Charlotte gay pride parade draws crowd, cheers

Civic leaders, corporations support city’s first Pride parade in 19 years

by The Charlotte Observer  Charlotte News Alliance  
Published: August 30, 2013 in News

by Rick Rothacker :: rrothacker@charlotteobserver.com

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Under blue skies on Aug. 25, a cheering crowd waving rainbow flags lined Tryon Street to revel in the first gay pride parade in Charlotte in 19 years.

Mayor Patsy Kinsey, as well as two openly gay City Council members, rode in the parade, joined by a marching band, floats, motorcyclists and a show of corporate support that ranged from a double-decker Bank of America bus to the Wells Fargo stagecoach.

Attendance for the weekend of festivities was 70,000-75,000, including 20,000 for Bank of America Charlotte Pride Parade, said media chairman Matt Comer. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police don’t typically release crowd sizes for public events. The parade was revived this year after lacking the organization and community support it needed in previous years, he said.

Marcher Ken Wittenaur, 58, a Charlotte attorney, said the crowd was energizing.

“It was amazing to see so many people out here,” he said. “It was a real scene of inclusiveness. It was really touching.”

Wittenaur, married to fellow marcher Russell Leciejewski, said the equality movement is particularly important to the married gay couple. Over time, he said he hopes the parade continues to grow and attract more attendees.

The procession drew a diverse crowd of men, women, children and dogs wearing rainbow collars. It was also a magnet for corporate sponsors, including Bank of America, Time Warner Cable and Food Lion. The backing contrasts with the struggles of the Carolinas’ Carrousel Parade, which organizers have canceled for this Thanksgiving because of a lack of corporate support.

Comer, the media chairman, said the weekend-long festival had about 50 corporate sponsors, about half of which were first-time backers.

Bank of America was the title sponsor for the parade, and a bus packed with dancing employees was one of the favorites along the route.

“We believe that encouraging a diverse and inclusive workplace gives us the business advantage of understanding and meeting the needs of our diverse customers and clients around the world,” bank spokeswoman Nicole Nastacie said.

Kevin Toomb, a UNC Charlotte management and marketing professor, said supporting the pride festival is an opportunity for companies to showcase their diversity and their support for a specific demographic.

“They’re hoping to build share of heart,” Toomb said. “If you can have share of mind and heart, you can get share of wallet.”

At a ceremony after the parade, Kinsey said she was “absolutely blown away” by the Charlotte business community’s support for the event.

“I think it’s great for Charlotte,” Kinsey said of the parade in an interview. “I’m happy to be asked to do it. I would have been here anyway.”

Push for equality

Protesters were not a big presence along the parade route, but a few did make their opinions known.

Richard Pope, 62, waved a King James Version Bible at the marchers as they went down Tryon Street.

“I’m out here preaching the Gospel,” Pope said. “It’s a shame the city allows something like this to go on.”

Many of the attendees welcomed the inclusive atmosphere of the parade but said more work needed to be done to protect the rights of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender population in North Carolina.

Celena Black, 21, of Charlotte wore a sandwich board at the parade to promote Equality North Carolina, a group that advocates for equal rights for members of the LGBT community. In particular, she was gathering signatures to help end workplace discrimination.

“It’s past time for people to be treated fairly,” she said.

Denver residents Jeff Martin, 50, and Dean Green, 49, got married in Maryland on July 27, Martin’s birthday. They arrived more than two hours before the parade to reserve curbside seats.

Martin said the parade was great but added: “I wish the state was more friendly to us.”

In 2012, N.C. voters approved Amendment One, which bans gay marriage in the state.

“We may have to move if the climate doesn’t drastically change,” Green added. : :

more: See more photos from Charlotte Pride at goqnotes.com/24589/.

The Charlotte Observer is the largest daily newspaper in the Carolinas. CharlotteObserver.com is the most visited news and information website in the region. qnotes is proud to be a member of The Observer’s Charlotte News Alliance. Republished with permission.

Pride by the numbers

Initial estimates from Charlotte Pride organizers varied, but staff released their final attendance numbers late on Sunday, Aug. 25. Staff said 80,000 people attended their two-day festival throughout the weekend, including an estimated 45,000-50,000 at the parade, where 80 entrants and 1,500 people marched. Organizers also said the event was a financial success. The festival sold out of vendor spaces and nearly 50 corporations, small businesses and non-profit organizations sponsored the events. Of those, about 22 were first-time sponsors. No arrests were made during the event.