The pool deck parade of abs and skimpy swimsuits that is LGBTQ Atlanta’s social event of the summer is back. But expect a Joining Hearts main event that is smaller, safer and simpler.
Organizers of the pool party in Piedmont Park, which raises funds for HIV organizations, said the event will return July 17. Last year, the main event fell victim to the coronavirus pandemic and a ban by Atlanta city officials on large outdoor events.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms lifted the event moratorium in late March. Joining Hearts then jumped at the chance to host the pool party – and a schedule of other social fundraising events later this year.
“I miss the laughter and the camaraderie with all of the different organizations supporting the event and the guests coming to the event,” said Jerry Henderson, president of Joining Hearts. “Seeing the smiles of everybody is going to be good.”
Joining Hearts hosted only one of its signature events in 2020 – Love on the Rocks in February – before the pandemic erupted and forced an end to fundraisers and nightlife, and crippled many LGBTQ-owned businesses. With a “Uniting Together” theme, Joining Hearts wants to play a role in the city’s recovery, Henderson said.
“The city needs something, our community needs something,” he said. “A lot of people are going out of town to celebrate, and it was like hey, let’s keep our gay money in town.”
As organizers scramble to pull together an event plan, COVID-19 will be front and center. The city requires a detailed health plan outlining how the event will abide by coronavirus mandates. The plan will include mandatory face masks, social distancing and a platoon of hand sanitizer stations.
Joining Hearts will also require all attendees to be vaccinated, reduce its capacity and change the usual indoor food and alcohol service areas, Henderson said.
“To attend the event, you will have to show proof of your full vaccination. Safety is key this year more so than anything. We are going to try and do most of the event outside,” he said.
Organizers are collapsing a year of planning into 60 days as they rush to secure an event permit from the city. The effort also includes lining up sponsors, DJs and marketing, Henderson added.
“You’ll see some changes. We are trying to determine what will be feasible given the timing,” he said.
In 2019, Joining Hearts donated $136,100 to five HIV/AIDS service organizations. Without a full schedule of events last year, that amount dropped to $20,000 – $10,000 to Jerusalem House, $7,000 to Project Open Hand and $3,000 to Hope ATL. With the main event and three other events in the works for 2021, Henderson hopes fundraising will improve.
“Hopefully that number will go up,” he said. “It will probably not be as much as in previous years. We are hoping our donors come through and the word gets out that we do have events this year and to support them.”
Details about entertainment, ticket pricing and volunteer opportunities will be made public soon.
“I am excited but I am also apprehensive. We can do it but it’s going to take a village,” Henderson said.