published Monday, October 7th, 2013

Chattanooga area gay rights group aims to unite gay, straight communities through event

Sierra Petitt plays with her dog, Jasper, as A.K. Lundy looks on at the Chattanooga Pride Festival.
Sierra Petitt plays with her dog, Jasper, as A.K. Lundy looks on at the Chattanooga Pride Festival.
Photo by Maura Friedman.
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    From left, Ashley Silverstein, Michael Vinyard and Carrie Kertesz chat at the Chattanooga Pride Festival.
    Photo by Maura Friedman.
    enlarge photo

Chuck Hill, president of the Tennessee Valley Pride gay rights group, wished his parents were there Sunday afternoon, at the 2013 Chattanooga Pride Festival.

Then he shrugged, laughed it off and went back to talking about events TVP will be doing in the coming months.

Hill said his own plans are to take his push for gay equality in Chattanooga to the City Council.

"They're going to get sick of me," he said.

Sunday, Hill estimated around 2,000 people came out to Miller Plaza in downtown Chattanooga for the sixth annual pride festival. The funny thing is, he said, probably half of them were not gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered.

It's why he involves himself and the TVP in the event, to "help bridge the gap between gay and straight communities by showing we're people, too."

He thinks it's working.

"I'd say we have a good mix, that it's working for people ... that are open-minded."

A couple of protesters stood just outside the festival area with signs. Charles Wysong, who is an active opponent of gay rights, stood with them.

Gay men and women inside the festival know Wysong. They didn't approach him. Wysong didn't approach festival attendees.

Even that's progress, said Bates Reed, a Unity of Chattanooga member.

"They need to do that for some reason, so let them do that," he said of the protesters.

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    Ardyce Mercier, left, blows bubbles for her daughter Lilith Jackson and Jackson's best friend Lilly Dyer at the Chattanooga Pride Festival in Miller Plaza on Sunday. "My parents are gay and everyone deserves to love who they love," Jackson said about why she wanted to attend the festival.
    Photo by Maura Friedman.
    enlarge photo

Reed is a gay man and Chattanooga native who spent 25 years living in Orlando, Fla. He came back to Chattanooga around a year ago.

Reed was handed an evangelical pamphlet Sunday morning during the pride parade. Still, he said, it's progress from being yelled at, demeaned as a person.

He called Chattanooga's transformation "180 degrees" during the time he was away.

"What I see is a culture that is changing dramatically," he said. "It's kind of cool to see it changing here and see people being themselves."

Hill knows the festival highlights some of the things gay opponents dislike most: public displays of affection between members of the same sex, flamboyant -- often rainbow-themed -- outfits, empowerment to gays, lesbians, transgenders.

"The question gays get the most is, 'Why do you do this?'" he said. "The biggest and the only answer I give is: because we have to."

Otherwise, Hill said things would go on as always, and the lines in the sand that divide gay and straight will never move.

And that's not the way toward him looking from the stage at Miller Plaza someday and finding his parents in the crowd.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.

about Alex Green...

Alex joined the Times Free Press staff full-time in January 2014 as a region business reporter. He is a native of Dayton, Tenn., located 35 miles north of Chattanooga, and he is a fifth-generation Dayton native. Alex came to the Times Free Press as an editorial intern in July 2013. He was previously a correspondent at The Herald-News, located in Dayton, through college and editor-in-chief of the Triangle, Bryan College's student-led media group. Alex was ...

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