As LGBTQ pride events continue to grow in size and impact around the country, they serve as not only marches against intolerance and inequality but also as a celebration of the broader acceptance that gay and transgender individuals increasingly enjoy.
There are now hundreds of pride events across the country each year; a list that includes both the unsurprising (read: inclusive) cities like Key West, Miami and Austin, and the more unlikely Southern hosts like Birmingham, Alabama. Again, there is a pride festival in Birmingham, Alabama. That's progress.
With that progress, pride festivals still serve an important role —remembering and honoring LGBTQ history, said Jamie Fergerson, executive director of the Atlanta Pride Committee, Inc.
"They bring about visibility for people who are just coming out or need community. Pride festivals show that there are a lot of us, and they are where a lot of us find community. They're where we feel comfortable being 'out,' particularly for those of us in the South and some of the less welcoming environments," Fergerson said.
More than half of Atlanta Pride attendants come from somewhere outside of Atlanta, and many come from less welcoming places, Fergerson said. The first version of the Atlanta’s pride march occurred in 1971, making the city's annual pride event one of the oldest in the country.
This year's Atlanta Pride Festival, taking place Oct. 13-15 at Piedmont Park, will be expanding with a third stage, Local Voices, for the first time. The event will also include programs for families and for elders, and doubling down on the work done to connect people to services in the community.
Today Atlanta Pride is the largest event in the South, but, thanks to several other Southern cities, Atlanta doesn't stand alone.
Here are four other pride festivals worth attending for those looking for the most lively displays of support for LGBTQ rights for communities in the South:
Charlotte, North Carolina - Aug. 26-27, 2017
The free two-day festival on South Tryon Street features entertainers and musical acts, vending booths, art exhibitions, local non-profit teams, political candidates, a VIP Experience and, of course, food in highlighting the "social, cultural, ethnic, artistic and political diversity" of the metropolitan Charlotte LGBTQ community.
Asheville, North Carolina- Sept. 30, 2017
Blue Ridge Pride Festival is a one-day Asheville, North Carolina festival to celebrate gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities. The event takes place in downtown Asheville's Pack Square Park from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m., and boasts more than 100 vendors and organizations in addition to more than 10,000 festival goers.
"Asheville Pride is pretty great," says Fergerson.
Orlando, Florida - Oct. 14, 2017
It's been little over a year since the terrorist attack at Orlando's gay nightclub Pulse killed 49 and wounded 53 more in the deadliest mass shooting in American history. Just one year removed, the nightclub is transforming into a memorial and museum to commemorate survivors and victims, while the LGBTQ community will gather in Lake Eola Park from noon until 10 p.m. to enjoy "The Most Colorful Parade" and more than 100 vendors at the pride marketplace. More than 150,000 are expected for the event.
Tampa / St. Petersburg, Florida - June, 2018
A series of weekend events elevate the St. Pete Pride Festival above many other, less organized festivals. There are rooftop kickoffs, pride receptions, the SP2 concert, the Saturday pride parade, and the Sunday pride festival. Only catch is, you'll have to wait until next year, as the 2017 version has come and gone.
"Most years, St. Pete Pride is actually bigger than Orlando," offers Fergerson.
For a full list of upcoming pride events around the country, visit gaypridecalendar.com.