Little bit of trivia: The Atlanta Pride Parade is one of the few in the country not held in June, National Pride Month. June marks the anniversary of the Stonewall Inn riots of 1969 following a police raid of a New York gay bar.
Having the Atlanta parade in October – coinciding with National Coming Out Day Oct. 11 – is a welcome relief from the Southern heat, though, said Rebecca Stapel-Wax, executive director of the Southern Resource Network for Gender & Sexual Diversity. SOJOURN coordinates the Jewish community involvement in the parade.
A record 500 Jews and 45 Jewish organizations participated in this year’s annual event Oct. 13-14, Stapel-Wax said.
“I think it’s encouraging. When I started doing this work in 2004, we might have had a minyan, and some people were not Jewish.” Having that many “allies” at the parade helps those with gender and sexual diversity feel supported, she said. “It is a relief that sometimes leaves you breathless.”
The participation, enthusiasm and good weather all added to an “unbelievable” experience, she said. She noticed the wide eyes of those attending their first Pride Parade and “the joy of those who had been there before and seen it evolve.”
What made this year’s parade a stand-out, too, was that Rabbi Joshua Lesser was a grand marshal. Lesser founded SOJOURN and is the longtime spiritual leader of Congregation Bet Haverim, which began in 1985 as a synagogue primarily for the gay and lesbian community.
“Having him elevated to that position demarcated all the different kinds of support he gives throughout the community,” Stapel-Wax said. “He is often seen as a leader, and not just of a gay synagogue. Rabbi Lesser believes in inclusion for all. He was honored for that and more.”
Even those who protested from the sidelines with “ugly words and insults they felt the need to share” were taken in stride this past weekend, Stapel-Wax said. She, herself, blew kisses “and wished them well. They are so troubled.”
Protecting the crowds from the insults were “pansy patrols” holding large wooden images of the colorful flower sometimes used as a pejorative reference to homosexuals. The patrols blocked out the noise and negativity of the protesters, Stapel-Wax said. What she finds baffling is that hatred still exists with “so much positive in the world.”
The increased support for gay rights at the parade is proof there’s still hope to change that dichotomy.