It’s easy to get caught up in the rainbows and the parties, and the drag shows. It’s easy to bask in the whirlwind, breathless joy of it all. It’s easy to forget the uphill battle it took (and continues to take) to grab hold of the right to that joy, that pride.
This is what the chair of First City Pride Center’s (FCPC) events committee Lawrence Appenzeller kept top of mind as they prepare for their Stonewall-Anniversary Block Party, which takes place Saturday from 3-10 pm on Bull St. between 31st and 33rd Street.
“This year we’re trying to focus a little bit more on the advocacy side of things,” Appenzeller says. “Especially with so many things happening legislation-wise with the LGBT community.”
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Of course, this is in partial reference to House Bills 276, 372, and 401, which were killed in 2021, but later revived in SB 266, also known as the “Save Girls Sports Act.”
While SB 266 was killed again, unable to make it through crossover (the half of the session where bills have to “cross over” to the other side of the house or senate to be considered), Governor Kemp snuck its anti-trans language onto House Bill 1084 in 2022. The bill was passed without being submitted to Democrat lawmakers for review, being pushed quite literally fifteen minutes before Sine Die (the last day of session) ended.
To place more focus on the advocacy side of Pride, Appenzeller enlisted the help of partners in the community, “other advocacy organizations that have similar values”—Planned Parenthood, Georgia Equality, and First City Network, to name a few.
“Having all that wealth of knowledge, support and community in one place is really exciting,” he says. In a sense, it’s a return to center, directly referencing the roots for which the block party is named after — the Stonewall uprisings of 1969.
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After enduring decades’ worth of harassment at the hands of NYC police’s “Public Moral Squad,” the LGBTQ+ community resisted the discriminatory and often physically violent treatment. On June 28, 1969, “in the raid that led to the Stonewall riots, two police officers entered the Stonewall Inn and demanded to ‘check the sex’ of some of the bar’s customers by physical examination.”
This served as a crucial turning point in the Gay Liberation Movement, led by prominent figures such as transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson, who was directly involved in the uprisings, and Brenda Howard, a bisexual activist who organized the first Pride parade a year later .
In the tumultuous and uncertain times of the ’60s and ’70s, and beyond, if LGBTQ+ folks had nobody else they had each other.
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Luckily, Appenzeller found that won’t be the case when planning for the block party. “Now when you tell a business, ‘Hey we’re gonna close down the block on a Saturday,’ [you] expect people to be a little weary,” he explains. However, after Bull St. participated in the 2019 FCPC Pride event, they were excited to help out again this year by not only staying open but also hosting several Pride-related activities.
Bell Barber (1610 Bull St.), is offering gender-affirming hair cuts, while coffee shop Henny Penny Art Space & Cafe (1514 Bull St.), is leading advocacy art activities.
“So that’s really what has been most exciting to me, seeing that this goes beyond the community that we’re interacting with every day,” he said. “It’s bigger; [it’s] throughout all of Savannah, so to speak.”
This is especially inspiring when Appenzeller revealed that, before becoming the events committee chair, they had been just a local student, taking advantage of FCPC’s free therapy services. “So I had heard of the Pride Center [in 2017] and been there but didn’t start volunteering until June of last year,” they explain.
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They helped bring to life a downsized version of the block party in 2020, making the most of the circumstances COVID-19 made them plan around. Then, after joining the events committee, they became the chair only a few months later.
Though it took some time for the committee to regain its footing, Appenzeller is hopeful because of all the new volunteers eager to create events that provide a safe space for Savannah’s LGBTQ+ community. As First City Pride Center is also celebrating their fifth anniversary on June 25 at the block party, they’re just getting started.
What had initially been separate organizations — Savannah Pride and youth groups — merged into one entity under FCPC in 2020. So, more than anything, the FCPC is working toward more visibility to ensure that anyone in need knows where they can get help.
For Appenzeller, the goals are even more specific. “On top of that, in my position as the Chair, I’d like to make sure that there’s more inclusivity, awareness, and visibility for BIPOC LGBT members of the community,” he said. “I feel like that’s not only a huge demographic, where we are in the South, it’s a minority that doesn’t get focus a lot of time.”
And that’s the heart of the matter: “or anyone in the community that feels like they don’t know where to go, there is a safe place for you [at First City Pride Center].”