Robin Nelson had been encouraging me for years to cover the Atlanta Pride Parade.
Each year UGA’s Photojournalism students are asked by their teacher Mark Johnson to shadow a working professional photojournalist. Kayla Renie contacted Robin to follow her shooting. Robin suggested her to follow her at the Atlanta Pride Parade.
The mission of the Atlanta Pride Committee is to advance unity, visibility, and wellness among persons with widely diverse gender and sexual identities through cultural, social, political, and educational programs and activities.
Kayla did her interview on the front end of the coverage since Robin would have to leave for another engagement before the parade was done.
When the parade hits the intersection of 10th Street and Piedmont, things get confrontational. A “Christian” group stood at the street corner holding signs denouncing not just the LGBQT community, but Muslims, Women who work outside the home, and the list went on and on.
What was interesting to me was how the “Christian” group would pick people out and start yelling at them. All based on what they perceived as a person deserving condemnation.
The reason I put the “Christian” group in quotes is this is what was creating a great deal of tension in my gut. Robin came up to me at one point and asked if covering something like this can give you PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] from covering an event?
According to the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma “Journalists frequently bear witness to human suffering whether covering mass disasters or individual atrocities; however, little is known regarding the impact of such exposure on the well-being of journalists. Researchers in the field of traumatic stress are only beginning to examine the toll this line of work may have on the health of journalists.”
“Research suggests that between 80-100% of journalists have been exposed to a work-related traumatic event.”
When a protestor gets in the journalists face and starts to yell this can be very traumatic. If the journalists feels they are in physical danger then this can trigger a trauma experience which the brain has a hard time processing.
I watched as Kayla and Robin were taking moments to talk to each other to process all they were seeing, hearing and most of all feeling from covering such an event.
According to research on PTSD reported by the Dart Center you can have a personal experience with work-related stressors such as experiencing Aggression, Intimidation or Moral Injury.
The hardest part for Robin, Kayla and even myself today was that each of us are professing Christians who did not agree with the tactics of this “Christian” group. It was running opposite our beliefs of how to act as a Christian.
Apparently other Christians have felt this way and created their own signs that not only reflect a different position but declared that all those in the Atlanta Pride events could also be Christians.
Each of those polar opposite groups believed that the others were wrong and they were right.
This man is confronting Robin saying he wasn’t part of their group. This is when Robin wanted to have a friendly conversation and said well “I am a born again believer as well.” I think the photo reveals the posturing that was happening between them. One wanted dialogue and one wanted to just judge.
So how does a person cover an event as a “journalist” when they have all these feelings? How do you cover something when you may pick one of the sides personally because of your own belief system?
This was what Robin was trying to teach Kayla that day as she shadowed Robin. Robin has been able to bring her faith into her work and not leave it behind. She believes that everyone is God’s child. This means everyone deserves to be treated with honor dignity and respect, even when they are wearing a strange outfit.
As a journalist you do all you can to be sure you let both sides be represented in the coverage. If you are aware of your bias and acknowledge it you have a better chance of overcoming the bias.
This photo was as close as I came to showing both sides. The “Christian” Group were first on the corner and then you could hear the crowd roar as coming down the sidewalk was a group carrying Pansies.
They called themselves the Pansy Patrol. They had whistles to blow and these large pansies on sticks. Their mission was to block as much of the “Christian” group’s protest banners and make enough noise to drown them out with their whistles.
Still there were those who chose to be more confrontational to the “Christians”.
They not only confronted the group but took selfies in front of their banners and mocking them on social media.
When you are an event like the Atlanta’s Pride Weekend where hundreds of thousands of people expected to attend the parade, which ends at Piedmont Park, you have to be able to cover the event for your news outlet. You also have to not editorialize your coverage so as to be more of an activist with an agenda about the event.
If you want to do this then you may be able to find a job with an organization that fits your beliefs and do social activism, but don’t consider this the same as journalism.
Robin told me that over the years the Atlanta Pride Parade had become more commercial than in the early years. I personally saw many corporations participating in the parade.
Each company had their on #hashtag and were there to let everyone know that they supported the LGBTQ community. The reason I included them in my photos was I wanted to show how the corporate community is supporting the event.
While it was a tough assignment for Kayla to jump into with all the emotions surrounding the Atlanta Pride event, I think she enjoyed watching a professional photojournalist like Robin do her job and be able to ask her questions to help understand how she might have to cover something outside her comfort zone in the future as a photojournalist herself.
Both Robin and I were quite impressed with Kayla’s eagerness to learn and how well she did interacting with people throughout the day.