Atlanta Pride Executive Director Chris McCain

When Chris McCain attended his first Atlanta Pride in 2012 at age 27, he felt a sense of awe at the tens of thousands of people packed into Piedmont Park.

“I just remember it being the largest space that I’ve ever seen so many queer people together, and also seeing all the artists and the entertainment,” he said.

“When you are part of a relatively small minority, it felt really inspiring and comforting to be around so many people who are like you.”

This year, McCain returns to Atlanta Pride – set for Oct. 14-15 at Piedmont Park – as the organization’s executive director, a job he started in May. He takes the helm as Atlanta Pride rebuilds itself after the festival was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19.

The cancellations hurt the nonprofit organization financially and many volunteers did not return when Atlanta Pride came back to Piedmont Park in 2022.

McCain’s background in fundraising, philanthropy, social justice, and community outreach while working at jobs at Emory University, the Jessie Ball duPont Fund in Florida and, most recently, the Director of Philanthropy at The Bail Project in Los Angeles, made him the perfect fit to lead Atlanta Pride into its next chapter, according to Atlanta Pride Board Chair Crystal Stubbs.

“His passion for and commitment to social justice – particularly for the LGBTQIA+ community – along with his breadth of nonprofit leadership experience really impressed our search committee,” Stubbs said in a news release announcing his hiring.

McCain is a metro Atlanta native. He grew up in Gwinnett County and graduated from Norcross High School. He received a Bachelor of Arts from Davidson College in North Carolina and earned a Master of Divinity from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.

“I came out after college in North Carolina and went to my first Pride, a much smaller Pride than Atlanta Pride, in Nashville while at Vanderbilt,” he said.

In 2018, he moved to L.A. to be with his boyfriend where he worked for five years at The Bail Project, a national nonprofit organization working to make sure that no one is sitting in jail pretrial because of their race or poverty. During those five years, McCain built a diversified fundraising program from the ground up, leading his team to raise more than $100 million over five years.

He and his boyfriend married last year at Joshua Tree. They decided this year to move back to Atlanta to be closer to their families. They also plan to adopt and felt Atlanta would be the best place to raise a family.

“What I love about Atlanta is that it is consistently a welcoming and inclusive place for queer people,” McCain said. “Atlanta is the queer capital of the South, if not the Southeast.”

Although Atlanta is known for welcoming LGBTQ people, the state of Georgia, like many states, is facing an onslaught of anti-LGBTQ legislation from socially conservative lawmakers, particularly against transgender people.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation into law this year banning hormone treatments for transgender children. LGBTQ advocates argued the law was medical discrimination.

Georgia Republicans also plan to renew debate on a “Don’t Say Gay” bill after it was tabled this year. The bill would require anyone acting in place of a parent, including teachers at public and private schools, church leaders or camp counselors, to get parental permission before offering “any curriculum or instruction addressing issues of gender identity, queer theory, gender ideology, or gender transition.”

“We are feeling a lot of pressure from the legislature, and there continues to be violence, especially against transgender members of our community,” McCain said.
“It’s during these moments when we need Atlanta Pride so people can come together for visibility and solidarity,” he said.

This year’s theme for Atlanta Pride, “Show Up and Show Out,” is a direct reference to the backlash the LGBTQ community is facing. The theme lets people know Atlanta Pride is a place for LGBTQ people in Georgia and across the South “to show up for each other and to show out with acts of protest, activism, education, and celebration,” McCain said. 

“There is a vital need for us to be together to show visibility and solidarity, especially as we are feeling under attack,” he said. He noted that Atlanta’s first Pride Parade was held in 1970 on the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.

“LGBTQ people still need spaces to find each other, to learn about equal employment, transgender healthcare and also to find friends and build relationships,” he said. “They are crucial for our well-being and our future.”

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.