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Cover Story - A few questions with Jamie Fergerson

Pride's new executive director on identity politics, queerness in the South, and the festival's 45th anniversary

Atlanta Pride's new executive director Jamie Fergerson will oversee what may be the most rhapsodic and historic parade in its 45-year history as the organization celebrates reaching the milestone among 2015's many queer rights victories. After more than a decade of participation with Pride and other LGBTQ community organizations and events, Fergerson now helms the Southeast's most prominent queer celebration. Here Fergerson discusses her new role, her perspective on the concerns of the LGBTQ community, and what she celebrates about queer life in Atlanta.

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Tell us a bit about your experience with Atlanta Pride over the years. How has your experience influenced what you hope to achieve as executive director?

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The first time I attended Atlanta Pride was in 2001. I was young and in the middle of a difficult coming-out process. Pride was my introduction to a loving, vibrant queer community. I left that first Pride feeling much less lonely and much more hopeful about my life. I started volunteering as a general volunteer the next year, and I never left. I've served in nearly every capacity in the organization over the last 13 years, and I have seen the organization thrive, struggle, grow, and change. I've also spent my entire professional career in community-based organizing, event management, and strategic development, so I'm really thrilled to bring those skills to an organization that is so important to my heart and my own history ... I hope that the organization and I both continue to change in response to the needs of all of the LGBTQ community — especially the most marginalized members of our community.

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2015 has seen a number of victories for the LGBTQ community, the largest of which was marriage equality in all 50 states. With this and Pride's 45th anniversary in mind, do you think the mood will be different than in years past? What do you think is the next frontier in the fight for full citizenship?

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I do think that there will be a lot of celebrating marriage equality at Pride this year. However, it is also important to remember that many people in the queer community are still struggling for safety and full access to civil rights. I am very concerned about the marginalization of and violence against transpeople and queer people of color in our community, and I hope that wrapping up the fight for marriage equality allows us more energy to fight on those fronts. I think that we must also continue to work on employment fairness, protections for queer youth at school and in their homes, and socioeconomic equity for members of our community.

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One line of criticism directed at Pride is that it has become too commercialized in recent years. Is that something you took into account when planning Pride this year?

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It's an argument with which I am very familiar. There's a real dance to balance commercialization with community direction, but at the end of the day, someone has to pay for the festival and our year-round programming. We also try to maintain a balance that centers the uniqueness and individuality of the Atlanta community. Our market and parade are made up of about two-thirds community groups and local small businesses to one-third corporate sponsors, and our corporate sponsors never dictate our programming. We are very lucky to have dedicated sponsors that want to support our community because of our fabulousness, not in spite of it.

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Last year was the first time the Trans March was held in the streets of Atlanta. How do you expect this year's Trans March to fare?

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With our first Trans March, I remember being equal parts terrified that no one would show up and that the crowd would not be friendly to the trans marchers. The march was very successful, and it has grown each year. I think it will continue to grow as there is more representation of gender variant people in popular culture and as people have more access to transitioning at younger ages. I especially appreciate that our Trans March is much more representative of racial, gender, and socioeconomic diversity than is their representation in the media.

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What do you find unique about queerness in the South, and Atlanta specifically?

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I love that queerness in Atlanta is steeped in Southern hospitality and ingenuity. We always find a way to make things our own. There is incredible diversity within the queer community here, and that diversity fuels constant change and provides opportunities for unique collaborations. We have a rich legacy of civil and human rights work in Atlanta, and we benefit from that. The Atlanta queer community also seems to center itself on good food ... and we are lucky to have many queer-owned and -friendly eating establishments in Atlanta.

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In recent years, with a renewed focus on identity politics, some critics within the queer community have raised questions about Atlanta Pride's representation, especially when it comes to race and gender. I'm thinking of offshoots such as Black Gay Pride and Southern Fried Queer Pride. What can Atlanta Pride do as an organization to ensure that everyone feels not just welcome but fairly represented?

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Equity and welcome are two of my biggest priorities as executive director. We strive to have representative programming and have opened up several areas of the festival to be programmed by community coalitions this year. We are having a lot of direct and open conversations about race, gender, and justice. We are opening both of our stages with programming by queer and trans people of color this year, and we have expanded our Dyke March and Trans March. As for other queer festivals, I am incredibly supportive of them both personally and professionally. There is plenty of queer culture and talent to go around, and we all ultimately benefit from more visibility.

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Christopher Kaluzienski is Wussy's assistant editor.



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