continues to surface from detractors who do not understand why Atlanta Black Pride continues to exist. 

One love, one house, one Pride? 

Many outside of the Black queer community view Black Pride celebrations as a new kind of segregation that creates division and undermines public messaging of a unified LGBTQ community. In a statement on its website, the global Black LGBTQ Pride organization The Center for Black Equity responds to this notion. 

“Black Pride is the gateway to the greater LGBT community experience for many Black LGBTQ+ people. Rather than encouraging separation, Black Prides encourage awareness of self and community.” 

“Unfortunately, in the LGBTQ community-at-large, there’s still rampant racism and anti-Blackness,” says Taylor ALXNDR, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Southern Fried Queer Pride. “Celebrating our differences doesn’t mean that we’re not unified. That means we’re even more aware and willing to uplift everyone in the community, despite our differences. Lumping everybody together and trying to have one love, one house, one Pride, erases our differences, which is really what makes us powerful and unique,” they said. 

While many Black Pride attendees choose to attend Atlanta Pride held annually in October, and vice versa, the experience for many people of color at Atlanta Black Pride hits differently. 

“I will always have a love for Black Pride because that is the first space that I felt comfortable being a Black queer man,” Queen says, who has also created The Trans Life Awards, a ceremony to honor leaders in the Black trans community. 

Trans actress Amiyah Scott (“STAR”), activist and social media influencer Hope Giselle, and Atlanta activist Tracee McDaniel, among others, will be awarded. Television personality and internet star Ts Madison will receive the Pioneer of The Year award. 

But for ALXNDR, a highlight is the Black art and creativity that permeates every facet of the weekend, especially the J-Sette competition, a southern dance style originating in HBCU bands and executed with sharp precision by a line of female dancers. The high-energy “bucking” went mainstream with the release of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” video in 2008. Underground teams of Black queer male dancers have since adapted the style, which is on full display throughout the weekend. 

“Seeing Black gay art in person lets me know that we’re still here, and despite all the trials and tribulations that we face as a community, we’re still thriving, we’re still creating, and that’s so important to me,” says ALXNDR. 

As Atlanta Black Pride marches towards its golden anniversary over the next two decades, those invested in its continued success and dominance as the must-attend Black Pride event of the year are working to train the next generation of organizers, promoters, and ambassadors to take Atlanta Black Pride into the future. 

“With any Pride organization, you have to adapt and change,” says ALXNDR. “I hope that Atlanta Black Pride continues to do that.” 

Moore agrees that part of the future success of the organization will be attributed to its ability to evolve. But the work must include members of the community Atlanta Black Pride was created for and continues to serve. She issues an open invitation:  

“If you didn’t sit at the table with us this year, we’ve got empty chairs. Come sit.”

NEXT PAGE: Atlanta Black Pride 2022 Event Guide