Pride has always been at the center of queer debate. Whether it’s complaints about a lack of diversity, straight headliners (*cough* Ariana Grande), or the general presence of cops at Pride — no Pride is immune to the controversy. Since 2015, ATL Pride’s Executive Director Jamie Fergerson has taken a head on approach to those issues — attending community discussions, diversifying programming and talent lineups, and reinvesting Pride funds back into the community.
WUSSY had the pleasure of chatting with Fergerson about life as Head-Badass-in-Charge of one of the country’s biggest Pride celebrations, self-care, and what to expect this year at Pride.
Tell us a little bit about yourself!
I'm 36, a mom to an amazing first grader, I prefer tea over coffee, and I've spent my career working in community organizing or diversity and inclusion work. I've lived in Georgia my whole life - the first half in Rome and in Atlanta since 2001. I grew up close to all three of my grandparents, and I like to think that I learned a lot from all of them. My paternal grandmother was the kind of woman who did things her own way, even when it went against the grain. My maternal grandmother was incredibly kind, generous, and complex; my grandfather is a brilliant man who's dedicated his whole life to service.
I'm a Taurus sun, Cancer moon, Scorpio rising. Enneagram Type 2. INTJ. I never go a day without some kind of yoga. And yes, I believe in all of that stuff, but not as much as I believe in the power of community and the power of one very deep breath.
So how long have you been affiliated with Atlanta Pride?
I attended my first Atlanta Pride Parade in 2001. I began as a general volunteer in 2002, a Committee member in 2004, and I never left. I joined the staff as Executive Director in June 2015.
Describe your first Pride as Executive Director.
I'll never forget the feeling of rounding the corner of Peachtree and 10th in my first year as ED of Atlanta Pride. There's always a huge, loud wall of people and rainbows on one side, a crowd of protestors and police on the other. Professionally, I felt the weight of what I've been entrusted with - an organization that has enriched my life and that is charged with safeguarding so much of our collective history, an event that saves lives. I felt humbled by and supported by all of the people who have come before me, and I felt great responsibility to all of the people marching with and after me.
Personally, it was also memorable. My parents and sister came to Pride for the first time that year. I was really grateful and happy to have them there, but it was also really dissonant in some ways. There was never a part of teenage me who thought that there would be three generations of my family - my parents, me, and my child - leading a Pride parade. But here we are, and my parents have become some of our strongest Pride weekend volunteers.
Have you seen any drastic changes over the years?
I think the biggest change has been shear growth - there are so many more of us out in the streets and more allies too. We've become a lot more diverse. One of the things that I'm most proud of in recent years is that we're starting to take on important social issues of equity and engagement in our programming and community reinvestment grants.
Is there any tea you can share on next years Pride? What can we expect ?
It's going to be bigger than ever. I've said that every year so far, but it's always true. We're doing more programming in the park and in the community, especially around the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots this year. We're already planning for 2020, too - the 50th Atlanta Pride observance!
When you’re not working on Atlanta Pride projects, where can we find you?
I'm a part time yoga and meditation teacher at Kashi Atlanta Ashram. If I didn't have to work for money, I'd finish the 50th anniversary of Atlanta Pride and do that full time. I do a lot of service work at the ashram and at a few other places. Working in this field, I think it's really important to have a place where I can go and just serve and give without being the boss of anything. When I'm lucky, you can find me with my friends. I love to be outdoors, but you probably won't find me there as much as often as I would like.
How is it having a kid while heading one of Atlanta’s largest festivals. How does the kid like Atlanta Pride ?
I always say that my child has been planning Pride since before they were born. At six months old, Rowan did the whole Festival set-up, Parade, Dyke March, and Trans March strapped to me in a baby carrier. At age almost-seven, Ro has never known a life without Pride and is probably our biggest fan. We lead the parade and introduce the Starlight Cabaret together every year. Sometimes I worry about exposing my child to the awful protestors, but I believe that the value of love and acceptance in our community far outweighs any amount of hate in the world. Rowan also loves to go around the Festival and collect swag with my parents. They're all fans of the free paper towels and snack samples.
All photos by local visual artist, Aboubacar Kante.
Check out more of his work HERE.