ATLANTA --The times are changing around the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) community. At the 2012 Atlanta Pride Festival, there are now baby-changing stations. Openly gay Atlanta police officers are recruiting at their own booth, and a sitting US president recently endorsed same-sex marriage.
"We are moving every day closer to full equality, and that's what this festival is about," said festival organizer Glen Paul Freedman. "To remind people we're not there yet but we're working, and we need to let our voices be heard."
The themes of the 2012 festival are unity, visibility, and self esteem. Freedman said last year's festival was one of the largest, and this year they expect 200,000 people to visit the 300 vendor booths. There will be music, food and entertainment. Well-known companies like Delta Airlines and Coca Cola will be demonstrating their LGBT acceptance, as will the Atlanta police department.
"This is a progressive department, and a diverse city," said Lt. D. Brent Schierbaum, an openly gay officer. "We think the diversity of the city should be reflected in the ranks of the police department."
That's an attitude many in the LGBT community call rare. Samuel Hill told his family he was gay a year ago, and this is his first pride festival. He said the different feelings overwhelmed him when he first arrived, to the point of making him nauseous.
"I don't have to hide anymore, I can be myself, and allow a lingering stare," Hill said. "I just really enjoy being out, and getting to know people, getting to know their stories."
The festival will continue with a parade Sunday which draws thousands of spectators. Due to high traffic volume, drivers are advised to avoid the downtown area if they aren't attending the festivities.