Now in its second year, the Lesbian and Gay Community Center’s Pride Charlotte is slated for this week, culminating in Saturday’s Pride Charlotte day festival at Gateway Village. Expecting anywhere from 7,500 to 9,000, the event will surely be the festival’s largest in its entire, more than week-long schedule and in its history in North Carolina’s Queen City.
The first lesbian and gay pride festival in Charlotte was in 2001, held in the public Marshall Park. 2005’s “Charlotte Pride,” then organized by a different group of people now in charge of the daunting task of organizing the $60,000-plus schedule of events, was disrupted by extreme, radical, anti-gay protestors. The protests from the radicals prompted controversy in the community and Mayor Pat McCrory joined in on the fray offering negative comments toward the festival. Although the official reason for the end of “Charlotte Pride” was never the presence and protests of the radicals, they nonetheless claimed victory over the former festival’s demise saying that they had “pushed [it] back in the closet.”
In what looked like an end to the pride festival in the largest city from D.C. to Atlanta, the community banded together.
Enter the Lesbian and Gay Community Center of Charlotte. In 2006, they picked up the cause.
Pictured right: A crowd of 6,000+ gathers at Pride Charlotte 2006
“Pride Charlotte 2006 came about when the folks at Charlotte Pride decided not to put on the festival [in 2006],” says Pride Charlotte Task Force Co-Chair Raine Cole, “The Community Center and Q-Notes brainstormed, put out a call for volunteers and the Pride Charlotte Task Force was formed.”
Cole gave InterstateQ.com a brief history of the Pride Charlotte Festival, including their history with opposition from the likes of Concord, NC-based Operation Save America and its leader the Reverend Flip Benham. Operation Save America and Benham have made a name for themselves, disrupting LGBT events in Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham and one Soulforce Equality Ride event in Greenville, SC, at Bob Jones University. Cole says the Center has taken great steps to keep festival-goers away from the behavior of the disrupting protestors.
“We wanted to avoid having the same problems in 2006 that they had in 2005 we decided to move the event to a private venue. This way we had the ability to exert control over any protestors. We also met with the City of Charlotte, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police and Cousins Properties (the property mgmt company for Gateway Village). With their input and cooperation we were able to have an event which was peaceful and enjoyed by all.
“Because of what happened in 2005 our Opposition Strategies Committee was formed last year to ensure that Pride was going to be a pleasant experience. Their efforts were applauded by the police, the City, property management, vendors and attendees.
“I feel like a lot of time is spent talking about the protestors but there is so much more to putting together an event of this size than just containing the actions of 50 or so people.”
The Pride Charlotte festival has done wonders for the community and for the Community Center, Cole says.
“Many people had no idea we had a Community Center and I think that Pride Charlotte 2006 was their introduction to the Center and its programs and facilities.”
Moving the festival to private property at Gateway Village gave the local LGBT community a safe and welcoming place to hold the festival. Cole says the response from the 2006 festival was great and many community members felt as safe as ever.
“The day after Pride Charlotte 2006 the Charlotte Observer ran a story about the festival. Most of the people interviewed talked about how much they enjoyed our event, how safe they felt and how different it was from the previous year. In fact, we had approx 6000 people last year which was the biggest turn out ever for a Pride event here in Charlotte.
“Many of the wounds from 2005 were healed that day.”
The theme for this year’s Pride Charlotte festival is “United for Equality.”
“To me ‘United For Equality’ serves to remind us that we need to continue to stand together and fight for our rights. There’s a lot of talk in the media about same sex marriage and I think we should be allowed to marry. But we also need basic equal rights and an end to discrimination based upon our gender, sexual expression or sexual identity,” says Cole.
The unity won’t be phased by any presence of protestors this year, either. The Reverend Billy Ball, an ultra-conservative minister from Primrose, Georgia, has already told festival organizers he will attend this year’s events. Ball, known for his outrageous behavior and for pushing arrest and then later suing city and municipal police departments and governments, has confirmed he’ll try the same thing this go around.
Cole says the festival is ready and Ball’s presence won’t be a disturbance.
“[Ball] is really nothing special. When Reverend Ball sent me the e-mail telling me that he would be at Pride I checked out his web site and contacted the directors of the other Pride events he bragged about “attending.” They pretty much told me the same thing – he shows us with his bull horn and yells the typical anti-gay stuff at people and gets arrested. The charges are dropped and then he sues the city for perceived violations of his Constitutional rights.
“We encourage people at Pride to just ignore them. Protestors who are loud and obnoxious cannot be talked to and yelling back at them only encourages them. After a while you forget they are there and you can’t even hear them once you are inside the event.”
Operation Save America and Benham have also noted their possible interference with the event.
Pride Charlotte will continue its tradition of its “Enforcers of Peace” and the “Booth of Truth.” Any festival-goers needing support or encountering violent language or behavior is encouraged to report it to the Festival and visit the “Booth of Truth,” staffed by local, affirming ministers and religious leaders, if they need support.
Cole warns that disruptive behavior of any kind, whether from the protestors outside or festival-goers inside, will not be tolerated. Cole says that Pride Charlotte intends to be a safe and welcoming event where the LGBT community can feel safe, enjoy themselves, find a sense of community and have fun.
As for any recommendations on good events to attend, Cole picks no favorites.
“I think they will all be wildly popular. My recommendation is to attend all of them if you are able.”
The Pride Charlotte festival official kicked off last Friday and will continue through Monday, August 27th. A complete schedule of events and more information can be found at PrideCharlotte.com.