‘A blue dot in a very red state’

GA Voice - - National Lgbt Pride -

Pride cel­e­bra­tions are mul­ti­ply­ing at a rapid pace across the globe, even in the most pe­cu­liar of places, such as the deep south­ern pock­ets of the Bi­ble Belt, where the pol­i­tics wreak of a rad­i­cal fun­da­men­tal­ism re­sis­tant to LGBT rights.

Birm­ing­ham, the largest city in the state of Alabama, is home to Cen­tral Alabama Pride (CAP). It’s billed as the old­est and largest Pride fes­ti­val in the state. With its roots dat­ing back to 1978, CAP is re­spon­si­ble for host­ing its an­nual week-long itin­er­ary of “10 Days of Pride” cul­mi­nat­ing with PrideFest, which for the last few years has been held on the camp­grounds of Sloss Fur­naces, a for­mer pig iron-pro­duc­ing blast fur­nace.

This year’s fes­tiv­i­ties in­cluded head­lin­ing ta­lent from “Amer­i­can Idol” sea­son six win­ner Jordin Sparks, a CAP ben­e­fit fea­tur­ing “Ru­Paul’s Drag Race” star La­trice Royale, an LGBT-in­clu­sive night at the Birm­ing­ham Barons base­ball game and a new pa­rade route in the bustling Lake­view busi­ness district.

The an­nual Pride cel­e­bra­tions in Birm­ing­ham have come a long way from its be­gin­nings, es­pe­cially since its very first gay and les­bian pa­rade in 1989.

“When I first got here six­teen years ago, there were very few floats,” said J.R. Fin­ney, pas­tor of Covenant Com­mu­nity Church. “I re­mem­ber when our church was one of four floats in the pa­rade. You have a lot more par­tic­i­pa­tion now, a lot more groups. We have made a lot of progress.”

Eco­nomic boom, mi­nor LGBT progress

The city it­self is go­ing through a lot of progress as well. It’s in the mid­dle of a much-needed eco­nomic boom, which is at­tract­ing subur­ban mil­len­ni­als and young pro­fes­sion­als to its down­town core. De­spite the up­ward trend of the city’s pret­tier image, the city is still ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a level of grow­ing pains in re­gards to its snail-crawl progress on LGBT rights.

The big­gest ob­sta­cle hin­der­ing the city’s progress on LGBT rights is the lack of a nondis­crim­i­na­tion or­di­nance in place to pro­tect LGBT em­ploy­ees in ar­eas of em­ploy­ment, hous­ing and pub­lic ac­com­mo­da­tions. But Alabama state Rep. Pa­tri­cia Todd, the state’s first openly gay leg­is­la­tor, is op­ti­mistic about the fu­ture of the area, even as far as the state’s mod­ern-day pol­i­tics.

“Alabama didn’t pass any anti-gay leg­is­la­tion in our last ses­sion,” she says. “We were one of the only south­ern states that didn’t, and we hope to keep that tra­di­tion alive. Do we have a long way to go? Ab­so­lutely we do. But hate can go any­where, and we’re just not gonna tol­er­ate it.”

Fin­ney car­ries the same torch of hope but be­lieves the key to end­ing ho­mo­pho­bia in the con­ser­va­tive-dom­i­nated South is in the hands and hearts of the young.

“I think what is hap­pen­ing is that more and more young peo­ple are com­ing out,” he says. “You see more young straight kids who just don’t care. [They say], ‘That’s my friend, noth­ing’s gonna change.’ And un­for­tu­nately, some of the old hats are go­ing to have to die off be­fore there is real change.” Clock­wise from top:

After Satur­day’s sun­set, right be­fore the Pride pa­rade is sched­uled to start, a ro­bust crowd gath­ers on the blocks of 7th Av­enue South and 27th Street South, where two gay bars are only blocks away from one an­other. For some, this is their first Pride ex­pe­ri­ence. And like most mo­men­tous firsts, this is ex­tra spe­cial for them. Greg Payne, who is new to Pride cul­ture, also sees the value of Pride events in Birm­ing­ham, a city that Rev. Fin­ney de­scribes as “be­ing a blue dot in a very red state.”

“I feel that Birm­ing­ham is a rel­a­tively gay-pos­i­tive city to be­gin with,” says Payne. “We do live in the South where peo­ple kinda keep things to them­selves, but I don’t see a lot of out­ward hate. I didn’t see a lot of pro­test­ers here tonight. Peo­ple were warn­ing ear­lier about pro­test­ers, but I hardly saw any.”

Fin­ney, once a con­trib­u­tor of At­lanta Pride in its early years, also sees the type of men­tor-


ship that Birm­ing­ham of­fers smaller towns.

“[At Pride], I try to talk to a lot of the young peo­ple that I see and it’s amaz­ing how many of them do not live in met­ro­pol­i­tan Birm­ing­ham,” said Fin­ney. “They live in real small cities, but they come here for this week­end be­cause they can be out and proud. They con­sider Birm­ing­ham what we used to con­sider At­lanta.”

Only hours later after the pa­rade, Birm­ing­ham learned of the blood­shed at LGBT night­club Pulse in Or­lando and anx­i­ety started to set in. The news of the Or­lando tragedy forces CAP to cre­ate an im­promptu neon stick vigil at PrideFest and a city­wide vigil – in co­op­er­a­tion with city of­fi­cials – on the fol­low­ing Mon­day af­ter­noon.

“We all are heart­bro­ken about Or­lando,” Todd said. “But we all know that we can be vic­tims at any time. That won’t stop us from mov­ing for­ward.”

June 24, 2016

Mem­bers of the Star­bucks Pride Al­liance Net­work march with gi­ant rain­bow flag in 28th an­nual Cen­tral Alabama Pride pa­rade; King and Queen Apollo XL of the Mys­tic Krewe of Apollo Birm­ing­ham; happy teens show­ing their glit­tery “Make Amer­ica Gay Again” sign. (Pho­tos by J. Matthew Cobb)

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