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The Atlanta Pride Festival will be held in June next year, a return to its more traditional early summer date and away from possibilities that included shifting the event to September or October.

The dates of the 2009 festival – June 26, 27, 28 – were released by the Atlanta Pride Committee on Monday. Over the weekend, the committee posted on its web site that the event would be held June 19-21. But those dates were released before they were confirmed with city officials, according to Pride, and were retracted early Monday.

“We know that the community has been waiting anxiously for the dates for Pride 2009.” Deirdre Heffernan, Pride’s Board Chair, said in a prepared statement. “However, we first needed to ensure a venue that included a workable park. Once we secured Central Park, we were able to take the necessary steps to move our event back to the more traditional and historically significant month of June.”

The dates of the festival put in place the final details for the event next year. On Friday, Pride organizers announced that Central Park and the Atlanta Civic Center would host the festival.

Pride and other large festivals were booted from their traditional home in Piedmont Park earlier this year when the city of Atlanta imposed drought-related restrictions that banned events drawing more than 50,000 people from its parks. Pride landed at the Atlanta Civic Center, though the new location also meant a shift in dates away from the last weekend in June to the July 4th holiday weekend.

The festival experienced smaller turnouts than usual and suffered steep financial losses. Within weeks after the 2008 event, the organization’s top two staff members resigned and officials issued a plea for funds.

City softens stance

In late September, city officials softened their stance on large events in its parks, giving organizers of the five biggest events 10 days to work out a compromise or face a lottery for the chance to return to Piedmont.

That led to an Oct. 3 meeting to settle the locations of the events. But organizers of the Atlanta Jazz and Pride festivals and Screen on the Green struck an agreement to pursue alternative locations. The Jazz festival goes to Grant Park, Screen on the Green returns to Centennial Olympic Park and Pride chose a hybrid location of Central Park and the civic center, providing both indoor and outdoors space.

“We are excited to have the best of all worlds,” Heffernan said in a prepared statement. “Central Park is a beautiful green space within Midtown and is easily accessible to our community. With opportunities for indoor space at the Civic Center, Atlanta Pride could comfortably accommodate both indoor and outdoor activities.”

The agreement left the city with two events – the Atlanta Dogwood Festival and the Peachtree Road Race – vying for Piedmont and it chose the Dogwood for Piedmont. The city remains concerned about the ongoing drought and the impact of large crowds in its parks, according to Atlanta Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Commissioner Dianne Harnell Cohen.

“We are nowhere near out of the woods on [the drought],” Harnell Cohen told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Remembering Stonewall Riots

The June 26-28 date for next year’s Pride returns the festival to June and its traditional last weekend in the month. June 28 marks the beginning of the violent demonstrations in 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village that served as a defining moment in the modern gay civil rights movement in the U.S. The first gay Pride marches took place in New York and Los Angeles on June 28, 1970.

In Atlanta, some accounts say about 100 activists marched down Peachtree Street in 1970 on the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, according to Southern Voice. But no known records remain, leading to speculation about whether the event even took place.

A year later, 50 to 125 people attended the Gay Liberation Day march down Peachtree Street to Piedmont Park.

A recent poll on the festival’s web site showed that participants favored a return to the event’s June dates. The second most popular option was a September or October date.

Pride officials are now asking supporters to email their suggestions for programming the 2009 event.

“Obviously we have time constraints, financial limitations, and city ordinances that impact the services and entertainment we are able to offer, but Pride is constantly working to find ways for our organization and festival to better meet the needs of our community. And we would love to hear from the community how their Pride experiences might be enhanced,” Heffernan says.