BeltLine Connections Series: A Community of Shared Experiences
The same people working behind the scenes to bring the Atlanta BeltLine project to life are also working in communities across Atlanta – sometimes in unexpected ways – to be good neighbors and make the project as inclusive as possible. This post is part of a series called BeltLine Connections, which features timely stories of service by Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. staff that highlight important issues facing Atlanta communities.
Atlanta’s legacy of diversity and civil rights leadership have long set it apart among Southern cities. Local officials first adopted the “City Too Busy to Hate” slogan in the 1960s, largely in an effort to market Atlanta’s business environment as relatively insulated from civil unrest. While the nickname remains more of an aspiration than fulfilled reality, it does hint at the city’s undeniably rich makeup of identities and cultures.
One big part of this history is Atlanta’s vibrant LGBTQ community. In 2005 – the same year Atlanta formally adopted the Atlanta BeltLine Redevelopment Plan and created a tax district to finance the 25-year project – gay, lesbian, and bisexual residents made up 12.8% of Atlanta’s population, the third-highest percentage among major U.S. cities.
The city’s LGBTQ pride festival, Atlanta Pride, dates back to 1971, just one year after the Stonewall Uprising in New York City, reportedly making it one of the oldest in the country. Today, Atlanta Pride attracts about 300,000 attendees each year. The week’s flagship event, the Pride Parade, charts a path up Peachtree Street through Downtown and Midtown Atlanta. The parade culminates with a festival at Piedmont Park, across the street from one of the busiest access points to the BeltLine’s Eastside Trail at Monroe Drive and 10th Street NE.
Given this geographic proximity, and the central role of BeltLine neighborhoods like Midtown and Little Five Points in Atlanta’s LGBTQ heritage, it became clear that Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. needed to play a part in Atlanta Pride. A staff-led effort to have ABI participate in the event finally made it happen this October. Under dreary skies and sporadic rain, an enthusiastic group of ABI team members (together with spouses, partners, and friends) showed their support for Atlanta’s LGBTQ community by marching in the 49th annual Atlanta Pride Parade.
ABI Director of Design Kevin Burke piloted the BeltLine “float,” one of the two Ford F-150s that comprise the agency fleet – much more festively decorated than it typically is when out on the construction site or doing routine trail maintenance. Following close behind were members of the Arts and Culture, Community Planning and Engagement, Real Estate, Design and Construction, and Executive Team departments. They waved flags, danced, gave hugs and high-fives, and tried to express their appreciation to the dedicated spectators who had braved the elements long enough to see ABI, positioned near the back of the parade, pass by their spot on the route.
“It was an honor to represent the BeltLine for the first time at Atlanta Pride,” said Chris Langley, ABI’s Arts & Culture Program Coordinator, who led the organization’s first-ever involvement in Pride. “We felt this was the perfect opportunity to affirm our organization’s support for the LGBTQ+ community and emphasize that the Atlanta BeltLine is designed to bring people together through more than just physical infrastructure.”
“This organization has made a steadfast commitment to promoting equity and inclusion in everything that we do – both in the workplace and out in the diverse communities that the Atlanta BeltLine serves,” said Nonet Sykes, ABI’s Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer. “To that end, participating in Atlanta Pride is just one small gesture in a larger effort, but it’s one of the many ways we’re working to keep that promise,” she added.
ABI staff have already begun making plans to ramp up their presence at the 50th annual Atlanta Pride. Their top priority? Getting local partners in Atlanta’s arts community, particularly queer artists and allies who have participated in the Art on the Atlanta BeltLine program, to join them on the parade route.