June is LGBT pride month. While you might think of celebrations in New York or Los Angeles, some Southern states are fast becoming home to some of the most interesting Gay Pride events, so we asked Charles Edwards Hicks to look at what it means to be loud and proud down South.
Many Americans view the South as a region where Bibles are ubiquitous and bachelor’s degrees are sparing. Yes, every state in the South has constitutionally banned same-sex marriage. In spite of this (or perhaps because of this), this region has become home to many of the loudest, proudest Pride parades in the United States. Here are a few of this year’s celebrations worth attending.
Nashville Pride, Nashville, Tennessee, June 16, 2012
Music lovers will want to make sure they carve out time to head to Nashville Pride in the backbone of Tennessee next week. The event will host three separate stages this year with musical acts ranging from all-female rock band Antigone Rising, to singer-songwriter Jeremiah Clark.
The festival will go until 7 pm this year, an hour later than previous years, and has added a section to outreach specifically to LGBT teenagers. It is also set to host its first Equality Walk.
“The one-mile walk will kick off the festival at 11 am on June 16 and will include more than 150 participants from various community groups,” said Joey Leslie, marketing director of Nashville Pride. “The goal is to bring even more awareness to our festival.”
This year’s festival comes on the coattails of a national debate sparked by Tennessee’s controversial, “Don’t Say Gay bill.” The bill was debated by the Tennessee House of Representatives earlier this year and would have made it illegal for teachers to discuss homosexuality in schools. Leslie said he hopes Nashville pride will help to raise the public’s understanding of LGBT people.
“We’re excited to bring so much positive visibility to Middle Tennessee’s LGBT community, especially at a time when the political winds don’t always shift in favor of the state’s LGBT citizens,” he said. “That being said, we have several political figures including [Nashville] Mayor Karl Dean and Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors who are very supportive of our community.”
For more information on Nashville, visit their website.
Savannah Pride, Savannah, Georgia, Sept. 8, 2012
“Savannah is a very progressive city,” said Chris Brown, Savannah Pride’s president. “This is a city that has fought for change and civil rights before.”
Savannah Pride started in one of Savannah’s historic squares 13 years ago, but since has moved to Forsyth Park, the city’s largest green space. Many ages of people come to celebrate in Savannah, Brown said, which sets the city’s Pride festival apart from others.
“Young people are a start for us, but they are certainly not the finish,” he said. “What we find in Savannah is that the dynamic is a little different, because there is an older gay community here as well, and we certainly reach out to them too. There’s a lot of involvement on both ends of the spectrum.”
Brown said he was optimistic about this year’s festival.
“As a member of the LGBT community in Savannah, I know that things are not perfect,” Brown said. “I know that we’ve got a long ways to go, but what I see in that festival every year is an outpouring of support and love. It’s incredible.”
For more information about Savannah Pride, you can visit their website.
North Carolina Pride, Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, Sept. 29, 2012
A few qualities stand out about North Carolina Pride. The festival boasts more female than male attendance as well as being 25 percent composed of self-identified “allies,” or friends of the LGBT community. The festival is also a dry event that, according to Short, “your grandmother would feel safe at.”
“Our parade actually started as a protest,” said John Short, director of North Carolina Pride. A group in Durham murdered a gay man in 1982. “These people were brought up for trial and the gay community did not want this swept under the rug.”
About 400 people marched in protest. This march continued until 2000 when the festival found a home at Duke University in Durham. It has since grown to be the largest pride parade in the surrounding five states, according to Short, and has been overwhelmingly embraced by Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh. In fact, Durham’s mayor, police chief and firefighters traditionally walk in the parade each year.
For more details about North Carolina Pride, check out their website, www.ncpride.org.
South Carolina Pride, Columbia, South Carolina, Oct. 20, 2012
It will be difficult to miss this year’s South Carolina Pride festival. The city has moved the parade route to Main Street, right in front of the state capital, from Finlay Park, hence, this year’s festival theme, The Main Event. There will be two stages of entertainment, more vendor space, a VIP tent and an ultra-VIP tent along the new route.
“Visibility is the key to changing hearts and minds,” said Harriet Hancock, South Carolina Pride founder and board of directors member. “If you’re visible, and people can see you and know you for the kind of person you are, then they’re much less likely to discriminate against you.”
Hancock organized the South Carolina festival in Columbia, S.C., in 1990.
“Every year up until that point, they would have a picnic somewhere in an area that was basically not public,” Hancock said. “In ’89, they had one at a place called Dreher Island Park just right outside of Columbia. Well, that particular year, the news media got wind of this particular gay pride picnic and wanted to know if they could come to the park if they would only film people that would agree to be on camera.” The group allowed the news media to come, but this got Hancock thinking.
“I just started thinking, why are gay people still so far in the closet that they have to keep hiding? It’s just about time for gay people to come out and demand their rights,” she said. She got a clipboard, rallied support from the local group Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays that she had started, and gathered enough interest to hold the first Pride march the next year.
This march grew into a festival in subsequent years and is now known as South Carolina Pride, a group that has been named “Best Activist Group or Effort” by the readers of The Free-Times, a Columbia alternative news-weekly, for four years running.
The Marriott Hotel on Main Street will continue as the festival’s official hotel sponsor and is planning on offering a special rate for Pride festival attendees (for more information, call 803-771-7000, and ask for the “SC Pride Group Rate”).
More information about South Carolina Pride can be found at the organization’s website.
For more information on Gay Pride, check out our:
- Guide to the World’s Biggest Gay Pride Events
- Five Unexpected Gay Pride Festivals
- LGBT Travel Basics