Project Galileo: Deep Dive with Atlanta Pride
Proudflare is excited to highlight Atlanta Pride as one of this year's Project Galileo participants. Tune in with Gregory Winningham (Executive Assistant, Cloudflare) and Jamie Fergerson (Executive Director, Atlanta Pride) as we learn more about Atlanta Pride and how Project Galileo has impacted their organization to engineer positive change for the LGBTQIA+ community.
Happy Pride Month Cloudflarians. This is super exciting. We get to host Atlanta Pride, represented by Executive Director Jamie Ferguson, and who has agreed to join us for this 2022 Project Galileo Deep Dive.
And as a general note, this event is sponsored by Proudflare, which is the longest running ERG at Cloudflare.
And during the session, we are going to learn about Atlanta Pride's programs, their sole mission, and their ambitions for the future of the LGBTQIA plus community, both in Atlanta and their neighboring communities.
So this is a real, real big honor.
And if you're tuning in now, you couldn't have tuned in at a better time. Of course, as we learn more about Atlanta Pride, we will focus on social initiatives, as well as how Project Galileo is able to keep Atlanta Pride online in order to concentrate on their mission.
But we have a wonderful guest here, as I've said, Jamie Ferguson, the Executive Director of Atlanta Pride.
And I think, Jamie, just to kind of get us started and people so that they can know you a little bit more, why don't you tell us about yourself, introduce yourself, and tell us how you got involved with Atlanta Pride.
Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me.
I'm thrilled to be here with you this week and share a little bit about Atlanta Pride.
First, happy Pride Month. Happy to join you in this special month. I remind people that we're proud 12 months out of the year, but this month is a little bit special in that we get a little bit more focused time.
I started volunteering with Atlanta Pride in 2002.
I attended my first Pride in 2001 when I was in the middle of a pretty difficult coming out process.
I grew up in a small town in Georgia and, frankly, coming out was really, really tough.
And I lost a lot of relationships and things in my life at that time.
But my best friend and I drove down from our small town in North Georgia to Atlanta Pride in 2001, and it was absolutely life changing.
Both he and I had grown up in the Methodist Church. My grandfather was a preacher and his mom was a preacher.
And the first thing that we saw when we rolled up to Peachtree Street was St.
Mark United Methodist Church on Peachtree Street in Atlanta with rainbow flags, with people passing out water or being welcoming.
And this had never even occurred to us as a possibility. You know, we had always heard so many things about how lesbian and gay people were unhappy, unhealthy.
This was in the, you know, the part of the AIDS epidemic. And so that was kind of the main message we were getting.
Matthew Shepard was really one of the major moments of my high school career, his murder, hearing about that.
And seeing Pride absolutely changed my understanding of who I could be and who we could be.
So I started volunteering the next year and I really never left.
I spent years working in the nonprofit sector, working in other issue areas, literacy, women's health, working with youth.
And then about seven years ago, the executive director role at Atlanta Pride came open.
Some of the then board members asked me to apply and I've been in the role ever since.
Wow. So it sounds just like a match made where it was meant to be, right?
How you landed into that role. It's really incredible. I think your story is, I can already tell your story relates to a lot of people that are watching this too.
So I'm really excited to dig in a little deeper. So maybe tell us regarding Atlanta Pride itself as an org, how long have you been in operation?
How did you get started?
Sure. Atlanta Pride is the oldest LGBTQ plus serving organization in the state of Georgia.
We started in 1970, like many of the large pride organizations as a commemoration of the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which occurred in June, 1969 in New York.
That's also why June is pride month in most places.
And that first year, it was really people just handing out leaflets and flyers, talking about how discrimination was operating in Atlanta.
There was also a raid of some cowboy movie in the movie theater in Atlanta the same year that really sparked a lot of gay activism and movie theater in Ansley mall.
And then after that in 1971, Atlanta Pride held its first march.
Those first years were called the paper bag marches because people literally marked with the grocery store paper bags over their head because they were risking everything to march.
They were risking their jobs, their families, any social and cultural call they could have.
They could even lose their homes over being publicly outed. And then Atlanta Pride has grown over those last 50 years into the festival that it is now, the festival and parade, which is a real celebratory event, but we still try to hold the essence of those first years where we're talking about inequity and injustice and shine the light on where that continues to exist now.
So, I mean, this could be considered a silly question for some, but what would you say Atlanta Pride's specific organizational mission is in a way?
What makes you different from other pride organizations? Sure. So our mission is to increase unity, visibility, and wellness among persons of widely diverse sexual and gender identities.
And we do that through educational, social justice, activist, historical, and social programming.
And so we use a lot of different types of programming to really make our community more whole, more well, and more visible.
We do that 12 months a year. Most people know us for the festival and parade, which happens in October here in Atlanta, but we actually operate dozens of programs all year round, including about 15 programs, I think this month in June, where we're inviting a community to come together, to learn, to be vocal and visible, and also just to invest in our own wellbeing.
Absolutely. Which you would have to do.
Would you say in your time that you spent with Atlanta Pride, has that mission and that structure of how you go and engage with the community, has that changed over the years?
Or do you think it's pretty much been the same foundation since the beginning?
Sure. I think that pride has, it's a living, growing organization and has changed many times over the last 50 years.
That specific mission statement came about in 2015 and 2016 as we were doing a strategic plan and talking about who do we want to be?
And we're continuing to revisit that as we just celebrated, we celebrated our 50th anniversary during COVID.
So we're calling a little bit of a redo of it this year, but we continue to grow and change.
We started as a super grassroots protest.
We have grown into a multi-million dollar festival and parade with many stages and lots of good parties, but we still need to keep the education and advocacy edge.
And we have to keep growing and changing. I think a lot of prides actually closed or folded after marriage equality came about because they weren't growing and changing.
I think as we started to have to focus on racial injustice within our community and outside our community, that's been really difficult for a lot of pride organizations to address.
We've seen some pride organizations close when they weren't able to make those changes.
And we're really lucky here in Atlanta that we've had dynamic leadership and a dynamic community who has not always easily or simply made those changes, but who's been willing to address them.
And like any living organism, you have to adapt and grow in order to stay relevant and healthy.
That's right. And I would say from outside looking in, Atlanta has a very unique opportunity to address intersectional topics that relate to the LGBTQ community, just due to the demographics of your city, which I think is a really, really cool position for Atlanta Pride.
So one thing that I think a lot of us who are in the South wonder about Atlanta Pride or maybe any other pride organization that is Southern based, what are the pros, but also what are the cons of being a LGBTQ plus community group in the South?
Sure. So I'm going to say I've lived my entire life in the South.
I've done a lot of traveling.
I've visited a lot of other pride events and I love living in the South.
I love being from the South. It truly is a hospitable place. It's an incredibly diverse place.
And we have the opportunity to make some real change. Part of the reason that we have the opportunity to make real change is because unfortunately, a lot of the laws that attack our community, even in present tense, are coming from the South.
Not that they're not happening in other states as well, but particularly in the South and Southeast, you see a lot of anti-LGBTQ legislation born.
This year in particular, it's happening and it's attacking youth, particularly trans youth, trans women of color, homeless trans individuals, and even just kids who want to play sports.
And you see a lot of that legislation born in the South.
And so we have a big opportunity to push back. We're right on the front lines of that work.
We're right on the front lines of combating the HIV epidemic that still exists in many of our communities.
But one of the challenges is that a very small amount of funding for LGBTQ issues comes to the South.
Georgia is actually the state that, depending on what survey you read, but we may have more LGBTQ people per capita than any other state.
And we do have more LGBTQ folks raising children than any other state.
But most of the funding for LGBTQ things and issues doesn't come to the South first.
There are some organizations who are really pushing to make change in that and really trying to make things more equitable.
But one of things I like about us in the South is that we can do a lot with a little.
That doesn't mean I don't want to help us get our fair share, but I appreciate that we are smart with our resources and that we have the ability to make real change in people's immediate lives.
That's wonderful. And that's really eye-opening.
I don't think I knew that, or many people watching this would have known that.
Just real briefly, without doing another session on this altogether, is it more political?
Is that the reasoning that we don't get a lot of those funds here to the South, or is it really just kind of dismissive?
It's the South. They have different standards or they have a different culture than other places in the country.
Is it the reputation, I would say? I think it's a little bit of both. I mean, we don't get the state and federal local funding that a lot of places, big cities in the Northeast and West Coast, would get.
A lot of prides in those areas are partially funded by their city and state.
I can tell you we get no support from the state of Georgia whatsoever.
We do get some support from the city of Atlanta, but it's also because a lot of the foundations, LGBTQ-serving foundations, are headquartered in the Northeast or on the West Coast, and so they may not be as familiar with the work here, with the organizations on the ground doing work here.
And so I think some of it is political, but a lot of it's also just oversight.
And there is a brilliant generation of LGBTQ organizers coming up now who is doing a lot of work to really raise the visibility of those organizations here in the South and to make some noise to make sure that things are being distributed more fairly, both attention and monetary resources, and that we're working on the legislative agenda that we need to be working on in the South.
Absolutely, absolutely. We don't get there till we all get there, right? Absolutely, 100 percent, as family we go.
And I think I want to know a little bit more, just again to help us understand a little more of Atlanta Pride, specifically in your fingerprint, what are the programs that Atlanta Pride hosts to support the community?
Just maybe some very practical, real-life examples. Absolutely. So most people know us for the Festival and Parade.
I don't want to discount that at all.
It is a fabulous celebration and party. And importantly, it's also where a lot of people connect with LGBTQ-serving organizations for the first time.
We have a lot of people who come from outside of the city, outside of the state, and they may not have local resources.
So it's not just a party. It's really an important place for people to connect with businesses that are welcoming, employers that are welcoming.
I mean, even something as simple as a bank who will let you use your real name as a trans-identified person, right?
So the Festival and Parade are really important.
But we also do workshops all year round. We have movie nights.
We have history tours. We have a family fun day later this month I'm really looking forward to.
I have a young child, so we're really looking forward to a big family fun day in the park.
We do a day out at Six Flags, lots of fun events. And then my favorite program that we do, which is something I really invested a lot in in my tenure as Executive Director, is our Community Reinvestment Grant program.
We are committed to giving back a minimum of 7% of our budget every year to grassroots grants.
So we give out micro-grants to other organizations in the community that are aligned with our missions.
And most of those organizations are multiply marginalized groups.
So Black and Brown -led, trans-led, elder-led, youth-led, immigrant-led, led by people who are formerly incarcerated, led by folks who don't have access to traditional capital and funding streams, but are doing amazing grassroots work.
And so we give out these micro-grants in order to support our community.
And it's a growing program, and it's the one that I think is potentially the most impactful thing that we do.
Because if we invest $2,000 or $5,000 or $10,000 in an organization, they can take that and run with it and have huge impacts for a long time down the road.
Absolutely. This is incredible to know. I mean, roots grow a healthy tree.
And I think when you're investing on that base level, you are really doing something foundational, right?
It really is shaping those pathways and those corridors of typically untouched regions.
So that's incredible. And as we all know, money's hard to come by, as you've just told us.
So this is even more sensational.
I want to underscore how significant that is that Atlanta Pride takes 7% of your incoming funds and puts them into grassroots efforts.
This is incredible.
So I want to talk a little bit about, as we're kind of, this is, again, related to how we as Cloudflare, and more specifically our Project Galileo program, can really support Atlanta Pride and other organizations like yours.
So I'm kind of curious, before we get into that piece, tell us about the importance of the web for your organization's mission and your operations.
In particular, why is cybersecurity important for your web presence?
So if you had asked me this question four or five years ago, I would not know how to answer it.
I'm not someone with a background in technology or anything around web services.
But the web is really important in LGBTQ organizing specifically, because a lot of people grow up isolated or in unwelcoming communities.
And the Internet is their only connection to LGBTQ adults, role models, support, even suicide lines where people need support, or places where you just need an affirming friend if you need affirming healthcare.
And so the Internet is incredibly important in connecting us to one another.
I'm lucky to live in the city of Atlanta, but many people are not. And two thirds of the people that Atlanta Pride serves live outside of the immediate metro area.
So it's really important for us to be able to connect with people over the Internet.
And unfortunately, because there is a lot of homophobia, transphobia, and just general cyber hacking in the world, we find that LGBTQ organizations are attacked more than other organizations.
So it's really important for us to be on top of cybersecurity, to have good policies and protocol.
And it's frankly a lot of what I've learned about, especially during COVID, as we started to stream more programming.
Before the pandemic, we didn't stream any programming.
And now we're streaming a lot of our programming. And we're finding that there are more attacks as we do that, because we get to the people who need us and want to see us.
But we also sometimes get to the people who don't want to see us.
Naturally, naturally, there's always going to be opponents, right? That's the way that it is.
So, you know, curious, then, how did you even become familiar with Project Galileo?
So funny enough, we actually, Atlanta Pride became Cloudflare customers before Project Galileo started because of the exact issue that Project Galileo was addressing.
Several years ago, leading up to our festival, we had a number of right-wing anti-LGBT groups who were attacking our website.
And we had a lot of DDoS sites that were trying to attack us, denial of service attacks, which I had no idea what the acronym even was at the time, who were taking our sites down.
And so we put on a big event, but we were a very small team, especially our staff team is incredibly small.
And so our staff and our volunteers, you know, were working overtime to try to keep our site up and to fix things.
And they did a great job, but it was really challenging.
One of them, who is professionally in tech services, introduced us to Cloudflare.
And so we got connected and our site has been much safer since then.
So we found out about Project Galileo, actually, we were already a customer, and someone contacted my operations manager and says, hey, I think this might be a good fit for you.
Would you like to enroll in the project? And we said, absolutely, that's something that we need.
Wow. Okay. So you guys are really up to speed with Cloudflare.
I love it. I love it. For even new Project Galileo, you could already see the benefit of our services.
So this is really already really cool to hear that, you know, the solutions that we provide are already enabling you to perform, you know, more successful operations on the back end.
So that's incredible.
So we kind of just spoke a little bit about why cybersecurity tools are important for AP.
And so now I'm kind of curious to know, what do you think your organization's operations would look like if it weren't for Cloudflare?
Just in an apocalyptic world, right?
If security weren't a thing on the Internet, what do you think would look different now from your organization's operation?
Well, I hate to dream up terrible things that haven't happened.
But, you know, like I said, especially during the pandemic, our team has moved to a mostly remote team.
So all of our operations are in the cloud.
And most of our programming is also being hosted, either virtually completely or hybridly.
And so if we weren't able to maintain, you know, cybersecurity, web security and the integrity of our systems, we wouldn't be able to operate at all at this point.
And so, you know, so it's incredibly important to us, the our day to day opportunity to just to be doing the regular work we do, and the programming we do, we wouldn't be able to do without a secure online presence.
And because we are, you know, we do have such a small staff, and we're a nonprofit with a constrained budget.
You know, it's not like we could afford to pay out of pocket market rate for these services.
It's just we would have to reduce our services or in some way, augment the way that we operate day to day.
Wow, absolutely. I can only imagine, like you said, if we had this conversation, even five to seven years ago, would have been very different.
But But now to protect your infrastructure of any organization is so pinnacle from a digital perspective, right?
So that it really changes how you look at things. Yeah, I never had to buy cybersecurity insurance before three years ago, either.
And, you know, we had to buy insurance for that, you know, it's a changing world.
And, and I will say that our insurance company was happy to see that we have, you know, Cloudflare and some good security services in order to get the policy.
So helps on lots of fronts there.
Wow, I would say so. That's incredible. You know, that people even recognize that now, right?
Like you said, it's something they look for.
Well, I'm glad to hear that you guys are safe and secure. And you know, we continue to make sure that that is the case.
But you know, I'm kind of curious now, with any of these interviews, I always want to take it back to the personal level.
And I want to take it to a where do we go from here level, right? And Project Galileo may be able to support your organization operationally, from a protection standpoint, and make sure that you can perform your work securely.
But what can we do?
And you know, so here's my question, right? Is what can we and others do to support Atlanta Pride and the community in a practical sense?
So those of you who are close to Atlanta Pride, we'd love to have you as a volunteer, either in a leadership year round capacity, or, you know, we always need people over the weekend helping to make the festival work.
If you're in a position to donate financially, we are all nonprofit organizations.
And so you can certainly support us financially, it's tax deductible.
But really, I think the most important thing that people can do is to make a difference with the person who's right in front of you.
So if you identify as a member of the LGBTQ community, and you're comfortable being out, we know that one of the things that changes hearts and minds is experience with actual LGBTQ people.
If you're not comfortable being out yet, that's also okay.
You know, there are a lot of reasons to be out and there are a lot of reasons not to be out.
But if you're if you're someone who's an ally to our community, what you can do is make the spaces where you operate and you have authority safer, you can ask for people's pronouns, you can find out if your company has affirming health insurance benefits.
If you see someone being, you know, teased or outed or made uncomfortable, if you see that their partner is not welcome at an event, you as an ally can be the person to speak up and say, like, hey, you know, let's consider this, are we are reacting fairly here.
And that really takes some of the burden off of LGBTQ individuals.
You know, so that because it because it can be really draining day to day just to manage those microaggressions and the discrimination we face.
But everyone has the opportunity to be a good ally, whether it's, you know, when you're in the grocery store using the checkers proper pronouns, or with your own kids or your parents, you know, or even just speaking up when somebody makes an uncomfortable joke.
And wherever you are sitting is the right place to start doing the work.
As beautifully said, we all have something to learn, right?
We all have somewhere we can grow. Doesn't matter how much we've grown in the past, there's, our world is always evolving, which means we have to be very respectful and understand that there's still a part that we play, right, for each person.
I think that's incredible. Do you think that there's, those are really good practical steps?
Is there anything immediately that Atlanta Pride specifically needs?
That that, you know, we can have a call to action here from viewers, whether that's financially, like you said, volunteering, would those be the most immediate needs?
Sure, those are huge immediate needs. I will also say, pay attention to what's happening legislatively wherever you live.
There are more than 43 bills attacking transgender youth out this year.
And they're intentionally attacking most vulnerable members of our community.
This is not a partisan call.
It's a human call. You know, reach out to your legislators, reach out to your elected officials and the people in your community and say, hey, I'm not okay with discrimination.
I'm not okay with kids being singled out. And, you know, let them hear your voice.
Let them hear you as an ally or as a member of our community.
And if you can tell your story, that is something that will make a real impact in the lives of youth right now.
Absolutely, absolutely. So in closing, tell us about the next event happening, or maybe the next series of events that are happening where we can get involved.
So we have about a dozen events left in June. Check out Atlanta Pride's Facebook page or AtlantaPride.org to see all of those events, everything from basketball games to family days to a poetry slam.
We'd love to see you at any of them, either in person or virtually.
And then we would love to have you at the Atlanta Pride Festival and Parade, October 7th, 8th and 9th this year.
So exciting. I'll be there. Can you tell us your website? Sure. It's AtlantaPride.org.
Atlanta, all spelled out. Pride, all spelled out.org. All right.
That's pretty simple. So there you have it, Cloudflarens. You've heard it here.
We have a lot of different things to consider, but I think that some really big takeaways here is it's important to keep these organizations safe, but it's also important to invest in them and to engage with them and to make sure that you can be an advocate, an ally, and then you can also be a voice, right?
That's what we all want to be.
So here, from all of us here at Cloudflare, I want to thank Jamie Ferguson, the Executive Director of Atlanta Pride, for joining us for our 2022 Project Galileo Deep Dive.
This has been an incredible session. I cannot wait to really engage with Atlanta Pride on even more levels after this interview.
It's been really, really incredible.
So, Jamie, thank you for your time. Thank you so much.
Glad to see you and look forward to seeing you at Pride this year. Absolutely. And for now, everybody, just remember, get out, get loud, get proud, and have a happy Pride, all right?
that the political process has integrity, that people can trust it, and that people can rely on it.
It's like a small family or community here, and I think elections around the nation is the same way.
We're not a big agency. We don't have thousands of employees.
We have tens of employees. We have less than 100 here in North Carolina. So what's on my mind when I get up and go to work every morning is, what's next?
What did we not think of?
And what are the bad actors thinking of? The Athenian Project, we use that to protect our voter information center site and allow it to be securely accessed by the citizens of Rhode Island.
It's extremely important to protect that and to be able to keep it available.
There are many bad actors out there that are trying to bring that down, and others trying to penetrate our perimeter defenses from the Internet to access our voter registration and or tabulation data.
So it's very important to have an elections website that is safe, secure, and foremost, accurate.
The Athenian Project, for anyone who is trying to run an election anywhere in the United States, is provided by us for free.
We think of it as a community service.
I stay optimistic by reminding myself there's a light at the end of the tunnel.
It's not a train. Having this protection gives us some peace of mind that we know if for some reason we were to come under attack, we wouldn't have to scramble or worry about trying to keep our site up that Cloudflare has our back.