Augusta Pride Festival bringing HIV awareness

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF)– Day two of the Augusta Pride Festival kicked off with a parade Saturday morning.

“Not a lot of people thought we existed here in Augusta. Now, we’re one of the largest festivals in the town,” James Mintz, Vice President of Augusta Pride, said.

This weekend, Downtown Augusta is decorated with more color than usual– The Pride Festival is in full swing. Mintz said although the celebration happens just once a year, visibility and acceptance is important on a daily basis.

“We’re your neighbors, your friends, your family members, coworkers. We exist, and by this festival, it proves that we exist,” Mintz explained.

He said Augusta Pride advocates for HIV testing. The Georgia Department of Health has a tent set up and is offering free testing for the STD. Quaziloan Shemier, a Georgia Ambassador for the Aids Foundation, said his experience in the Garden City has been empowering.

“Yesterday I met this 17-year-old guy who was recently diagnosed three weeks ago., but he showed the most bravery, the most courage and hope about using his new status as a a way to bring people out of the dark,” Shemier said.

Another group is advocating Gay, Straight Alliances, or G.S.A., for teens. The Shepard Project provides a safe space for those kids.

“We moved over here to Richmond County and found out none of the schools had G.S.A.s, so we wanted to give kids a place to come and be with other kids like themselves,” Jennifer Rahner, founder of  the Shepard Project, said.

“Many people may think if they don’t know who we are, they can judge us. But if they show up and see that we’re just like them, they’ll join the party and dance with us every year at the festival,” Mintz concluded.

He said last year’s pride festival brought in nearly $800,000 to the city of Augusta.

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