Dozens of homosexual couples paused Saturday to have a minister bless their relationships while hundreds of others looked on during the fifth annual Baton Rouge Pride Fest at the Belle of Baton Rouge Atrium.
Partners celebrating gay pride in the city embraced as Rev. Keith Mozingo and Rev. Nina Russell read a blessing to them.
“God bless these relationships with life,” Mozingo told the couples.
Bonnie Jones and Ronda Beale were among those participating in the blessing.
Jones and Beale, who said they have been together for almost 10 years, called the Pride Fest’s atmosphere Saturday an “awesome feeling.”
“We are taking more steps every day” toward tolerance, Beale said.
Mayor-President Kip Holden declared Saturday as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Day. His official proclamation, blown up to a poster-sized sign, sat at the front of the stage and by the south entrance.
The event offered a variety of entertainment from food and drinks to a space walk for kids.
Chris Avant, of Denham Springs, went dressed as Johnny Depp’s version of the Mad Hatter from “Alice in Wonderland.”
Avant said he is an entertainer by trade and chose the Mad Hatter costume because he thought it would fit the festival’s family-friendly atmosphere.
“I thought Mad Hatter would be perfect for children,” Avant said.
A stage sat at the south end of the atrium, where musical acts such as Josh Duffy and the New Orleans Gay Men’s Chorus entertained the crowd with energetic pop music.
Rainbow flags adorned the edge of the stage as well as the rest of the south end of the lobby.
Drag queens strutted around the hall decked out in wigs, makeup and colorful dresses.
Trixxie LaRue, a former Miss New Orleans and Miss Apollo Baton Rouge, served as honorary grand marshal of the event.
“It’s something that I’ve dreamed of for 25 years of being a female impersonator,” LaRue said.
LaRue — otherwise known as James Chinn — said he was pleasantly surprised with Saturday’s turnout.
“I never thought this many people would come out,” LaRue said.
A wide variety of organizations set up booths at Saturday’s event.
Participants included Cox Communications, the Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco Free Living, LSU Spectrum, and Gays, Lesbians and Allies at Dow Chemical.
Multiple booths offered HIV/AIDS education, as well as free HIV testing.
Several churches set up booths inside, including Metropolitan Community Church of Baton Rouge and University Presbyterian Church.
Ellen Morgan, a member of University Presbyterian, sat at the church’s table as people walked by and asked questions.
She said she and her partner, Susan Ourso, joined the church because it is welcoming of homosexuals.
“We do have gay members in our church,” Morgan said. “Our church is very supportive.”