The annual Tybee Equality Festival enters its third and largest year yet this weekend with a four-day festival of fun events centered around a message of inclusion.
In 2014, wedding and event organizer Angie Celeste helmed a special LGBT Wedding EXPO in Savannah. It was a life changing event.
“The event featured LGBT-friendly wedding vendors, but it also featured a mass commitment ceremony at The Mansion on Forsyth Park, where more than a dozen same-sex couples exchanged vows and celebrated their special day with friends and family. Georgia still did not legally recognize same-sex marriage at the time,” Celeste said in a 2018 Do Savannah interview.
“To be in that room and feel the love and see the excitement in the families — it made me realize, that this is what I want to do ... I want to do things that benefit our community and create a safe space for people to be themselves.”
After that, she created the Tybee Equality Festival with the sole purpose of providing an LGBTQIA+ friendly event that would follow the ethos that “Y’all includes all.”
This year, the events kick-off on Aug. 22 with a cocktail social hour at Fannie’s. In the myriad of events over the following four days are live music, drag shows, a beach cleanup, a brunch and much more for all ages and all people. (See the full schedule below)
Do: Historically, LGBTQIA+ gatherings have been more of a rally cry for equality or a protest against discrimination. As our society has shifted, why are events like this so important for the community at large (in respects to sharing a space that is completely inclusive for all people and age groups)?
Angie Celeste: “Our society has shifted, yes, and we are so aware and grateful of the progress that has been made but we still have a ways to go.
“In 2018, advocates tracked at least 26 deaths of transgender people in the U.S. due to fatal violence, the majority of whom were black transgender women and at least 16 were murdered by May of this year.
“Although the hate crime bill HB426 passed the House of Representatives in March 2019 it is still awaiting approval. It is still legal in Georgia and many other states to fire someone from their job for being LGBTQ and the inhumane conversion therapy is still legal—only banded in 18 states in this country. LGBTQ suicide rates, especially among our youth are staggering and bullying in schools, directed toward our LGBTQ youth is still a major issue.
“Having said all of that I believe that standing for something is always more effective than just fighting against. We want to focus on what we want our world to be like and this means being the presence of love, kindness acceptance and change and realizing our presence as such is creating more of it.
“That is why this festival is a celebration of equality. We are ‘acting as if’ so to speak. We are focusing on the many pro-equality businesses and allies on Tybee and in Savannah, knowing that as we amplify that with recognition and appreciation we educated and encourage others to do the same.”
This is the third annual event, correct? What have you learned the last two years?
“We have learned how valuable it is to have a space for people to come together and celebrate, love each other and make relationships that last a life time. The LGBTQ+ community is often shunned or at the very least not supported by their families, churches and communities, as an LGBTQ+ community we form our own family—we become each other’s aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, etc. This type of support system is so important for everyone of us as we move through life.
What is new this year?
“We have not only added an additional day, we have added new vendors, new sponsors and new events! This year we will have our first annual Equality by The Sea Parade with Grand Marshall Rev. Candace Hardnett from Agape Empowerment Ministries.
“This is a fun and inclusive way to celebrate nonprofits and businesses that are pro-equality while allowing everyone to be seen and celebrated. We have added a music fest component this year weaving together well known local musicians as well as those from within the tri-state area and internationally known performers.
“Music connects. It uplift and it heals. This is also a debut of a wonderful new way to celebrate every body: The Body Beautiful Fashion show featuring models from all walks of life and custom designs by Bertice Berry. Each year we are focusing on diversity and inclusion and we realize how valuable it is to feel represented in our community, representation matters.”
What are you most excited about?
“Adding the new events to the schedule while keeping the trusted favorites of Coco’s Happy Hour, Hucapoo’s Drag Show and Fannie’s Drag Brunch, T-Dance and all things Tybee and fun! I love the support of the locals who are family to me and I am also excited about the huge response we have had from attendees traveling to our sweet island from Philadelphia, Kentucky, Connecticut, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and even Germany!”
What does Unity, Love, Respect mean to you?
“It is honoring and including all people and treating everyone with kindness, love and fairness. Those three worlds heal families, communities, states and countries. If we respected and loved one another and truly felt united our world would be a better place.”
There is a benefit aspect to this event as well, correct? For the LGBTQ Center and Savannah Youth City? Why are those organizations important?
“LGBTQ centers across the country were created to provide community, safety and connection. Savannah Youth City does that same thing for at risk children. Providing opportunities that would have not otherwise been realized and as their core belief states, it helps ‘break cycle.’ Organizations like these help enhance the lives of marginalized people making unity, love and respect a tangible reality.”
2019 Tybee Equality Fest Schedule by savannahnow.com on Scribd