Savannah’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade is one of the largest annual events in the South, drawing more than 500,000 people to the Georgia town. But for Mike Pence’s visit on Saturday, the city was a “ghost town.”
The Vice President and his wife, Karen, presided over a parade procession which encompassed a 12-block stretch of Savannah’s downtown historic district on March 17. Normally, the parade is “standing-room only,” as the Associated Press reports. This year, however, reports claim the crowd was sparse and the sidewalks along the parade route were “largely empty.”
But one group showed up to the Irish heritage festival in droves: the local LGBTQ community.
Queer and transgender people turned out to the parade holding signs like “Side With Love” and “Mike Pence Is a Homophobe,” while others protested his pro-life, anti-choice views with displays like “I Stand With Planned Parenthood.” So many rainbow flags flooded the route that nearly every single photo-op was blanketed in a sea of ROYGBIV.
Yesterday, VP Mike Pence visited Savannah’s St. Patrick’s Day parade for 1 hour, costing an absurd amount to taxpayers & lost sales to businesses who count on that day every year. Protestors made sure there were rainbows in every photo op with the bigot. @Amy_Siskind @woke_folk pic.twitter.com/vijzvIOwbn
— Tracy Brisson (@tracybrisson) March 18, 2018
VP Pence came to savannah to march in our parade- and every. single. picture taken of him has a pride flag in the background. proud of my city 🍀👩❤️💋👩💜👨❤️👨 pic.twitter.com/0wADWbWfCE
— it’s fran! (@frannipan) March 17, 2018
A protestor awaiting Vice President Mike Pence’s appearance in the #StPatricksDay2018 parade in #Savannah pic.twitter.com/Fw2pZEX9if
— GPB Savannah (@GPBSavannah) March 17, 2018
VP Pence came to Savannah for St Pats. The city said No signs in the “Pence zone.” ACLU and local layers sued the city and won. Every Pence photo in the media has a gay pride sign in the background. The #resistance is real. pic.twitter.com/9TxayCbzDw
— Elissa Greene (@Far_fromNormal1) March 18, 2018
Vice President Mike Pence drew cheers and jeers from the crowd in the security zone. Many had signs with messages like “side with Love” and political issues including gay rights, reproductive rights and anti-gun violence. #StPatricksDay2018 #savannah pic.twitter.com/MV5Xulyddi
— JCindyHill (@JCindyHill) March 17, 2018
Prior to this weekend’s event, LGBTQ leaders alleged it was troubling to see their city welcome with open arms someone who has fought against rights and protections for their community throughout his political career.
“Mr. Pence has proved himself to be one of the most anti-LGBTQ political crusaders to serve in government,” said Dusty Church, Festival Director of Savannah Pride, in a statement. “As governor of Indiana, he led a concerted effort to deny equality to LGBTQ people, opposing gay marriage and signing into law a bill that made it legal for businesses to turn away gay and lesbian customers.”
“As a member of Congress, he voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, co-sponsored a bill to define marriage between a man and woman, and sought to cut off HIV funding to organizations that did not encourage the reprehensible practice of gay ‘conversion therapy,’” he continued.
“These attacks have continued with at least two dozen actions by the current administration against LGBTQ people, including those serving in our armed forces,” Church concluded.
Pride groups and local advocacy organizations note that hosting someone with Pence’s record isn’t a surprise for Savannah’s St. Paddy’s Day parade. Event organizers do not allow LGBTQ businesses or community groups to participate in the celebration in an official capacity.
Church notes the Savannah parade is the largest in the U.S. that “discriminates” against queer and trans people.
“LGBTQ organizations have never been represented at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade nor have requests to be represented been responded to from the organizers,” he claims. “Savannah’s parade, the second largest such parade in the United States behind New York City, has been a tradition in the city for 194 years.”
Initially, LGBTQ people weren’t permitted to even protest the parade.
Signs and posters were initially banned by the city of Savannah until the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit claiming the prohibition violated the Constitutional right to freedom of speech.
After the protest ban was lifted, local businesses also joined the anti-Pence procession. John Pinkerton, owner of Moon River Brewing Company, posted a statement on Facebook in which he took Savannah’s mayor, Eddie DeLoach, to task for bringing Pence to the city.
“[D]espite my best efforts to reach you, or anybody else in your office, through numerous channels, you have failed to respond,” Pinkerton said in a statement. “How do you reconcile Pence’s long history of hateful policy and rhetoric toward African Americans, LGBTQ people, and women? Did you stop to consider the demographic of your own city?”
“Let me remind you: Savannah is 55 percent African-American,” he added. “Women make up over 50 percent of the population, pretty much everywhere you go. And Savannah is probably (and thankfully) the gayest city in the southeast!”
Despite the high-profile nature of his attendance, Pence reportedly only spent an hour at the parade.
Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images