Coronavirus prompts Athens Pride to cancel fall street festival

Athens Pride – concerned about the safety of its volunteers and attendees – canceled its street festival set for October and instead turned to helping area non-profits assisting people during the coronavirus pandemic.

The annual street festival, which draws more than 1,000 people, is the main event for the organization. Its other public events, including the Summer Soiree fundraiser, are also canceled due to the pandemic. 

Cameron Harrelson, vice president of Athens Pride, said the organization considered public health, the advice of medical professionals and the lingering uncertainty around the coronavirus pandemic in deciding to cancel the events. The organization also faced an economy that has stalled, which would likely impact their fundraising and sponsorships from local businesses.

“This was truly the hardest decision I have ever had to make on a board, as the festival remains a symbol of hope for the Athens-area LGBTQ community,” Harrelson told Project Q Atlanta.

“There is so much that is uncertain right now: Will crowd size have a cap in October? Will there be a second wave some are suggesting? There are some things we just do not know, and as a board we decided to err on the side of caution,” he said.

So Athens Pride pivots to two new projects – helping non-profits seeing an increased demand for services during the pandemic and producing pride-themed masks.

Athens Pride is donating $1,000 each to five organizations to help immigrants, people living with HIV, mental health service providers, the elderly and people in need of financial support. The grants go to Live Forward, Casa de Amistad, Athens-Area Council on Aging, Athens Mutual Aid Network and Nuci’s Space.

“We are deeply saddened by the decision to cancel our festival,” President Amber Strachan said in a press release announcing the cancelation of the street festival. 

“However, we are fortunate to be able to contribute to others in these unprecedented times. We will be donating funds to the organizations on the ground that are addressing the hardships Athens residents are facing as a result of COVID-19,” Strachan added.

Athens Pride also launched a project to make 600 rainbow-themed masks to distribute to hospitals, nursing homes, food distribution sites and people in need. 

“We figured we could make masks with rainbows," Harrelsom said. "The rainbow is a symbol of hope to our community – and what better way to share that message as an organization than to remind people to social distance and remain safe?"

Donations can be made to support Athens Pride and its mask project through its website. 

Atlanta Pride officials said in late March that planning for its 50th anniversary celebration – also set for October – is continuing.

Read more coverage of how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting LGBTQ Atlanta.

Photo courtesy Athens Pride