Marriage plaintiffs top ATL Pride grand marshals

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Georgia’s marriage equality fight takes center stage during Atlanta Pride when the seven people challenging the state’s ban on gay marriage join eight other individuals and two groups as 2014 Pride parade grand marshals.

After an open ballot processsolicited 50 nominees, the Pride committee announced its selections on Thursday. The honorees were chosen for their contributions to LGBT issues in Atlanta, according to a prepared statement by Buck Cooke, Atlanta Pride executive director.

“We are so appreciative of our community members who took the time to submit nominations, and I have to say you did an excellent job this year,” Cooke says. “The field of individuals and organizations who were nominated was outstanding, and it yielded a truly impressive array of Grand Marshals for 2014.”

When the parade rolls on Oct. 12, look for cars carrying the three same-sex couples and one lesbian widow suing the state to have their marriages recognized in Georgia. Lambda Legal, one of two organizational grand marshals tapped by Pride this year, filed suitApril 22 on behalf of Michael Bishop and Shane Thomas, Rayshawn and Avery Chandler, Shelton Stroman and Christopher Inniss, as well as Jennifer Sisson. Read and watch videos of their compelling stories.

Continuing a trend in recent years of multiple parade grand marshals, Pride adds to the list with eight more of gay Atlanta’s own. Joining the plaintiffs as grand marshals are Muslim gay rights pioneer Faisal Alam; writer, activist and founding member of Southerners On New Ground Stephanie Gillould; tireless volunteers Sheila Merritt and Tony Kearney (aka charity drag hostess Wild Cherry Sucret); drag queen Ruby Redd; clinical psychologist Arlene Noriega; and Ria Pell, the popular chef who died in November. Georgia Safe Schools Coalition joins Lambda as the other organizational grand marshal for 2014.

Pride collected statements from each of the three couples, nine individuals and two groups, and reactions to the honor reflect a range of emotions. Read those below, and find out even more about them fromAtlanta Pride.

FAISAL ALAM
I’m honored for this recognition. As Grand Marshall, I hope to bring greater visibility to the LGBT Muslim community. The majority of Muslims in the US are immigrants who come from more than 80 different countries. Islam is not a monolithic faith and there is great ideological and theological diversity within the faith. In many ways LGBT Muslims are a microcosm of the Muslim community in the United States. We hail from all different ethnic and racial backgrounds, genders, sexual orientations, socioeconomic statuses, abilities and professions.

As a Grand Marshall, I look forward to sharing my vision of an LGBT community rooted in social justice, where our struggle for LGBT rights is tied to the struggles of other marginalized communities. The LGBT movement for equality is intricately linked to other justice movements and concerns facing our communities, including reproductive justice, immigration reform, access to HIV/AIDS care, reform of the prison industrial complex, the fight for a living wage and universal healthcare.

As Martin Luther King Jr., once said “we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny – I can never be what I ought to be until you are allowed to be what you ought to be …. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

MICHAEL BISHOP AND SHANE THOMAS
We're delighted that all of us are going to be riding as Grand Marshals to celebrate the diversity and unity within the Marriage Equality community. Hopefully, soon we'll be able to ride in a car that says “Just Married”!

RAYSHAWN AND AVERY CHANDLER
To be recognized as Grand Marshalls for the 2014 Atlanta Pride Festival means a great deal to us. We are humbled at the thought of receiving such a coveted position. If we had to choose a word to describe how we feel, “excited” would be an understatement. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to share ourselves with the community. We are honored and privileged to be apart of something that makes Atlanta great!

STEPHANIE GUILLOUD
At a moment when queer and trans-people live on every frontline of struggle, I am proud to celebrate our extraordinary resilience and our collective resistance to injustice. I am humbled to participate in the commemoration of the Stonewall uprising where we came together to protect and defend our dignity and our right to live as we are.

TONY KEARNEY
I am very excited and privileged to be a Grand Marshal for Atlanta Pride and my community. For the majority of my adult life, I have been committed and passionate to service. I believe that everyone should lend a helping hand to someone or something while here on earth.

I enjoy working for an organization’s mission and helping them achieve their goals. I gain immense happiness from helping people and causes. My work with the Boybutante AIDS Foundation in Athens, the Armorettes, Positive Impact and Atlanta Pride Committee have provided me with such good memories and great friendships.

I have never done this work for personal accolades or recognition. It’s the foundation of who I am and something that I learned from my mother at an early age. Giving for me is a joy. When I am no longer here, I want the work that I’ve done to speak for me.

Take the time and find something you care about or are passionate for. I am sure there is a group or agency that needs your help. Get involved and make a difference in your community today. You will feel so rewarded and so fulfilled.

SHEILA MERRITT
There are no words that can adequately express what this means to me. It is a distinct privilege to be acknowledged by APC and I am both thrilled and humbled to be recognized in such a significant way. When I got the call, I was completely stunned!

For those who know me, they know I always have something to say about anything…..but I was genuinely without words. The company I will join by participating in this longstanding tradition is not lost on me and I find it as overwhelming as it is exciting. I am confident that this will be one of those moments that will be unforgettable and will be cherished, always. I am grateful and appreciative to say the least!

ARLENE NORIEGA, PH.D.
It is an incredibly humbling experience to have been selected and to know that I share this honor with others that I have admired, looked up to, and on whose shoulders I stand.

RIA PELL
Selecting Ria Pell as a Grand Marshal is an honor to both her memory and her legacy in Atlanta. As an out and loud butch punk dyke, Ria Pell was a bedrock of Atlanta's gay scene since she was a teenager in the '80s. She was a protector of queers and queens and young gays, and literally fought off skinheads and bigots.

She believed deeply in community and justice and attended many protests for civil rights. She co-founded the ground-breaking queer arts festival MondoHomo, and fiercely supported many other LGBTQ+ organizations with food, resources, advice, humor, music and love. [submitted by her next of kin]

RUBY REDD
Having lived and worked in the Atlanta community for over 20 years it is an overwhelming honor that I would be nominated, let alone selected, as a Grand Marshal. It’s always wonderful to be recognized for your work, but being Grand Marshal to me is really about spotlighting the community and celebrating the work we do together.

MICHAEL D. SHUTT
It is an incredible honor and privilege to be selected as a Grand Marshal for the 2014 Atlanta Pride Festival. Atlanta Pride Committee’s purpose and mission ground so much of my work. This includes promoting unity, visibility and self-esteem for LGBTQ people along with developing cultural and educational programs and activities that promote awareness and enhance the health of our community. To be honored by an organization that has engaged in this work for over four decades is AMAZING!


In addition, it is humbling to be selected for this honor when so many people I admire and who have served as my mentors have also served as Grand Marshals. Although I was selected as an individual, I truly believe that the Atlanta Pride Committee is honoring the people who I am surrounded by every day. This is not the work of individuals and the Atlanta Pride Committee reminds us of this throughout the year. We must work together and be reminded daily that we stand on the shoulders of giants. THANK YOU!

JENNIFER SISSON
I am honored and humbled to be selected as one of the Grand Marshals for the 2014 Atlanta Pride Parade. It will be an incredibly meaningful experience to be a part of celebrating the unity and advancement in equality of my hometown.

MR. SHELTON STROMAN AND DR. CHRISTOPHER INNISS
We are honored and very humbled to be recognized by our community for our stance on marriage equality. It encourages us to continue this fight despite the adversities we face here in Georgia.

GEORGIA SAFE SCHOOLS COALITION
The Georgia Safe Schools Coalition is celebrating our fifth anniversary in 2014, so being selected to be a Grand Marshal for the 2014 Atlanta Pride Festival is an incredible honor for us! Our coalition is comprised of volunteers who have worked with a singular vision: school settings should be supportive for LGBTQQI and all students.

Our coalition members are all incredibly dedicated volunteers working with Georgia students, families, and educators who are struggling with bullying, harassment, being kicked out of school and their homes, being funneled into the school-to-prison pipeline, and so many other situations that we must address. However, we know our commitment to targeting Georgia, and our states unique features, is making a difference!

THE SOUTHERN REGIONAL OFFICE OF LAMBDA LEGAL
Although we do this work to change laws and lives, not for accolades or awards, we are certainly honored to be recognized by the communities that we serve. This is also a unique and wonderful opportunity to raise awareness of the powerful role that the law and lawyers play in civil rights movements.

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