Monday, December 10, 2007

Get to know Atlanta Pride-- Part 1

Over the next couple of months I will post parts of an interview I am conducting with Atlanta Pride's executive director, Donna Narducci.

I hope people will take time to read the interview in full; it is my goalto provide an inside glimpse to the workings of the Atlanta Pride Festival... show peeps how it happens... who makes it happen... and prove that it is indeed more than a three day
par-tay of twinks, leather daddies, drag queens, dykes on bikes, and hot muscled studs prancing around shirtless. Of course all of those things make it fagulous, but there are some of us who give up time 10 months out of the year and 40 to 80 hours the week of the event as well as people whose careers are to ensure the festival happens.

First off, thank you Donna for agreeing to this interview. I'm excited to give Atlanta Pride a voice in my blog. You've seen a lot of changes regarding Atlanta Pride; what would you consider the largest or most important change with the organization?

Thanks Dustin for the opportunity to reach a larger audience and engage in
conversation about Atlanta Pride -- the event and the people behind the scenes
who put on the event for the community.

I began volunteering with the Atlanta Pride Committee in the spring of 1993 when I joined the Board of Directors. At that time, the Board was comprised of about 12 individuals who planned the festival and parade, which was a 2-day event held the last weekend. in June. I remember that year's festival being very chaotic...the person who was in charge of the market didn't show up, so people who had paid for a
booth space had no idea where they were supposed to set up and it became a free
for all. Back then we didn't erect many tents, we bought those blue canopies from K-mart and that was the tent we gave to people to set up their booth under.

Also, we were anticipating 100,000+ people coming to the event, so we ordered 15,000 t-shirts for our merchandise sales. Big mistake...we had never sold more than 1,000 shirts before and that year wasn't any different. It put us nearly $64,000 in debt after the event was over.

But, it also made the Board take a good hard look at how we were doing business, and put together better systems...budgets, forecasting, etc. It also made us realize that the event was growing faster than we --- as an all-volunteer organization -- could keep up with. The next year we held much tighter purse strings and managed to retire the debt from the year before, which paved the way to hire a part-time administrator, Hubert Alexander.

In my opinion, this was the first of 2 very important changes for the organization -- hiring staff. That may sound self-serving, but I promise you it is not. It is very scary for an organization to bring on an employee, and to make the financial commitment to paying their salary. But as was the case for APC, once you have someone to handle the day to day operations of running the organization, you actually stand a better chance of making more money because you are not relying solely on volunteers to handle everything.

I resigned from the Board after the '95 event to apply for the Executive Director position, and started as a part-time E.D. in October of '95. In '97 my position went to full-time, and over the years I have added 2 additional full-time staff. A festival committee was created to deal entirely with the planning and execution of the annual festival and parade, and the Board now focuses on policy, long-term planning, and governance.

So -- big change #1 was establishing a business/corporate environment for the organization which has facilitated the growth we have seen in the event over the last 12 years.

Big change #2 I believe we experienced while we began planning for the event this past June, and that is, the infusion of a global perspective on LGBT Human Rights, which started with the selection of the '07 theme: "Our Rights, Your Rights, Human Rights".

The annual PRIDE events have their roots in the commemoration of the Stonewall uprising in 1969. The Stonewall was a little gay bar in the gay area of NYC known as "the Village". During the '60's it was pretty commonplace for the police to raid gay bars at will and arrest patrons for a variety of offenses. It was blatant harassment but in those days, no one really cared. Well that night of June 27, 1969 the patrons of the bar didn't go willingly into the back of the paddy wagon, instead, they kicked and punched and screamed and started a small riot that lasted for several days. It was the shot heard 'round the world and is considered by many to be the turning point in the LGBT rights movement -- here in the US. That is why PRIDE events are usually held in June -- to make that connection to commemorating the brave queens, dykes, and trannies who stood up and faced off with their tormentors.

Over the years the PRIDE events have been used to protest, rally, motivate, mobilize, educate, and celebrate. Here in the US, our PRIDE events have a more celebratory tone, our parades are festive, the weekend events resemble many other traditional festivals held annually. Some might say we have lost our way, we are not
as political as we should be, we've gotten too soft -- too complacent.

Well, at this year's event a few members of the Festival Committee established the Human Rights Display which was placed on the bridge over the lake that connects the 2 sides of Piedmont Park. Twenty four panels were placed on both sides of the bridge to educate folks about the ongoing struggle for LGBT rights globally. Congressman John Lewis came and viewed the display then addressed the audience from the stage that Saturday afternoon.

Also, the Pride Committee had a float built for the parade that addressed the theme of "Our Rights, Your Rights, Human Rights and the float was prominently placed at the beginning of the parade to remind viewers of the emphasis on this year's event.

This was a HUGE shift in the focus of the event -- we weren't just planning another festival, we were getting back to the reason why we come together as a community each June, to remind ourselves that there is still work to be done, each and every day until full-equality is achieved for every single lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender person here in the US and throughout the world.

The Atlanta Pride Committee has selected our theme for this next year's event, and we continue with our focus on LGBT Human Rights -- but we bring it a little closer to home. After all, this is an election year and we are making history by making the presidential candidates accountable to us -- as witnessed in the ongoing debates, the raising of the marriage equality issue, ENDA, and the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell. These are no longer issues that candidates can brush aside, but must face head on.

The theme for '08 is: Your Vote, Your Rights, Your Future. It is a call to make a stand, to get involved in ensuring your voice is heard through your vote, which affects your future!


Robin said...

Thanks, Dustin and Donna, for this conversation. The biggest sense I had about Pride this year was that it was one huge street fair. The truth is, there's something passive about setting up information booths. It's not that the dedicated representatives of various organizations don't work hard, I know that the usual response to such a suggestion is to "get involved," but the reality is that I have extremely limited time. I was very active in the community in the 1980s in New Orleans, but became less so as I began a career in journalism. (I am not a full-time journalist now, and have not been for some years.)

I've never really felt like part of the "community" in Atlanta (with the recent exception of Franklin's efforts to develop an LGBTQ literary community). If there were some way to make Pride more like a gathering of LGBTQ communitIES (plural) and less like a huge, anonymous, monolithic picnic, I think that would spark some fresh synergy.

One way to do that might be to set up several "big tents" (pun intended) with folding chairs and schedule different events in each (e.g., a poetry tent, a theater tent, a political action tent, an HIV/AIDS tent, a feminist tent). The idea is not to ghettoize or divide the community, but to create several loci of concerns; attendees could then float from tent to tent or stay all day, as they prefer.

My partner suffers from arthritis and scoliosis, and she made it as far as Caribou before giving up. It was frustrating, but the walk from MARTA to the park, much less through the park, kept us away. If there were more/better/other? shuttles, or if there already is a shuttle system that we just didn't know about, we'd love that.

Thanks for all that you do and for keeping this behemoth going. I've been on the boards of Celebration and Pride in New Orleans, among other groups, and know well how much work it takes to put on such a festival.

Lisa Allender said...

Hi Dustin. Thank you for giving us the INsight into the OUTreach here...Donna articulates quite well the WHY's of how PRIDE became a bigger business--indeed, it needed to, in order to survive, and THRIVE!
I agree with Robin that there may be some fresh ways to make it a bit easier to "navigay-te" the festivies, performances, literature, etc.
I'm excited to be part of Franklin Abbott's committee for the Atlanta LGBTQ Lit Fest. Hopefully, we(both Lit Fest, and PRIDE) can inspire each other! Thanks again.I hope you willdo follow-ups with Donna, and others, as PRIDE approaches!

Sibille said...

That was interesting. Thank you for sharing Dustin (and Donna!). I think it's always good to remember that events like that take a lot of planning, months before up until the last day of the event. People often don't realise that, they just turn up and want to have fun, thinking it's just all one big party. Which it is, but it is also an event with a 'political' purpose - and that awareness raising / campaigning work is equally, if not more in a way, important. Hats off to all of you who work so hard on this!

Collin said...

Good interview. I believe this year's Pride should be very political. We cannot face another four years of Republican rule, and I am very worried. We need to motivate people out of their fear and complacency.

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